In 1988 the matronly secretary of the car dealership I worked for asked me a simple questions: “Why are you such an a**hole during Christmas?”
I was surprised. I had no idea.
She went on to tell me that she had noticed that the year previously, and this current year, right after Thanksgiving I would start this dissent to anger and a-holery that was rather palpable. She noticed that the closer we got to Christmas, the more angry, surly, and unpleasant I became.
Having not been aware, and being made aware in a very direct way, I began a process of trying to be aware of my mental state for Christmas and discovering why that was the case. Over the years I have seen that pattern: she was right. I spent a lot time during the holidays examining if I ever enjoyed Christmas. As far as I could remember, I hated Christmas, preferred to be in a movie theater, alone, and avoided people.
One year I found a picture of me at 12, in Arizona. My brother, holding some toy like he had just won the lottery, me staring at the camera blank and disinterested. I realized that my dislike and disinterest went back further than I had thought.
Then, one day, I had a memory. A very vivid memory. I was in my late 20’s when this occurred to me. I asked my mother about it and her countenance changed and she told me how pissed she was at my father for what he had done. When I told her the rest of the memory I had, she has forever since held on to the guilt of it that she hadn’t done something sooner to remove myself and my siblings from my father’s presence.
When I was about 8 years old, I awoke stupid early as most kids do. It was the rule that, despite what time we woke up, we had to wait for father to rise before Christmas could begin. My brother and I had to sit quietly in our rooms for 4 or 5 hours, vibrating with excitement and anticipation.
My father finally arose and let us out of our channels like grey hounds released to chase a rabbit. We ran into the living room, beaming with excitement. The lights came on and nothing. My brother and I stood in chock. Dismay. Bewilderment. There was literally nothing under the tree. We looked over to the stockings and they were filled: filled with willow branches.
An 8 year old and a 4 year old not fathoming what we were seeing. Did we get the date wrong? Was Santa delayed?
Nope. “Santa decided that you two were so bad this year, you don’t get Christmas.” was all my father said.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. As a matter of fact I don’t remember much of Christmas’ since. What I do remember is the thing that mother didn’t and, what I ultimately realized was not a-holery, but anxiety. My father took it one step further. At some point, he decided to hang the stockings of willow branches in our rooms and, whenever we were “bad” (which, for my father is essentially existing in his space), he would take a willow branch out of the stocking in our rooms and hit us with it.
I wasn’t being an a-hole because I could be. I was experiencing PTSD related to Christmas. My little mind had been formed to fear Christmas. When I have fear, it manifests as anger. I wasn’t just being surly because I thought it was cute, I was anxious about what horrifying thing Santa was going to do to me for Christmas, that I would be able to feel for the rest of the year.
You may be asking yourself “Why?! Why would your father do something like this?!”
He didn’t want to spend money on Christmas that year and decided to make a lesson out of it.
To this day, I still don’t get excited about Christmas. I don’t like the Christmas music, I don’t like the crowds, I don’t like the droid like lack of awareness that thousands of self-absorbed, materialistic people inflict on their fellow man for the sake of getting crap that makes them think they are good people for the rest of the year.
Christmas doesn’t matter. Christmas doesn’t matter to me.
But, I have tried. I have tried to make it what I thought it should be. I also tried doing it my way, whereby I do nothing but continue to live my life. In thinking and contemplating “What is Christmas?” I have realized that all the things that people talk about, and make important for about 20 days out of the month, I already try to do. I try to live a charitable life everyday. I try to show my love for my family and friends everyday. I try to find a way to serve my fellow man and bring peace to the world everyday. I buy gifts or perform service for those I love and respect everyday. Not just Christmas. Not just after Thanksgiving.
I hear so many people bemoan the commercialism of Christmas, the loss of the importance of what the day is supposed to be about: the birth of a savior for man kind. A day to remember to emulate His life. But then they go about shopping or they volunteer at the soup kitchen for one day.
Christmas should be what we try to do for New Year’s. It should be a day of self-reflection of how we can be better people for the year to come. An opportunity to reaffirm our commitments to service, love, charity, and furthering peace in the world. When more people can see Christmas as a day of sacrament instead of a day of gettin’-stuff, Christmas will matter again. Take the opportunity for the days off from work that most of us get to contemplate your place in the world and decide if the world is better off with you in it. If not, then be that person, seek forgiveness, find your chakra, whatever, just choose to improve the world for 365 days instead of just the 20 at the end of the year.
Christmas doesn’t matter until we make it matter in our hearts, and from there make it matter in our lives.