A contemporary curmudgeon’s Christmas crisis
Words & images © Paul Ransom
Apparently, strange old men in false beards sneaking into kiddies’ bedrooms, purportedly to deposit gifts, is really quite fine these days. No, not creepy. Not weird at all.
Before you start berating me for trying to ‘cancel’ Christmas, I’m not calling for a blanket ban. I just wish it weren’t so…dreadful. So forced and false. And so damn cheesy. I mean, seriously, what possible excuse is there for tinsel? Or the lamer-than-lame Dad jokes inside Christmas crackers?
(Oh no, I can feel another misanthropic rant coming on. What a ghastly Brahmin elite I am, snootily sneering down on your Yuletide fun. Surely I should just shut up and let the rest of you over-eat, over-spend and… No wait! I mean enjoy precious family time. See, what a goddam Grinch. If only you knew how awful it was to hate Christmas.)
At this juncture I could start harping on about orgies of consumption, or Christianity’s appropriation of winter solstice totems, or even the oft reported festive spikes in suicide and family violence, but to be fair my distaste for Nativity-related ritual emerged sometime in childhood. Basically, not long after the death of Santa, Xmas became a kind of annual disappointment. Over-promise, under-deliver. Presents not quite as cool as I thought they might be. Cake stodgy. Nothing good on TV.
Later, as an adolescent, I started to notice the adult tensions. The fissure between the shiny happy people of Christmas legend and the not-so-perfect people who stressed out and got into fights because there was just something about their distinctly un-divine day of Messianic celebration that did not fucking cut it. Or that was a chore. Or worse, a bore.
Boxing Day often dawned with a sense of relief. At least there was cricket on the telly. 1
My guess is that many of you will have endured similar. When you were not grinning and bearing it for the sake of the kids or grimacing through Uncle Barry’s seasonal lecture about chemtrails and microchips, the falseness of it all will have been as apparent to you as it was to me. And this year – you already know – will be no different.
In fact, the only difference is that while you will most likely show up and convince yourself that, despite the underwhelming turkey and overpriced seafood, the effort is basically worth it, I won’t be making any effort at all. No cards. No calls to aging parents. Nothing that requires wrapping.
What a total bastard!
There is a belief that being alone at Christmas is a form of modern tragedy. For many, this is doubtless true – and for them I feel.2 For me, the solitary Navidad is the best gift of all. Should you be stirred by this to ‘reach out’ to me on Dec 25, please don’t. The phone, to which so many of you are permanently attached, will not be consulted.
Normally, such self-exclusion would warrant a mere shrug of the shoulder – sure buddy, your loss – but whenever I make mention of my avowedly un-Christmassy ways mild dismissals turn seriously askance. Even libertarian blow-hards, (normally quick to regard anything even remotely smacking of collectivist joining in as an egregious assault on hard-won freedoms), and awakened leftist refuseniks, (for whom cis/hetero/patriarchal gods and crass consumerism are anathema), have eyed me with suspicion and pity on this score. To skip Christ’s birthday is clearly an act of misanthropic heresy and nigh suicidal ennui. Proof, if it were needed, that I am exactly the kind of curmudgeonly snob who drops the word ennui into otherwise intelligible sentences.
There is, doubtless, a complex of psycho-emotional drivers for my ongoing seasonal chagrin, and these likely underscore a range of deeply seated character flaws. My trenchant inability to rub along with the legislated good cheer of late December may well be little more than an attention seeking tantrum.
But what if that’s letting me off easy? What if Christmas is the acid test of tribal inclusion? Sure, it’s disguised as a vulgar and excessive frenzy of shopping and filial virtue signalling; but suppose that’s just an ironically devilish trick designed to weed out the truly wicked. If you won’t even pretend to be nice…well, where does that us leave us, mister?
Xmas, it seems, marks the spot. In the chasm between hype and reality, hope and outcome – where paper hats and misplaced gift cards are so much detritus – only the fit and faithful survive. Unless, like Bear Grylls, we are prepared to drink our own piss, (or, like Mary, give birth without drugs in a barn in mid-winter), the choice, it appears, is between the warmth of communal embrace or the sterile solitude of the faithless void – where, along with other emaciated exiles, we will have little alternative but to dress up as fat men and sneak into people’s houses, only to be forced to sit balefully at the foot of sleeping kiddies’ beds and wish we were good enough to snuggle up.
I have tried to like Christmas; especially when I was younger and wont to throw parties for others who didn’t quite love the day as much as they were led to believe they should. However, with age came the realisation that getting high and flailing around to German techno on a full stomach of Aussie prawns and Belgian chocolate was simply replacing one problem with another. Come the bleary Boxing Day afternoon, I was still a Yule-hating bastard, (no matter how compelling the cricket was).
These days, as a less stoned grump, I am left contemplating the festive mirror, wondering how I got to be so un-Noel, and what the distinct lack of pine needles and presents says about me.
However, moral conundrums and psycho-crises aside, I can at least assuage my unworthiness by successfully avoiding the genuine horror of Christmas music. Last Christmas, I gave you a spin…this year, to save me from sin… (Yep, totally not going there.)
Which, in conclusion, probably sums up my selfish, un-joiny-in attitude. Still, if you promise not to crucify me for my lack of Christmas spirit, I promise not to judge you from on high.
Oh, btw, Merry Christmas. LOL.
1: This is a distinctly Australian phenomenon. Day One of the Boxing Day Test from the MCG is as significant to Aussies as a bumper day of Premier League fixtures is to the Brits, or indeed retail pandemonium and other such rituals are elsewhere on Dec 26. So yeah, I will be watching this year, stale mince pie ready to sacrifice to the deities of sporting distraction, as the first ball is bowled.
2: Though this Xmas refusal thing is an amusing choice for me, I acknowledge that for many the season exacerbates their sense of exclusion and disenfranchisement. The economic and cultural norms of Christmas, with its emphasis on consumption and family, has much documented adverse impacts on those enduring relative or absolute poverty, survivors of family violence and sexual abuse, and those who are estranged, imprisoned, bereaving or in ill-health. The legislated happiness of Christmas is, for many of us, simply too much to bear with a false grin (let alone a fake beard). If this is your reality, I apologise for the levity above and extend my deepest sympathy to you.