We all know that people get bugshit crazy around the holidays. Depression is certainly prevalent, but even if that’s not the case, emotions are heightened in an unprecedented way we don’t see at any other time of year. I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but I do celebrate Christmas. In fact I love Christmas. Someone told me recently—someone lathered up amidst this new influx of ideological fracas and religious fuckery going on in America—that this makes me a hypocrite. I found this amusing and also interesting, and so it got me thinking about the stories we use to identify ourselves how they inevitably change throughout our lives—as well as the things deep inside that never change, no matter how old we get.
I silenced my finger-pointing friend by listing all of the Christmas traditions that have nothing to do with Christianity—Mind you, I did not use the token ‘You fuckers stole this from the pagans!’ but more in the vein of ‘Everything morphs and changes over time, adopts new details and becomes something else, and that’s okay.’
Seriously, come on. I also don’t believe ghosts walk the earth on Samhain, but I still hand out candy to kids and love me some fucking Halloween. It’s become a tradition, something that goes beyond religious beliefs and back to a simpler time in our childhood when magic was real, and I believe this, above all else, is what drives the emotional frenzy circling like an electric crazy-train in our society during the holiday season. People feel like they’ve lost something, but it’s not their freedom or their religion or their right to put a wreath and spray paint ‘Merry Christmas’ in sparkly glitter on the front door. No, it’s their youth they’re mourning, and all that went with it.
I was a kid in the 1970s in America, so when I see people my age getting revved up over this fictional ‘war on Christmas’ it makes me laugh. It’s like every Christmas special we grew up watching on television has suddenly become manifest. It’s not Muslims or Jews or atheists that scare you. It’s some imaginary mutant love-child of The Grinch and Burgermeister Meisterburger. This monster is coming to take your toys away and stop Christmas from coming and WE CAN’T HAVE THAT! Get Mickey Rooney on speed dial, we’ve got a situation here!
Like I said, I was there. I was there when a lot of these now paranoid war on Christmas conspiracy theorists were kids. I remember all of my friends hating having to go to church, bemoaning Sunday school classes, and having very little interest in the true meaning of Christmas as long as it meant Santa was bringing them that new 10-speed bike on December 25th. So who are you trying to kid? You little assholes never cared about religion.
Yes, things change, and this country has more diversity now and therefore has had to adjust to become more inclusive. But that doesn’t mean someone’s coming for your chocolate coins and candy canes and stockings hung by the chimney with care. You can still bang on tong-tinglers and blow your foo-flounders and carve the roast beast.
And I suspect that like the Whos down in Whoville, you’ll wake in the morn of December 25th and find that Christmas came, yes it came just the same. Will it be exactly like you remember it? Will it be like it was when you felt safe, tucked in wearing your footy pajamas, and there were no mass shootings on the news and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was playing on two of the three channels on TV? Of course not.
And change can suck. Change means growing, and aging, and the fragile withering of safety nets we once felt beneath our feet. When we were told by our parents that we were safe no matter what. When we were told that if we went to sleep on Christmas Eve, we’d wake up and find that magic had entered our homes in the middle of the night and brought us gifts. Somewhere deep inside we still crave that, and we resent that it wasn’t real, that there is no Santa, that there really is no magic. That there is no real safety in our lives, no guarantees that everything will be all right. That we won’t get sick, we won’t die, and there are no real monsters lurking in the shadows.
Change. It rips apart that safety net, and now the parents we once saw as invincible guardians tucking us in on Christmas Eve are getting older, slipping away, perhaps already gone. And it scares the crap out of us.
Things change. And so our stories must change as well.
Maybe you’ve inherited family members that share no blood, but have equal importance and are a staple for holiday gatherings. Maybe there are one or two blood relatives that used to be a staple at Christmas but now don’t speak to you because of some argument or other. Maybe you just lost someone you love, and feel an empty space inside no matter how many warm bodies gather round the tree with you. And maybe you get tired now after a couple glasses of wine and fall asleep on the couch before the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe there’s someone brand new in your life this year. Or maybe you feel like you don’t have anyone at all. And next year, that too will likely have changed.
Things change, but you are the author, the architect of how you choose to embrace or not embrace the holiday season, not anyone else, not some power beyond your control. So accept that the story might not be exactly as you remember it growing up, make the best of what you’ve got now, and just fucking roll with it. And while there’s no longer any guarantee of magic, I can guarantee two things. First, we’re all going to die, no matter what we do, so let’s not take things so seriously. And second:
No matter what you believe, and no matter how much things have changed, not the Grinch, nor Burgermeister Meisterberger, nor Muslims, nor any liberal, lefty, non-believer like me, is coming to take your holiday story away from you.