Christmas Gifts, Christmas Lies
Mary and Baby Jesus
A Good Idea Gone Very Sour
At the risk of being labeled a blasphemer, Christmas is a particularly unpleasant time of year -- at least for me -- and you can save your pity. I figured out at a very early age that there is no Santa Claus, no Jesus, no God, and not even two parents who could stand to live together. Over a period of years, Christmas became that cold period when all the lies flourished, the lies that propped up non-introspective beings into buying beyond their means -- out of a sense of guilt manufactured with the same one-time craftsmanship of a sweater from JC Penney, new underwear from Sears, or a pair of slippers from Woolworth's.
Christmas has always been the time when people are "supposed" to be the most jolly, but I never saw this anywhere -- not in my own family or anywhere else. Christmas was a "holiday" to help retail outlets meet their annual sales goals. And that's about it. Even religious people didn't suddenly become nicer, more charitable, more tolerant. People spent until it hurt, and the department stores made sure that you'd feel guilty for not going even deeper into debt. It was as if they were a retail composed chorus, singing, "Is that all you care about your own children?" I witnessed the stress that Christmas placed on my mother, a poor secretary who faithfully deposited money into a Christmas savings account at Glendale Federal Bank (when that still existed). She'd have my sister and I write up "wish lists," and she'd do her best to buy something on them -- even though I could be assured of getting that box of socks and underwear -- not because it was on my list, but because I needed the items anyway.
She did the best she could with what little was at her disposal, and this made me very sad. I would have preferred that she buy me nothing and put the cash toward credit card bills. On top of this she had to prepare a Christmas feast, not just for our tiny family but for that of her brother's. My aunt's contribution to all this might be an over-baked casserole of yams and marshmallows. For many years we bought a live tree, but when they became too expensive, we switched to a fake. The live tree was sad because it quickly became dry, its needles brittle, littering the carpet. I did my best to enhance it's life by adding sugar and aspirin to its supply of water. In later years my sister lost all interest in decorating the tree. I did it by myself. She didn't even give a damn about waking up early. For her, it had all become a tedious bore. My mother usually received around a hundred Christmas cards each year, and I'd stick them up around the living room. I really wanted things to be jolly. I assisted my mother in sending out her hundred-plus Christmas cards by affixing address labels, stamps, licking envelopes and attaching Christmas Seals. I somehow thought that the harder you worked at making Christmas jolly, the better things would turn out ... but they didn't.
I did get something staring at the decorated tree in a dark room, with all of its electric bulbs and ornaments. The fallen pieces of tinsel and foil-wrapped presents glittering underneath its branches. The feeling was oxymoronic -- glad and sad at the same time. One Christmas I can remember putting my eyeball up close to a golden bulb and seeing a carnival-like depiction of myself and the room in the background. I remember weeping, quietly, not understanding why. Before I had the ability to rationalize, I felt the presence of a giant black hole in the middle of this stretched-out ceremony. Often I would have the flu exactly at this time. One year I could not even get out of bed. I listened to the laughter of my family and my uncle's seated around our large dining table. I felt delirious with fever and, again, sadness. The worst of it all was the constant aching in my chest that wouldn't go away. The sadness that our family was small, poor, fatherless -- and a terrible sense that not only Santa Claus was a fraud but so was Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the three wise men, the angles, and probably even the shepards with their sheep.
And even worse thoughts: If God was real he must be some kind of sadist. If Jesus was real he died for no reason because even the most pious people I observed were complete fakes, and he wasted his existence on entities who had no depth of feeling. With progressive years every sight and sound of Christmas made my teeth ache -- the houses decked out in electric lights, the department and even grocery stores dragging out their Christmas tunes to "put us in the mood." And every year, at the same time, the entire circus would go through its complete meaningless cycle. Yes, certainly, Christmas is a state of mind -- and my state of mind is drawn from the bubbling, churning, constrictive sensation gnawing upwards from my stomach to somewhere high up in my throat. I despise lies, I despise the collusion between capitalism and the media, I despise the concept that all of us must join hands and sing songs of joy when we actually feel like vomiting.
The happy outcome to all of these unpleansantries is that my wife (though religious) is Greek Orthodox, and the date of Christ's birth falls on some date other than December 25. Like me, she hates to see a living thing (like a pine tree) die then dragged out to the dumpster. She doesn't feel the necessity of buying gifts to experience the miracle of baby Jesus. My sister likes to leave the country this time of year -- to avoid the entire sham. She'd rather bask in the sun somewhere as far away as Tahiti than be reminded of all the falsity and pretense. My uncle's family has all passed on except for two cousins who probably strain themselves to go through the motions. My younger cousin has replaced my mother in contorting herself to make Christmas Eve and Christmas day "special." She has only to contend with the "Ordinary People" of her husband's family, however. My sister has been vilified, and my and wife and I have been relegated to invisibility -- perhaps because of our financial struggles, we represent something not quite cheerful to them.