I’ve written here before about how Christmas wasn’t always merry for me; Momma did her best, but family dynamics often conspired to make it more Grinch than Charlie Brown. I longed for a low-tech holiday, where the family hikes out into the snowy woods, dad chops down an evergreen, and we all decorate it with hand-strung popcorn and cranberries and Bing Crosby croons in the background while mom makes gingerbread and we sip hot chocolate. It was not to be.
The older I got, the more troublesome the yuletide got. The retail extravaganza was just too much and seemed to be enjoyed most by the malls, Hallmark, and Kroger. The season stretched out longer and longer, starting before Thanksgiving, so that by the time Christmas actually arrived, I was completely over it. The tit-for-tat gift-giving, dull office parties, awkward family gatherings, obscene amounts of food…ugh. But the worst was the enforced jollity: be happy right now.
Evidently I’m not alone in not loving Christmas. The writer Anne Lamott, on her Facebook page, describes “deeply unhinged people beaming at us with a rictus of holiday mirth, wishing they had a grenade.” It’s not popular to admit you don’t love Christmas, but the fact is that, for some people, it’s just too much pressure. Some folks are lonely, missing loved ones now gone, or regretting family estrangements, tired of the stress and expense the holiday creates, tired of the fact that it is mostly not about what it’s supposed to be about. If you don’t enjoy the holiday, clearly there is something wrong with you.
So, when my rabbi asked me, as I was converting to Judaism, would I be okay with bagging Christmas, I told her, “I can’t wait to.” Becoming a Jew would let me off the hook for so many things. The fact that I still got time off from work seemed like a little bonus that didn’t quite make up for having to hear “Are you ready for Christmas?” about 900 times in two weeks. Now that my mom is gone, my brother lives in the Winter Wonderland that is Los Angeles, and there are no kids around, you’d think I’d just pull the covers over my head and enjoy my Grinchiness.
The fact is, I’m starting to like Christmas. Since it was never a religious occasion for me (and mostly isn’t anyway), there’s no conflict in my head about it; I can enjoy the greenery and lights and the occasional rum ball. I can give presents to my close Christian friends, knowing they will respect my wish not to make it an exchange…just pure giving and no receiving. I can play Santa for my husband the atheist, who happily accepts surprises to celebrate the pagan season season of solstice and solace. I can watch It’s a Wonderful Life and cry at the end, when George’s friends dump all their money on the table to pull him out of his savings-and-loan crisis…Christmas spirit at its finest. I can sleep late a couple of extra days and, when someone says “Merry Christmas,” I say, “You, too.”
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