Saturday, December 20, 2008

Free Yourself From The Burden of Creating The Best Christmas Ever!
by Anthony McCarthy
his poor holiday, Christmas, has some of the heaviest baggage heaped on it. The entire bounty of Santa’s sleigh is as nothing compared to the fascism of the multitude of perfect Christmases dreamed up by the advertisement industry, Hollywood and hack writers going back into the 19th century. That a holiday allegedly in celebration of Jesus, one of the least materialistic of prophets, has become a huge part of the most materialistic of cultures shows that things have been out of hand for several generations now.

People with children will have the hardest time liberating themselves from the burden. Parents and the rest of us have been sold on the bizarre idea that it is a moral duty to indoctrinate children into the cargo cult that is our real state religion. But it’s the opposite. Children who aren’t burdened with excess junk in their lives, who aren’t fashion conscious from the age of five, who aren’t bothered by the competitive aspects of materialism seem happier to me than those who are fully programmed. Who needs it? Children who have too much seem to be the ones who turn into jerks at such an early age.

Women carry the greatest burden of the modern, American Christmas, but I suspect they have no matter where they lived. Someone once pointed out that the introduction of the sewing machine into the home didn’t free women from the drudgery of hand sewing, it led to their being required to produce absurdly ornate clothing in order to be considered respectable. That requirement, the appearance of material respectability, is one of the greatest burdens women carry. Even the appearance of adult men gets blamed on women, and they know it. Back in the 1970s, while standing in line at the supermarket, I noticed the woman’s magazine cover that carried the order to “Have Your Best Christmas Ever!” I recalled having seen it on the cover of some woman’s magazine every year from the time I learned to read. If anyone has seen the equivalent on a man’s magazine cover, I’ll eat my balaclava.

Just the other day I heard one of the ubiquitous TV cooks bragging about beginning her Christmas cooky baking on Columbus Day and having a freezer full of cookies to give away. She said that it was a tradition in her family going back three or more generations. Well, if that makes you happy, it’s not a particularly bad way to spend some free time. That is assuming you don’t rub it in the nose of the receivers - somehow, I’ve got a feeling that for many for whom Christmas is a competitive sport, that’s the point. No one should feel it’s a moral duty to bake thousands of cookies. Or to have the perfect display, or buffet or to find the choicest presents wrapped in the latest style. Women are made to feel guilty for the whole thing, for not having the time or money and so not trying, they are made to feel inadequate if they don’t go nuts over it and, let’s be honest, you’re not meant to ever achieve perfection. If you did, how could they sell you something to top it next year.

It was also in the 1970s that my very large family decided to free ourselves of having to give presents to each other and the resultant burdens that entailed. My mother instituted pulling names from a bowl at my sister’s birthday party (which comes about at Columbus day) and buying one moderately priced present for one person. It’s made the family Christmas party a lot merrier than it was before. About the only problem is that people forget who they have drawn so you have to keep a list. Secret Santa only complicates things. In recent years some of us have been agitating to just have children under 16 draw names but we haven’t won that one yet. But hope springs eternal.

So, instead of having an unpleasant Christmas of competition and excess, have a laid-back one. Don’t get conned into asking for much or spending too much. Have a Christmas with few trips to the store and fewer boxes delivered by UPS or Fed Ex. Don’t give the kids enough stuff to turn them into insufferable brats. You might find you actually like playing a board game with them if you take the competition out of it. If they read something instead of playing with whatever computer game is the hot thing this season, they might have something to say that’s worth listening to. Don’t go into debt, don’t fight the crowds. Make a few cookies if you want to, have a bit to drink. Leave the Christmas come ons at the check out line. It’s not your duty to go into debt to support the economy. Give money to the food bank, they can make it go farther than you can at the grocery store, give money to a street person. Don’t worry what they’re going to spend it on.