Friday, December 4, 2015

Bah Humbug! (Redux)

A few years ago I wrote a blog about my mixed feelings concerning the Christmas season (Bah, Humbug! (Sort Of),12/12).  My attitudes haven't changed much, but in honor of the reflective spirit of the Holidays I want to expand a bit on this topic and offer some additional observations

It's become clear to me that a major trigger for the beginning of my Christmas malaise is the spectacle of Black Friday.  This occurs the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday which seems to bring out the best in people, including many sincere displays of generosity and charity.  The very next day, however, there is a tidal wave of selfish acquisitiveness in which the motto seems to be "Push, Shove, Grab, Buy" as people fight for everything from t.v.'s to toys.  These are most certainly not all intended as gifts, but rather are often desirable material possessions that are priced so low that the result is the retail equivalent of a feeding frenzy.  If there really is a "war on Christmas" as some have argued, I suggest that it isn't liberal philosophy but rather over-amped commercialism that is the major source.  At any rate, this day marks the beginning of my Christmas season emotional doldrums.

I have been ambivalent about the holiday season for quite some time, and I think the seeds were planted in childhood.

As a kid I can remember being so excited that I was unable to sleep on Christmas Eve.  Everything was so special -- the decorations at our house and around the city, the presents under the tree, the Christmas music on the radio and in the shopping malls, the heartwarming holiday specials on television, the dozens of Christmas cards we sent and received.  Although my family wasn't devoutly religious, we usually attended midnight mass on Christmas Eve at our local Episcopalian church.  Christmas day was a hectic family affair that started with opening presents, followed by dinner in mid-afternoon with in-laws and relatives, more exchanging and opening of gifts, then socializing until 8 or 9 o'clock.  All in all this was a very intense and long day.

The next day was a big let down.  I can remember getting together with neighborhood friends to compare gifts and to play with each other's stuff.  But the big thrill was over and it seemed anticlimactic.  Amazing what a difference 24 hours can make -- from heartfelt joy, eager anticipation, and warm fuzzy emotions to a kind of emptiness, deflation and a feeling of  despondency.  And those presents I had wanted so badly almost never lived up to my expectations.

As an adult I have to fight a tendency to become a bit depressed during the holiday season.  It's not that I'm a Scrooge at heart -- I really would like to feel the holiday spirit and experience those warm fuzzies again.  But it is hard to do when retailers start their holiday push even before Halloween, Christmas carols are used to sell merchandise rather than express holiday sentiments, and buying gifts is evaluated in terms of contribution to GNP rather than as a gesture of caring.  It seems commercialized, shallow and insincere.

And of course it is hard to reconcile the messages of goodwill and peace with pervasive international conflict, with the exploitation, denigration and ruthless subjugation of large segments of the global population, and with politicians and even some religious leaders calling for policies that are at odds with compassion and loving kindness. If we could act like it was Christmas Eve throughout the year these problems might disappear. But I fear we are more likely to act like it was the day after Christmas -- or even worse, Black Friday

To end on a more positive note, and to illustrate my ambivalence, not just negativity toward the holidays, I'll offer this thought:  maybe capturing the spirit of the season shouldn't be easy.  Maybe the challenge of overcoming the obstacles, of seeing past the commercialism, conflict, and shallowness can lead to a more significant personal and social experience.  I think it's worth a try.  Maybe now more than ever.


Robert A. said...

My sentiments too. And it is even more extreme here in So. California. But the writing is on the wall with delayed interest credit cards until '2017 & soon to arrive negative interest rates from the Federal Reserve Bank, the 1% & their Consumer Capitalist System has entered its final stage.

Cecilia Shore said...

I can totally relate. something that has helped in the last now almost 15 years is the agreement in the family thwt we will give donations to charity as our gifts. So we pick something thwt we know people are concerned about. Like this year, we are giving people biogas stoves that turn methane from cow poo to non polluting stove for use in low-income areas. Or another year it was dehydration kits following the Haiti earthquake. my husband is very clever at making little popup cards to represent the gifts. This year it is a cow and a tank and an Indian woman sitting by a stove all joined by a thick thread representing a tube, that year it was an set of tents with a little stand of medical equipment out front, i like finding out what the various relatives have picked to give us. even if it isn't something that we might have picked, we learn about them and their communities of concern.

Richard Sherman said...


Great idea!! Can you post some websites where people can do this sort of thing?


Coleen Hanna said...

Amazing how similar our childhood experiences were, right down to the exact emotions day after Christmas. I have never had children of my own, but I have often thought how nice it would have been if one of my parents had talked to me about those emotions which I assume they had a least a clue about (maybe even experienced them too as children). As a child, I thought that every negative, depressing, troublesome emotion I had was unique to me. Emotions were not discussed at all in our house and there were no relatives to go to for that sort of thing. Fast forward to the present: I have finally come to terms with Christmas and look at it as a way to distract me from the long winters we have here, and as a way to "fit in" with the culture for a few weeks. The rest of the time I feel like a misfit because so much of what is going on in the culture just does not resonate with me.

Ray White said...

I certainly share many of your sentiments about the holiday season and particularly appreciated the comments your blog received. Sandy and I no longer purchase gifts for each other, but rather save some of the money we would have spent to visit various fine restaurants on the Big Island. Instead of providing our daughters with Christmas wish lists, we ask that the money they would have spent be donated to reputable charities in our names. We give to those who serve us faithfully throughout the year, including those who collect our garbage, deliver our mail and newspapers. The garbage collectors are so appreciative that they bring the empty containers up to our garage from the street, even though we plead with them not to do so. We kind of feel the Christmas spirit all through the year when we find those cans outside our garage door.

Richard Sherman said...

Well, I must say that all of you are lifting my spirits. You are beacons of inspiration and goodwill in a sea of hatred, greed, intolerance, and fear. Care to run for congress????