A Christmas Ramble
What is the meaning of Christmas?
For me, the layers beneath this are unending. The query is really about family culture and how we unravel our family culture from the consumer culture we are held in thrall to.
I was raised in an atmosphere of Christmas that carried overtones of the Victorian Era, wealthy, white Virginia and a broken family. I’m not sure if some of my Christmas gifts were weighted with the guilt of divorced parents, but I suspect that to be true. Christmas for me has always been the one time each year when gifting happens. It is when I receive gifts and when I give them. I love both equally. I well-chosen gift for someone I love is an immediate gift back to myself. A well-chosen gift that I get to open and receive is a moment in which I feel seen and understood. Loved.
But Christmas. Christmas is women’s work. We are expected to decorate, bake, prepare a huge Christmas dinner, shop, wrap and carol our way through a thrilling season of happiness…doesn’t that sound at least somewhat exhausting to you? I’ve done it for decades and can assure you that it is, indeed, exhausting. I can assure you that none of this has anything to do with worshipping the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is all about meeting cultural expectations, especially within my own family. And getting back to that exhaustion, I’m tired just from thinking about it.
For years I’ve said I’m not going to do it again. But I always do. Its like there is some split-off part of my personality that goes into a once-annual shopping frenzy that completely bypasses my rational brain. I look up on Christmas Eve, from amidst the piles of boxes from Amazon, bags from the mall, wrapping paper, ribbons and self-adhesive tags and wonder *what the everloving fuck*? Why am I standing here piling gifts into piles to be sure that each of our five children, 4 of whom are completely grown, have approximately the same number and dollar amount of gifts in their pile. What would I do about it on Christmas Eve if they didn’t? Who knows. Again, I’m tired just from thinking about it
I want to share a personal story to reinforce the idea that Christmas is women’s work. A few years ago I had whooping cough at Christmas. I had not gone to the doctor to have it diagnosed but I had been repeatedly exposed to kids who had it and I had all of the symptoms of a pretty serious case. My husband agreed to ‘help’ me wrap the gifts for all of *our* children. He was cranky, in a really nasty temper actually. I don’t remember why. What I do remember is coughing til I vomited, being so exhausted that I splattered tears onto the wrapping paper and tape as I powered through this yearly ritual. I remember wondering why he had so little empathy for me that he didn’t just do the wrapping himself rather than being angry at me for requesting that he do so.
The answer, I think, is obvious: He is just as bought into this idea that Christmas is women’s work as the rest of the world and up until that moment I had behaved like a proper woman should. I had shopped, baked, hidden gifts, measured gifts, send packages to people afar, hosted parties and Advent Spiral walks, decorated and sung and played Christmas music for the duration of the month-long lead in. And he was pissed that something had crumbled. My health. Again, I’m tired just from thinking about it. Absolutely exhausted.
Why do we do this? Those of us who know better, why do we continue to play along? What is wrong with us that we chuck our diligent self-care rituals, our careful consumption, our dedication to reducing our use of packaging material and imports from China and so much else about our ethics and our moral and our health right out the window when December rolls around? I’m tired just from thinking about it.
You know what I want to know? What matters at Christmastime? What are the things that memories are made of? What are the things that traditions are made of? Is is REALLY all about the presents? Or could we do something sweeter such as exchange one small gift with one another and then go for a walk on the cold, winter beach? Or could we do something else, something that means I’m not showing up on Christmas morning exhausted and dreading going to my dad’s house where my equally exhausted step-mother will be simmering angrily, just waiting for someone to yell at, someone whom she can vent her exhausted spleen at. Honestly, I’m tired just from thinking about it.
I want a new way of doing this. A new way of celebrating what, to me, is a day to spend with my family sharing alone time, food and tradition. I would really prefer those traditions be about something other than an entire month of my life, income and energy having been expended. I would like for Christmas to be something that makes ME feel good, too.