Christmas is a strange holiday for the the Western world. It’s a weird mix of secular economic greed and religious fervor, layered over tribal European traditions. It’s a holiday in which our culture values a combination of iconography as representative of connections and sentiment. It’s also a holiday that countless marketing campaigns have made nostalgic and emotional in order to better push the purchase of physical and material things. And in order to give us all more time to buy those things, in America (and by extension, Canada) it’s now also an eight week holiday, an orgy of capitalism that starts the day after Halloween.
In these so called “modern” times, we have also re-tribalized ourselves in how we choose to celebrate the holiday. In recent years, some media channels have leveraged outrage to ensure that individual celebrations of Christmas are aligned to identity politics. And like all identity elements, people are very attached and emotional about how the holiday is presented in the public consciousness. People are hurt and disappointed when their image of Christmas doesn’t match up to the Christmas they have “in their hearts”. Hence, the false perception of the “war on Christmas” for those who associate Christmas with the birth of Jesus even though it is NOT Jesus’ birthday.
It isn’t that they don’t say “Christmas”, it’s that these cups represent a seasonal money-grab of unhealthy sugary drinks that are based purely on olfactory nostalgia! HUMBUG.
It will fully admit that it is my own identity association, and my own attachment to the two-week max Very English Christmas of my family and hometown that has forged my general dislike of the eight goddamn weeks we now have to spend on this overly commercialized capitalist holiday as an entire season. I cannot grumble enough about how much I dislike hearing Christmas songs in November, or how unnecessary it is to have holiday cups appear at Starbucks at Halloween. I cannot make enough statements about how unnecessary holiday movies seem to be, the vast majority of which rely on emotionally manipulative narratives to reinforce a “true meaning of Christmas” as being about “the people one loves”…right before there’s a cut to a commercial encouraging one to purchase more stuff for the people one loves. Christmas has become an extended exercise in emotional selling for secular America, a holiday no one can escape. To quote my father, “by the time Christmas gets here, we’re all bloody well sick of it.”
So I grumble because I do not want to be sick of Christmas by the time it gets here. I quite like the holiday season! I love celebrating our world’s version of the Feast of Sunreturn! I love everything to do with kindling light, whether it be a menorah or a Yule log. It’s the part of the holiday where I feel the two sides of my heritage have a common denominator, instead of just being from as far apart as you can get within Europe. And I love classical carols, even if I do find the metal versions more fun:
My idealized holiday season is to celebrate Hanukkah, and then follow that with a traditional Yule coated in a thin veneer of Dickens. This, unfortunately, does not fit with eight weeks of commercialized American Christmas. I want my Christmas to be an actual special occasion, not an extended holiday media and shopping season. I want it to be a few days of extended meditation triggered by the dark of the winter solstice, expressed by burning a Yule log and the celebration of not dying through some evergreen foliage.
Being grumpy about the extended American Christmas season is also a strong family tradition. My father would cheerfully remark, when Christmas themed commercials came on in November, that it was all a bunch of American capitalist nonsense. Everyone thinks I’m a lefty because my mother was a hippie, but I come by my socialist leanings honestly on both sides: it was my father who pointed out every year that Santa was a creation of Coca Cola and Rudolph and Frosty were just extra commercial fodder. In his family, the holiday was compressed to a few days with minimal decoration and classical carols because that’s what my grandparents could do with the time and resources they had. To extend the season would be preposterous and wasteful; to add extra gratuitious emotions to it would be downright un-English. (I honestly do not get how Love, Actually came out of the UK; it seems to drip superfluous emotion in the most non-English ways possible)
Where exactly is the line though between celebrating the holiday in a way that is true to one’s cherished family memories and traditions and caving to the commercialized version we’ve adopted as the de facto extended holiday in America? Is it fair for me to be cantankerous about Christmas music in November just because my Christmas is more aligned to a Very Minimalist Northern England Coal Miner and Steel Mill Worker tradition? Or does this put me in the same identity-alignment camp as those who insist we are taking the Christ out of Christmas? By insisting that everyone needs to pare down Christmas, am I being as willfully culturally blind as the individuals who insist that Jesus is the reason for the season?
Maybe. After all, there are many people out there who adore the extended Christmas season, and who love all of the trappings of the modern extended capitalist American holiday. Someone must be the audience for all those Netflix movies about Christmas, after all. It is unfair for me to insist that other people’s traditions and seasonal enjoyment are wrong just because my family believes that society could have well done without continuing to reinforce stupid anti-feminist romance tropes in seasonal movie plotlines:
And yet – and yet – one has to ask if perhaps celebrating a shortened minimalist holiday is better for everyone. Does it really make people happier to have an extended holiday season, or does it create additional emotional labor for women who are reminded at every step of the journey that they are supposed to be making it a goddamn magical season? If we shortened the season down to twelve days, if we set more minimalist expectations, if we made it less about the magnanimity of Santa Claus and more about not incurring the wrath of Odin, would we appreciate it more? If we kept to the Dickensian Christmas Eve party, in its echoes of the old Yule feast, would we be more grateful for the celebration instead of being overloaded? If we only sang the classical carols instead of listening to Christmas radio, would we be more likely to sing for joy? There is some logic – and possibly more gratitude – to a shorter, less ridiculous season that has been long forgotten in the commercialization and subsequent extension of the holiday. After all, even the Who’s down in Whoville didn’t start singing until the day of the holiday: