Highway to the Manger Zone

Ah, Christmas. December 25th. Big J's birthday, and according to my TV, the only day out of the entire year that I have the opportunity to tell every single person that I've ever loved that they mean something to me. The only day I have to get them something they've always wanted, but haven't already gotten themselves. It's also the best time of year to buy the most expensive things in stock at my local retailer.

At least, that's what I think the TV is telling me. All I know for sure is that the "shopping holiday" is back and that means the bookstore is crowded, the roads are jammed on Sundays, and all the commercials have snowflakes in them.

I'm not a huge fan of Christmas. I'm not against the idea of it, but I find the reality of an event based on giving in a country based on materialism often over shadows any of the original intent of this holiday. I didn't always feel this disdain for the holidays. I used to love Christmas, just like I used to love my birthday or any other event where I got gifts. What kid doesn't want crap all the time? It wasn't until I grew up a little that I realized that that was all Christmas was to me, just a time of hyperactive consumerism.

Maybe it is a result of being born in the 80s "Me" generation. Perhaps the corporations didn't start their full frontal assault of ads and great deals until I was just old enough to absorb it like a sponge from behind the bars of my crib. Maybe it was being a child raised with no religion or tradition. Maybe it was my childhood altogether, but as far as I can remember the underlying emotional attachment to Christmas has never really been there for me.

I remember walking around my house, where the holiday was and is still often held, on Christmas Eve. Clutching a stuffed replica of the crocodile from Disney's Peter Pan I would wander around the artificial forest of decorated trees and try not to get caught up in the complex web of blinking lights. For the month of December our house was transformed into a tiny art gallery dedicated to the latest in Yule Tide fashion. With small clans of porcelain Santas on display by the glow of the overhead lights of our bar and the dual tape deck in our stereo belting out Genesis and R.E.M. Or, if it was a year that my Dad was home sometimes he would sneak in and put in a Van Morrison tape.

Eventually, I would find my way through all of the lights, painted glass, and plastic foliage to the object of my affection. I didn't really care about our trees and all their trimmings. I wanted to see what every little boy wants to catch a glimpse of on the most magical night of the year: quality seasonal network programming. I wanted to see the Grinch, Frosty, Rudolph, Charlie Brown, and the lamp that looks like a leg. These were the shoes that only came once a year. They were movies I hadn't memorized all of the dialogue to and shows whose endings I had forgotten. Everybody likes TV in December.

Oh, and Santa? Sure why not? He's not very fun to be around but he gives you stuff. Santa is kind of like every kid's great uncle from Oklahoma.

These socks don't have a label, are they from Santa? Oh, wait, there's the tag. These are from Milton.

I even vividly remember the exact moment I realized that Santa wasn't real. Our stockings were always stuffed to the point of near breach. As I walked through the living room one day I noticed a small chocolate bear poking out of the top of my stocking. I was a little hungry and decided that one bear wouldn't be missed so I snatched it from the ceremonial sock and bolted. Usually on Christmas day everything is such a blur of wrapping paper and camera flashes that I never paid any attention to the little candy and knick knacks in the big red socks, but now that I had to escape from the crime scene I had a little time to examine my contraband. That's when I noticed the price tag that had "Brookshire's" printed above the $0.23.

"Santa can't make chocolate. He has to buy it like everyone else." That was my mother's response when presented with the evidence. My entire concept of Santa was destroyed. To a child the spirit of Christmas is based on the existence of Santa Clause. Without the primary figurehead there is nothing left to commonly bond the different aspects of the holiday together. Everything comes into question.

If Santa isn't real then are all the presents bought from a store? So is buying presents for the people you love the point of Christmas? What about Aunt Hazel? I don't even know her, so why does she get a present with my name on it? I didn't get Dad anything! Does that mean I didn't get Christmas right? Oh God, you can get holidays wrong?

Just like that I had lost a piece of my childhood forever and was thrust a little farther into adulthood, like a Saturn 5 jettisoning a booster rocket. I realized that buying things is the point of Christmas. It's a schedulable act of love that we can work into our busy lives. It's an occasion to get off of our asses and talk to the people we should be talking to year around. If it wasn't for Christmas my grandmother in England wouldn't even know I was still alive, or I her for that matter.

For some Christmas seems to light a fire inside of them to spread joy and cheer. To me it looks like an excuse to decorate your house as flamboyant as you want with no repercussions.

Candles on the entertainment center? Why not? Tiny statues of elderly, obese vagrants placed on top of the refrigerator with care? Sure. A goddamned bush in the middle of our den? Whatever.

All I know is that it's Christmas time again and I still don't get it. I've pretty much reserved myself to the fate of never knowing what the point of this holiday is. Is it Jesus? A friendly fat guy? Old Navy? Who knows? Who can know in this day and age? This isn't exactly a time of peace on earth or good will towards men.

I sit and think all of these things and then I see my wife, so excited as she adorns our home with colorful ornaments and little plastic reindeer. She laughs like a newborn baby at a little dancing penguin she found in a department store. She's even gone and planned something, a secret something, for the day after Christmas for the two of us.

My mother, who has been going through a rough time lately, even decided that she wanted Christmas at her house this year. She's finally ready to say "I think I'm going to be ok" and she's chosen December 25th to symbolize that. She wanted a sure way to get everyone together and just enjoy each other's company.

My Dad even dropped me an email from riot torn Bangladesh the other day to see how I was doing and wish me a Happy Christmas. It was a significant enough event for him to feel nothing less than compelled to communicate with his only son.

After all of that, the day can't be totally meaningless can it? If it can serve as a focal point for people that love each other to really show their significant others how much they care then perhaps I've just been looking in the wrong place for meaning.

I've been searching for the reason Christmas still exists in our flippant and fickle society, but I discovered something unexpected in my research. The meaning of any celebration, Christmas included, must be imbued before it can be observed. Christmas can't be proven to us cynical bastards, it has to be proven by us cynical bastards.

It's the old standard of "you get what you put into it."; the "it" in this case being purpose. No Ghost of Christmas Meaning is going to come by and lay it all out for me in a neat little package. I've got to get off my ass and make an effort to relax and enjoy the time of year a little. Because if we stop giving an effort, then the season really will be meaningless.

It's a lot to think about as Christmas draws frighteningly near. I have a lot of work ahead of me before I'm singing "Jingle Bells" but at least I have a starting point now.

Happy Holidays, everyone, and remember, it's never too early to start thinking about the things that matter the most.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/cupic.jpg)

Comments

Best. Title. Ever.

*Raises a toast*

the duel tape deck in our stereo belting out Genesis and R.E.M. Or, if it was a year that my Dad was home sometimes he would sneak in and put in a Van Morrison tape.

Awesome.

Great title, too. As for the overall theme, I agree. And growing up in the 80s sort of makes everything generally meaningless, I suspect. I suggest not reading Kierkegaard, Camus, or Sartre in the coming week if you want to get around that. That's better suited to the spring, when you can go find some sun to cheer you up.

I do suggest transferring your former love of holiday programming to a new love of holiday drinks. Mulled wine, hot cider, egg nog, hot buttered rum, etc. I have a party every year that's basically a celebration of these and seasonal brews. It's a good tradition.

Edit: Almost forgot champagne for New Year's!

wordsmythe wrote:

I do suggest transferring your former love of holiday programming to a new love of holiday drinks.

Unfortunately, my family doesn't drink and we hide away all of our alcohol when they come over. Chiggie will have to suffer coherently through Christmas Eve with them. With the dog howling while closed up in our room. While there are about 18 people in our incredibly small house. While my cousin's kids play whatever evil instrument they have lugged over. Sometimes you just have to be determined to be happy around Christmas or else you'll go insane.

Blessings of the season to you and yours, Chiggie, and to everyone here. I didn't get you a gift, but at least we can give you the warm feeling of a receptive, appreciative audience (if that doesn't give you a warm feeling, go try some of the aforementioned hot cider and mulled wine).

*raises a toast*

Huzzah!

**waited too long to post. I say keep a bottle in a back room and take turns going back for more 'holiday spirit'

I'm with Bill.

I've got relatives we have to hide the booze from when we get together at my parents' place. Doesn't stop me from hitting that closet as soon as they leave, though. Sometimes I have to race my sister.

Cheers!

Chiggie Von Richthofen wrote:

It's the old standard of "you get what you put into it."; the "it" in this case being purpose. No Ghost of Christmas Meaning is going to come by and lay it all out for me in a neat little package. I've got to get off my ass and make an effort to relax and enjoy the time of year a little. Because if we stop giving an effort, then the season really will be meaningless.

*Big nods of agreement* As a secular type, I'd like to think that the holiday is what choose to make of it, instead of what history might prescribe it to be.

Wow...Great read!!! You are absolutely correct; Christmas is what you make it...

Wordsmythe, I understand about nobody in the family drinking...My family had one alcoholic uncle (he was my favorite too) but since he dissappeared about 10 years ago during a drunken stooper, the holiday season just hasn't been the same...Oh well, everyone else in the family is happy he's gone...(*True story btw)

Seriously though even though nobody in my family drinks anymore (outlaws included) I still manage to sneak a couple nips of liquor and puff or two here and there throughout the day...The key to sucess is to keep it from plain site and don't be gone from the festivities for too long...

Oh, and always have the essentials on hand:

Breath mints
Eye drops
Incense or potpourri

Cheers and Happy Holidays to you all!!!

PS: Alternate holiday for heathen
http://www.chicagoist.com/archives/2...

LupusUmbrus wrote:

*Big nods of agreement* As a secular type, I'd like to think that the holiday is what choose to make of it, instead of what history might prescribe it to be.

It's basically like this: sometimes a thing never gets wet unless someone comes along and dumps a glass of water on it.

To a child the spirit of Christmas is based on the existence of Santa Clause. Without the primary figurehead there is nothing left to commonly bond the different aspects of the holiday together.

I'd like to respectfully disagree with this commonly held opinion. While this may be true for many children, it definitely wasn't the case for me. My parents were well aware of A. the crushing disappointment many children feel when they learn Santa isn't real and B. the fact that it would be hard for them to teach me their religious beliefs which included honesty if they lied to me about Santa, and therefore I never believed. However, I don't know how any child could have enjoyed Christmas more than I did. Now, it started to lose some of it's luster around the time I probably would have found out about Santa anyway, but I still had problems getting to sleep on Christmas Eve into my twenties.

To me, Christmas has always been a time to enjoy the company of family, decorate, eat good food, and exchange presents. As my family has grown (marriage and now my 2 year old son), we've worked with both sides of the family to make sure we made time for everyone and still had time for ourselves. Now the holidays are admittedly a time where all the crap inside you has time to boil up and make itself known(the Christmas of 2001 was especially painful- the uncertainty of the immediacy of 9/11, I had just turned 30, my job situation sucked) and I think that's a lot of the reason why some people have so many problems with them.

and the duel tape deck in our stereo

Wow, that's hardcore. Most people duel with a sword or a pistol! Chiggie's got the moxie to duel with a stereo.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/cupic.jpg)

Hey, is this the fabled mug you've been searching for.

Like Jadawin, I was raised with the knowledge that not only is Santa not real but that there were many kids my age that thought he was real. My parents, like Jada's are Christian and so the idea of Santa is somewhat silly bordering on blasphemous. However, my parents were very firm in instructing me that it isn't my place to tell other kids that what they believe isn't true. We celebrate Christmas in our way and they in theirs. I also enjoyed learning that the day traditionally honored as the birth of Christ was actually based on an old pagan holiday (I mean, honestly mom and dad, who teaches a six year old the word pagan?) and that because of all this silliness, we might as well enjoy Christmas for the trumped up federal holiday that it is and enjoy being with family and loved ones.

I don't care about the commercialization of our holidays because our whole lives are commercialized. Every day I'm the target of advertising of all sorts and to me, the holiday shopping season is just The Man singing a different verse of the same song he blares year round. And I ignore him while keeping a keen eye out for products I've planned to purchase but are now at significantly lower prices.

As I've grown older, I've come to enjoy the holidays in different ways. It's no longer about getting "crap" it's about just enjoying life and being able to relax for a few days out of the year. I enjoy being able to watch my nieces and nephews open up presents with the same energy I had at that age. And for me, gift giving has now recently become about trying to outsmart my significant other, who has some sort of obscene quasi-mystic ability to guess what she's gotten.

Find what works for you and go with it!

Happy Holidays!

Great introspective article Chiggie. I've found myself thinking alot about some of the stuff you discuss here. Clarifying the meaning and importance of Christmas became more relevant to me since having kids of my own. I often feel a bit guilty about perpetuating the Santa myth with my kids. My wife and I balance it with the religious meaning of the holidays but I can't help but feel our kids must secretly think the whole Christmas thing is a bit confusing (heck, I do!).

I try to focus on spending time with family and friends as much as possible this time of year. My wife and I agreed that a week off around the holidays is now standard so it allows us a bit of time to appreciate the holidays and our children while destressing from the commercial crush.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday to you all.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
and the duel tape deck in our stereo

Wow, that's hardcore. Most people duel with a sword or a pistol! Chiggie's got the moxie to duel with a stereo.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/cupic.jpg)

Hey, is this the fabled mug you've been searching for. :D

Man I even went and checked which "dewel" I needed and then got it wrong anyway.

And yes, that mug actually fits my whole hand. It's even the exact shape and size I wanted, but just with the added bonus that it looks like #$@%ing snowman.

As for the religious backing of the holiday for some of you, I totally see where you are coming from and envy your convictions that allow you to enjoy that day, or any holiday, outside of the commercial blitzkrieg.

When I was groing up my religious teaching basically consisted of, "look at what's out there and find what you believe in the most, because nobody can be proven write or wrong." Bascially a big shrug and a "who knows" kind of attitude which I still carry with me today. So, to then celebrate Christmas obviously after a while I would question why we were doing it and the answer was "because it's fun." I won't begin to describe how I lived my life after that moment but needless to say it was outside of the norm.

Christmas to me has always been a time when the secrets to life come boiling to the surface to be skimmed off and examined. Whether it's the intense stress of the holiday or the selfless feelings it evokes in people or going slightly insane from hearing all those ringing bells outside of Wal-mart, things always seem to be clearer at Christmas time. True motivations are revealed and if you are looking for it you can really get some insight on the inner workings of our society.

And I am saying "Christmas" a lot but I do also mean the other winter holidays in general, or anytime that people feel compelled to act differently from their normal routines. Christmas was just an easy target because I grew up around it and I hope none of you feel left out from my depressing diatribe of the holiday season.

I sit and think all of these things and then I see my wife, so excited as she adorns our home with colorful ornaments and little plastic reindeer. She laughs like a newborn baby at a little dancing penguin she found in a department store. She's even gone and planned something, a secret something, for the day after Christmas for the two of us.

I would say *this* is the reason for Christmas buddy. Enjoy it while you can.

Christmas can't be proven to us cynical bastards, it has to be proven by us cynical bastards.

That's insanely good - can I send that to my Pastor? He would love it.

As far as "tricking" the kids, no guilty feelings at all. We still do all the steps and my kids are pretty much grown. Just as we've done every Christmas Eve since they were very little, we got a round of homemade hot chocolate that was almost a solid marshmallowy object and I read them "A Wish for Wings that Work". They ask me to do it every year, and woe betide any suggested shortcuts on any of our traditional fronts.

I'm putting the finishing touches on my draft text for the 'thank you note' from Santa to the kids for the milk and cookies. And there is a set of presents that will be put under the tree later that come from no known provenance, and don't use any wrapping paper that has ever reared it's head in my house. They're labeled as "from Santa". And I still get whatever sleep I get tonight on the couch just in case someone decides to do a little oh-dark-hundred recon of the tree area and it's contents. They haven't done it in years, but it's tradition now.

They know I do the notes and stuff - this year they suggested we put out a Guiness and a sandwich. They said if Santa didn't want it then I could drink it. I said no, and besides I wasn't going to tempt him to drink and drive. We settled on a homebrewed peppermint latte in a thermos and three of my shortbread cookies still warm from the oven.

The best part is when they've grown up and start to join in. Last year, Johnathan put a note in the fireplace for Santa in his own version of the thank you note and this year he's already got my bed made up on the couch. The note was thanking him for the gifts and asking him to get me to bed so I get at least some sleep. This year Stephen laid the fire for the morning with the pieces of our Christmas tree from last year. And the girls put the star on the top of the tree together.

I've never told my kids "the truth" per se. We've had a couple conversations sort of dancing around the edges of it. It's not like they didn't figure it out on their own. It's not like they really believe there's a fat man flying through the sky tonight. It's more that they consider it something that is "true", whether it's really real or not. Kind of like that speech in the middle of Secondhand Lions. We would like to believe that there is something in this world as elementally good and kind as Santa Claus. And this is the way our traditions have given us to be a part of that. Yes, it sounds a little like "The Polar Express". But that doesn't make it any less true, either.

At any rate, join me in a happy Bah Humbug or whatever works for you, and I'll see you on the other side. I'm in the middle of my last preparations and I'll be at this the rest of the night.

momgamer wrote:
Christmas can't be proven to us cynical bastards, it has to be proven by us cynical bastards.

That's insanely good - can I send that to my Pastor? He would love it.

As long as he cites it if he decides to use it.

H.P. Lovesauce wrote:

Best. Title. Ever.

Thanks Chiggie - I'll never be able to watch Top Gun in the same way again

Chiggie Von Richthofen wrote:

I sit and think all of these things and then I see my wife, so excited as she adorns our home with colorful ornaments and little plastic reindeer. She laughs like a newborn baby at a little dancing penguin she found in a department store. Shes even gone and planned something, a secret something, for the day after Christmas for the two of us.

So what was the special secret somthing? Were hot tubs involved?

Nice read, and congrats on the awesome mug.

Very nice article. I really liked your build-up and your conclusion. So very true.

Chiggie Von Richthofen wrote:
momgamer wrote:
Christmas can't be proven to us cynical bastards, it has to be proven by us cynical bastards.

That's insanely good - can I send that to my Pastor? He would love it.

As long as he cites it if he decides to use it. ;)

He will. I want to hear "Chiggie Von Richthofen" done in a thick Australian accent.

momgamer wrote:
Chiggie Von Richthofen wrote:
momgamer wrote:
Christmas can't be proven to us cynical bastards, it has to be proven by us cynical bastards.

That's insanely good - can I send that to my Pastor? He would love it.

As long as he cites it if he decides to use it. ;)

He will. I want to hear "Chiggie Von Richthofen" done in a thick Australian accent. ;)

Ha! I just raised my price. I now require some sort of recording of this.

At least the highlights of the sermon should be on the website. If he uses it, I'll send you a link.

Draco wrote:
Chiggie Von Richthofen wrote:

I sit and think all of these things and then I see my wife, so excited as she adorns our home with colorful ornaments and little plastic reindeer. She laughs like a newborn baby at a little dancing penguin she found in a department store. Shes even gone and planned something, a secret something, for the day after Christmas for the two of us.

So what was the special secret somthing? Were hot tubs involved?

Sorry, totally missed this. The surprise was whisking me away for a Christmas in New Orleans and the slap and tickle the day after.