I’m not a fan of Christmas. In fact I would go further than that. I actively dislike it. I don’t even have the crazily stressed family. It’s very laid back. There are no arguments. No shouting. Not even a schedule that people rush around trying to keep to.
It starts with a general sense of indifference. Left to my own devices I wouldn’t treat the end of December any differently to any other month. I don’t pretend to be religious at any other time of year – Easter goes almost unnoticed.
What I dislike about it stems from the fact that it is so universally accepted. This in itself is not an issue. I don’t mind lots of people liking things. It doesn’t change my opinion of them (either the thing or the people). What irritates me is the assumption that you want to celebrate it. With any other event I can think of (birthdays excepted – and they fall under the same category as Christmas), if you don’t enjoy it, if you don’t appreciate it, you just don’t go, or you ignore it. No one forces you to go to concerts of artists you don’t like or to speeches of people you disagree with. It’s not obligatory to visit open days for institutions you have no connection with.
With Christmas you are given no such choice. From the people wishing you a happy Christmas (whom I just smile at to refrain from launching into an angry tirade (not that I would – I take as many opportunities to not talk to people as possible)) in the chaos of any town centre to closures and forced holidays from work (if I’m given 20 days a year off, the last time I’d choose take them would be in the middle of winter when it’s freezing and pissing down), to the commercial side of the presents.
This particular aspect is one that almost makes me angry and yet is very hard to say anything about without sounding either selfish or ungrateful. Or both. For any of the lovely people reading this who have given me anything, thank you. I do appreciate it. I just hate presents – both giving and receiving – in any situation. What makes them worse is exchanging them because you have to. For the simple reason that it’s what one does at this time of year. It’s takes an act of generosity and kindness, and hides it behind a veil of ‘I-had-to-get-you-something-so-here-is-a-thing’ that shows no emotion or feeling. The sense of entitlement to presents and expectation that ‘I’ll give you something and you’ll give me something to celebrate it being a day of the year’ seems unpleasant if not actually abhorrent. The ‘knowledge’ and the confident ‘I will get presents’ of some is almost upsetting. Videos like this are far more depressing than funny.
Think for a moment about about the process of getting people presents. There are two main categories of people who get presents (either of these may be the empty set – they still exist).
There are the people you know just enough to give something, but not well enough to know intimately. I’d imagine this is probably filled with the more distant relations and any non-family members you choose to give things to outside your very closest friends. What do you get? You don’t know what they already own for starters and even if you did you don’t really know what they enjoy (outside of whatever means you know them) enough to get something meaningful. You also can’t get a ‘big’ thing or you’ll end up broke by January and be stressed and/or miserable since Christmas cost you too much. You end up giving a small/non-personal gift of something they didn’t really need or want yet feel duty bound to appreciate (we’ll come back to this one) and keep at least as long as it takes to get home. If they’d needed it, they’d probably already have one. These people shouldn’t be bought Christmas presents.
The other end category is the close person. The immediate family. The closest friends. This is probably the larger of the two groups in most people’s case. So what happens here? You have a choice between something big and worrying if you’ve overdone it or can afford it. Or you go small and feel guilty and wonder what they’re thinking of you. You end up trying to guess what they’ll do and mimic it. In either case you have to choose something. Again this splits in two. People who have asked for things (if there are any of these in the first category they’re unpleasant people and shouldn’t be entitled to anything) and those who haven’t
If there’s anything worse than the act of giving presents because it’s that time of year, it’s the act of asking for the presents you want people to give you because it’s that time of year. If they ask you what you want it’s slightly more (but still not ) acceptable. If and when someone asks, the question should be taken in the same way as someone asking “does anyone want the last biscuit?”. Sure, they’re asking you but the only polite answer is no. If you don’t know what someone wants so much that you need to ask, don’t you think you’re falling into the “buying presents for the sake of it” group? If you ask for something because you decide you want it and Christmas is a nice excuse to ask for it, what makes you think they should give it to you? If you think it helps them decide, see above. If you don’t then it just sums up all that is unpleasant and self-obsessed with Christmas.
Christmas lists (and birthday lists for that matter), are among the worst things I know of (don’t even get me started on things like wedding lists).
So now you have chosen your ‘well thought out’ and ‘meaningful’ present for whomever it is that has done something to merit being given something. What next?
The next stage is the exchange. You sit around a Christmas tree with everyone watching as the careful wrapping is removed as carelessly as possible and the lucky recipient paints their face with a pre-decided picture of ‘grateful’ and say the pre-chosen words of thanks as they hope that this expression of gratitude still appears genuine after however many times it’s been repeated in the same ritual already that morning.
It’s a fine line between going over the top and singing the praises of whatever you now hold to the extent that you appear false and sarcastic, and acting too nonchalantly so as to appear ungrateful. The stress of this act ruins any actual feeling you have and so everything is always an act. Put on to show what you would be expected to be actually feeling. Like a giant double bluff that everyone knows is happening. When I’m given something, the overriding feeling I have is one of awkwardness and discomfort. Gratitude doesn’t really get an look in. And I hate myself for that. So then guilt gets thrown in the mix as well.
Given the choice I would miss Christmas and birthdays altogether. The only problem with this is that I have found no way of saying I don’t want to be given anything in a way that doesn’t say either “I don’t like your presents” or “I don’t want to have to get you anything in return”. The concept of not liking Christmas is not one that is accepted. It’s just not the done thing. The fact things seem a lot more real when you work for them, when you save up for them, when you put the effort in for them, doesn’t seem to matter.
So here I go. For another year preparing my best, “oh it’s lovely” face while all the time counting down the minutes until the end of boxing day when I can go back to a life of not pretending.[/rant over] Apologies for the wall of text. I just really don’t like this time of year and sitting here writing is far more appealing than trying to be sociable.