December 24, 2015

My Love-Hate Relationship with Christmas

Like practically everyone else in the Western world, Christmas holds a strange position in my heart, a position of love and hate.

Traditionally, it is the time of year when family members have the chance to stay away from work, spend time at home, and just be with their family. That is why it is such a special time for the children, because having both parents around is a treat, especially when one does not see one of the parents as often.

This is why Christmas makes me feel warm and gooey inside - I remember holidays when my dad and I would spend all our time making paper models, or I would sit in the garage with him, hammering nails randomly into pieces of wood and calling it art, or just sit around and listen to music. It was also about spending time together as a family - not going anywhere in particular (we weren't the holidaying type) but just being with each other. Christmas was special because of this. Of course, the presents and the food were a part of it.

But this is where the hate part of my relationship with Christmas comes in. The presents and the food have completely overrun the entire concept of spending time with one's family. We need to work all year to deserve that performance bonus that will allow us to spend money on something big for everyone for Christmas and for a great feast, or pay off those mounting debts, and work no longer stops over Christmas. This means families spend all their Christmas time apart from each other anyway. This means the present has become the important part instead of the bonding that came with choosing and giving a special present to someone you love.

I understand the origins of the concept of gift-giving: it made sense back in the day when families lived far apart and only saw each other now and then. It even makes sense for Americans, who all seem to stay on the other side of the country. This would be the only time that these family members see each other, so a gift would be special and meaningful. It would also come from a place that may have different produce. Not so in this day and age, though: a Woolworths in Durban stocks exactly the same items that a Woolworths in Johannesburg stocks.

My point is that everyone seems to be caught up in the capitalist habit of buying everything. Disposing of everything. Racing towards the prize for biggest and best present of the year. No longer do children receive one truly meaningful present, but everything their hearts desire. I once knew a boy who would throw a tantrum if he received the same number or fewer presents than he had the year before. His parents literally had to ensure they purchased at least one more present for him, and if my memory serves me correctly, that one year he received 25 gifts. And that's just from his parents.

It's all about the stuff we get, the stuff we will likely never use, the stuff people think we want. It's not all about family any more. And family is the stuff we cannot do without.

So as I sit and grumble about Christmas, I am also gleefully admiring our Christmas tree and the pile of gifts under it and looking forward to the reactions on the faces of those who are receiving gifts from me this year. What might make this year special for me is Emma's joy as she celebrates the first Christmas she understands and thus might remember.

And with a torn and cynical heart, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (And if you don't celebrate the holiday, just Happy Holidays to you!)

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