Monday, December 21, 2009

Why I am not (really) a Grinch

Please note: if you are deeply attached to (insert seasonal holiday of your choice here), you might want to skip this post.

I have absolutely nothing against Christmas. In fact, I used to be a bit of a Christmas zealot.

When I was a kid, I would sometimes get up really early on mornings when it could not possibly be Christmas (such as in the middle of August--no joke), and rush out to the living room, convinced that if I wished really, really hard, a tree might have sprung up there overnight, stockings might have been hung over the fireplace, and beautifully wrapped presents might be waiting for me under the tree. Of course it was never Christmas, and it probably says something about the power of childhood imagination that I was always bitterly disappointed by this.

As I grew older, Christmas got more complicated. Both my parents were dedicated alcoholists, and the holiday season provided an excellent, socially acceptable excuse for even more enthusiastic imbibing than usual. In general, this led to no good: heavy drinking and enforced family togetherness can make for less than joyous celebrations.

When Mitchell and Adrian and I began celebrating winter holidays as a family, we decided to set our own course.

For one thing, Hannukah entered the mix; most years we'd travel to Montreal for at least one weekend during that holiday (which is conveniently spread out over eight days, to allow more flexible scheduling options), and I learned to love singing the blessings as we lit the candles, passing the shamas from one family member to the next so each could have a turn. I was also fond of Phyllis's latkes, which were never soggy or over-greasy; and we all loved the gingerbread people she'd decorate and hang with ribbons from the dining room chandelier. (Later, Rachel dubbed these the "nummy-men," a name that has stuck.)

And despite my ambivalence about the way Christmas had evolved in my own family, I wasn't quite willing to let the holiday go altogether. Mitchell wasn't wholly comfortable celebrating the birth of Christ, and I wasn't crazy about replicating the booze-soaked feeding frenzy of my youth, so we compromised, settling on winter solstice as our family celebration time.

It made sense: most of the traditions I liked seem to have originated long before Christianity, as our northern European ancestors marked the sun's weakest hour, and the beginning of its slow return. Our own traditions include decking the house with greenery; lighting the house with candles (we'd burn a Yule log, except that we've never actually had a fireplace, so it could be a bit hazardous); coming together as a family over a special meal--in our case a cranberry and sweet potato quiche is the centrepiece--and taking some time to appreciate our family and close friends.

We do exchange gifts, but each year we pare it back a bit more, and try to make each gift as meaningful and personal as we can; after all, we already have all we need. (Well, except knitted goods, of course. One can never have too many of those.)

The older I get, the more distant I feel from the incessant jingling of sleigh bells, the flashing lights, the hollow ho-ho-ho-ing of the guy in the red velour suit, the background Christmas Muzak (renderings of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by The Chipmunks or Paul Anka* or whatever), and over it all, the constant urging to buy, buy, buy!

To me, this time of year should be deep and quiet, as nature winds down and the sun's light dwindles to almost nothing. All the frenetic consumption and enforced merriment feel like an imposition on the beauty of this solstice time, and so I tend to shut them out--I avoid the malls, I switch radio stations when the Christmas hucksters start shouting about how I need to buy a gift for my pet gerbil or my own cell phone. (I am not even kidding about the cell phone present. I wish I were.)

I'm really not being a Grinch about the whole thing--and I absolutely defend your right to celebrate this time of year in whichever way you please. But if it's all the same to everyone, I'll sit this one out.

*I know. He never sang it. I'm making a point, okay?


Stacy said...

It has become a ridiculous materialistic time of year....

Frieda said...

Hear , hear , very well said !

Kathleen Taylor said...

I'm a Big Christmas type- the more the better, the earlier, the longer, the louder, the sparklier... But I totally understand the urge to pare back. What I want for everyone this holiday, is for everyone to feel calm and happy. Here's wishing that to you and yours, this week, and every week.

nicolaknits said...

I agree. We did the same. I love not being part of the huge Christmas machine.