Tis the season to be jolly, et cetera. I have had a very tumultuous relationship with the holidays, so today we’re going to walk a little with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Boo!
As a child, Christmas was a blast. My parents divorced when I was quite young, which meant I got twice as many presents and four days of continuous turkey. I alternated Christmases each year, having ‘Christmas’ on Boxing Day with the other parent. This arrangement worked out well for me, and since it was my normal, it never seemed out of the ordinary. I was also very religious as a kid (although now I agree with Dawkins when he says there is no such thing as a Christian child, only a child of Christian parents). Christmas made church fun: the carols, the nativity plays, all of it was so much more exciting than regular services. I was in the choir, played the handbells, and did live readings of the nativity story … my social calendar was packed, and I got presents. What kid wouldn’t like that?
Then I got a little older, and Christmas wasn’t so simple. My parents decided I was old enough to choose where I spent Christmas morning, and there was no way to please everyone. I usually chose my dad’s, since my sister is eight years younger (she and I lived with my dad — we have different moms), and I wanted to be there with her. However, Christmas is a big deal for my mom, and she’s not really close with her siblings, so she had trouble understanding why that was important to me. Sometimes the extended family gatherings would overlap, and unfortunately, I was closer with some sides than others, so that would cause contention as well. Eventually, Christmas turned into something I dreaded rather than anticipated. I’m a people pleaser, and there was simply no way for me to make everyone happy.
My solution arose when I started working as a teenager. I had two jobs in high school that were open year-round: a hotel/resort and now-defunct Blockbuster. While everyone else was frantically booking off the holidays, I was requesting double shifts to avoid drama. The trend continued into university, when I chose to stay in Toronto and work at the mall over the holidays rather than go home and contend with the headache and scheduling and inevitable hurt feelings. I was very humbuggy.
I started mending my relationship with Christmas in my later university years. The residence activities around the holidays were fun and it was part of my job to plan them (Secret Santa is still a favourite), I had surrounded myself with amazing friends, and I had even come to a bit of a peace over the actual day. I would do Christmas morning with my dad, sister, and stepmom, we would have a big breakfast with the neighbours, then I would go to my mom’s before going out to an old one room schoolhouse for my dad’s side’s celebration (there are so many of us we need two turkeys and don’t fit in anyone’s house).
The Christmas I spent in Korea was actually one of my favourites. We did a toy drive and went to the orphanage, and then had a giant meal at one of the Western bars. The commercialism either isn’t as bad there, or I didn’t notice it because I wasn’t fluent. It was a lovely, relaxed time, and I started my tradition of sending actual cards to so many people my hand cramps — though they may not always make it before the holidays.
Since then, I’ve had a few ‘solo’ holidays in Toronto. When I wrote for the National Post, I couldn’t go back home, so a friend and her lovely (albeit giant — their median height is 6’2″; I couldn’t see myself in the bathroom mirror) family took me in for their festivities. I also started a few traditions of my own to help reclaim the holiday. The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas has helped me reconcile my beliefs (or lack thereof) and the things I enjoy about Christmas on a secular level; I re-read it every December. I still send out a bajillion Christmas cards, and I even throw a shindig to decorate my two foot tree. This year I will be staying in the city again, and I think that might become a tradition as well.
This year, I’m going to listen to Bing Crosby, watch Die Hard and Nightmare Before Christmas, and not eat turkey. However you celebrate, I hope you have a merry little Christmas.