Monday, December 11, 2000

Week of 12/11/2000

Bringing Out The Holiday Scrooge
- by David Matthews 2

I have an admission to make.

I’m not incredibly festive when it comes to Christmas.

Oh, I’ll still put up a Christmas tree, help out with the lights, buy presents, send out cards.. even make homemade cards to send to some folks, and I will still listen to holiday music. But in terms of being in the "Christmas spirit", well, I guess I gave up that ghost a few years ago.

I’m not excited about waking up Christmas morning like I used to. I used to be up at 6am, eager to open up presents. Nowadays, I need encouragement to get up at 10. Presents are an afterthought for me. For me, the day is just something that I’m eager to have over with quickly.

I’m becoming… dare I say it? … a holiday Scrooge.

Now there’s someone who has become the epitome of holiday backlash!

I’ve sometimes wondered who Charles Dickens had in mind when he created Ebeneezer Scrooge in the classic tale "A Christmas Carol." After all, here was a complex character. A man whose spent a good portion of his life filled with loss and pain, yet people wondered why he was so cold-hearted and uncaring around the holidays. Hey guys, I’m not a social expert, but perhaps Scrooge was bitter because in past holidays he had lost his mother, his sister, the love of his life, and his only best friend in the whole world. You think maybe THAT would have something to do with the attitude?

Scrooge was reflective of the new society of the time.. in this case the Industrial Society. He believed that he was way too busy dealing with the day’s work to have time to celebrate Christmas like he used to. There was no room left for traditional nonsense like Christmas. Business was all that mattered. And he felt that government should handle the needs of the poor and the homeless. "Are there no workhouses, no prisons?" he asks. Attitudes that were the hallmark of the Industrial Society.

Of course, by the end of the story, Scrooge is a changed man. He sees the value of individual charity and goodwill, not just at Christmastime, but all the days of the year. He no longer relies on government to solve the world’s problems, and instead gives his time and money to help the most needy around him. A sound and comforting lesson, well-suited for the Victorian age.

Unfortunately for the rest of us in the real world, we don’t have the aid of the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future to remind us of the things in our lives that we should treasure. All too often, what we have are simply more reminders of the hassles that seem to infest this festive season like leaches.

First there’s the fact that Christmas stuff seems to start appearing earlier and earlier in the year. Stores are now putting up Christmas stuff at the same time as Halloween. Hey what happened to Thanksgiving, huh? Santa hauling his motor-assisted sleigh with ornamental reindeer past Macy’s store in New York City is supposed to mark the start of the holiday season. Nowadays the merchants see ol’ Saint Nick and they exclaim "What took you so long? Get with the times, man! We’ve had the holiday sales going on since Labor Day!"

The backlash to this has already begun in some places. Stores in Montreal have been vandalized for putting up Christmas displays too soon. It seems that a certain group of pissed-off Canadians are demanding that stores hold off on the holiday spirit until after Thanksgiving, smashing and defacing those display windows that try to get the jump on the competition. This has, of course, angered the merchants, and rightly so. But the actions of these maple-leaf Scrooges are reflective of the overall dislike of the business world’s decision to lengthen the holiday spirit longer than Joe and Jane Six-Pack would see things.

Then there is the fact that every year now there seems to be an item that becomes THE "gimme" item for parents and kids alike. The item that people would wait in long lines for, and be willing to shed blood and tears for. This trend started with Cabbage Patch dolls, and has extended to more and more expensive goodies. The "gimme" item for the year 2000 is the Sony PlayStation 2, which was in demand long before the stores even had the product. As a matter of fact, the people at Sony were purposefully exaggerating the demand when they announced that there indeed would be a shortage of available game systems long before Thanksgiving. Indeed, there hadn’t even been too many games available for this system, but that didn’t matter for people obsessed with getting THE latest, greatest gadget.

Related to that obsession is the holiday traffic. If you don’t buy your presents through the Internet, or buy them well in advance, you’ll be listening to talk radio just to hear how the parking situation is at the local malls. If you think traffic where you live is normally chaotic, multiply that intensity by ten and envision every driver around you on LSD, and you’re all trying to find a parking spot.

Then there are the people who are obsessed with making sure everyone around them enjoy the season. For most people this takes the form of holiday parties. I hate to break it to some people, but there really aren’t too many holiday parties that I would even WANT to be in, and the ones that I have been to sucked for me. No matter how people say they would "want" to see me at a party, believe me, they REALLY DO NOT want me to be there. First of all, I quite often have to attend these things alone, which means I’ll be spending a lot of time counting ceiling tiles, ornaments on the tree, and the number of times people ask me if I’m having a good time and aren’t I glad to be there. Sorry folks, but the only Christmas party that I would be glad to attend would be at the Playboy Mansion, and that’s pretty much a long shot for a guy like me.

I think for me, the magic of the holidays left when my Christmas wish list became a "trinket" list. When I was younger, my Christmas list would be pretty simple. Everything I could want could be bought at a store.. and quite often just one store. Over the years, though, my "wish" list has become a true wish list… stuff that you could never buy in a store. It’s pretty hard to find a store that sells personal or financial success. Yes, you can buy all of the material implements, but actual success itself? That, my friends, is truly a wishful object. Quite often I have to think and think again about stuff that family members could buy me.. wondering what they could get that would be nice to have, and still expect to see wrapped up under the tree. Obviously a Harley Davidson motorcycle would not be one of them. Imagine my surprise when I actually put down socks and underwear on my more practical list.. especially after spending so many years begging and pleading with people not to send me any!

But while I’ve seemingly lost much of my holiday spirit, there are some people who are even worse Scrooges than I could ever be.

I know a lot of people are pissed off when groups like the ACLU object to having local towns put up a manger scene in front of the town hall, but some people have taken this separation of church-and-state to the point of banning ALL references to the holiday spirit, right down to banning references to non-theological figures like Santa Claus! Santa has been dragged into the battle between bible-thumpers and the rest of the cognizant human beings in a way that would make even old Ebeneezer jealous.

Look, folks, lets get brutally honest here.. good old Saint Nick is a commercial figure, not a religious one. The Catholic Church has even dropped him as one of the patron saints. Including Santa turns Christmas into something more than just a religious holiday. I know every bible-thumper will proclaim in the loudest of voices that "JEEZUS IS THE REEEZON FOR THE SEEZON!" but wouldn’t it be better if everyone could enjoy the benefits of the holiday season without being sermonized?

Speaking of religious zealots, the conflicts in the Middle East hasn’t exactly brought out the best of any of the religious groups there. Between ever-expanding Israelites, pissed-off Palestinians, and Christian crusaders eager to hasten the apocalypse just so they can have Jesus come down to validate their theology, Israel has become this no-holds barred Wrestlemania with guns and explosives. I think if Jesus did come down right this moment, he’d line up every one of these groups and give them all a hearty stooge slap right across the kisser and ask what the hell they were thinking.

Maybe the problem is that somewhere amidst all of this consumerism and religious zealotry, the real purpose of the Christmas season is missing. We’ve been so obsessed with the "trinkets" that the spirit of goodwill itself has been lost. So obsessed with the religious undertones of the sprit that the message of peace has been abandoned.

It’s easy, then, to see why this season has brought out the Scrooge in many of us.

Now more than ever, we really need to remember that real spirit of Christmas is not just about presents or religion. It’s about the goodwill in all of us. That is the message that needs to be told, whether it be by a priest, a ghost, or a jolly old elf from the North Pole. The rest is just so much window dressing.

No comments: