Monday, December 29, 2008

Another Christmas Myth Busted

Starting at around Black Friday and running all the way up through Boxing Day, the gangs of disenfranchised, semi-atheist smart asses trot out all the holiday myths and inconsistencies of the season to expose Christmas, and it's surrounding activities, for what it really is. And won't we be damned if they aren't the same old myths and inconsistencies year in and year out:

"Did you know that Jesus wasn't actually born on December 25th? They moved the celebration to coincide with the winter solstice!"

"Did you know that Santa Claus is partially based on a pagan fertility god?"

"Did you know the suicide rate increases from the end of Thanksgiving to New Year's?"

That last one is actually not true. In fact, most of these subversive one-liners are totally un-researched, but that doesn't matter. (Almost none of the traditions in support of the holidays are researched by casual participants, either. What do they care when cashing in theiriTunes gift cards?) The goal is to upend the holiday season and raise a fist in the face of its dominance. This impulse isn't surprising. It seems even more odd NOT to look around and notice the incongruous notions of the season. We are told, through constant din of songs and commercials, that it's supposed to be a time of peace and joy - yet most of us manage to feel overwrought and miserable.

But making these bold pronouncements to highlight these contradictions doesn't seem to make anyone feel any better. And quite frankly, I'm getting bored with the broken record of the same old revisionist chestnuts. I already KNOW that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th. I already KNOW the deal with Santa and Solstice and all that stuff. I already KNOW that Christmas is rife with conflicts of belief and behavior.

Instead of casting our blaming gaze on the traditions of the season, which, despite the best efforts of the semi-atheist smart asses (I feel I should mention I have no problem Atheism - in much the same way I have no problem with Christianity or Hinduism- as a way of making sense of a senseless universe. The behaviors surrounding these belief systems can be troublesome. Just remember, if you announce your atheism smartly at cocktail parties, it doesn't automatically make you an intellectual.), seem to be barreling forward with no signs of stopping (And I've brought some corn for popping...), why not have a look at some behavioral myths that seem to trip us up even further than little baby Jesus getting borned in a manger.

For instance, the myth of the Great Christmas Break Down.

Movies love this one. Whole scripts are built around them:

The protagonist returns home, with some reluctance, (usually fresh off a divorce, death, or years of repressed emotional response) and after trying to conform to the Holiday's traditions and confronting blood relations that have plagued him/her for years, the tension reaches a breaking point and the protagonist explodes into a gullywasher of tears, yelling, and a poetic monologue that finally, poignantly, illuminates his/her personality to those around him/her. The movie ends when the protagonist continues on the journey with a renewed sense of self and his/her family accepts them for who they are.

We LOVE it.

And it never happens.

I'm not saying people don't have break downs and poignant monologues. They most certainly do. But the idea that movies present some sort of factual account of what happens during the holidays is hogwash. What they present is a larger truth - the Holidays are a time of reflection, returning to the beginning, preparing for a rebirth into a new year (After all, isn't that what the Solstice is all about?). I'm a big believer in this.

Every year the pressure heightens, and we wonder who's gonna go for it and blow a gasket.

I waited for mine. Like waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve - I left cookies for it and everything.

It never came.

This has been a strange and, in some ways agonizing, year. I cast off a lot of old perceptions of myself. I made some incredible mistakes, some terrible misjudgments. I'm still in the mire.

In spite of this, I did not have my explosive holiday catharsis. My mother tried to bring it on, I think, by attempting multiple soul scraping conversations. I could sense the nervous anticipation of my family as they bit their nails, wondering when I was going to lose it. I cried a few times and had some bouts of disproportionate emotional response. The closest I came was standing for ten minutes in an earnest and crafty paper store downtown, waiting for the new girl to figure out how to void an item. I gazed off into the grey slush of the Chicago street, while bland piano-based rock with trite on-the-nose lyrics lilted in the background.

I could almost feel Cameron Crowe's lens bearing down on me for my big moment.

The Great Christmas Breakdown never happened.

Does it ever? I've heard the stories. Seen the movies. They may strike in us the chord of truth on some level, as we wish to be better understood by those around us. It seems the only way to jolt us out of a stupor is through some emotional catastrophe. Unfortunately, like quitting smoking cold turkey, one still has to deal with old habits. Change of this size does not manifest overnight, or in the form of some weary tirade on Christmas Eve. The origin could be a violent tectonic shift (a choice made, a chance taken), but the actual change arrives in tiny scrapes and evolutions.

And those scrapes and evolutions still ate all the cookies and milk I left out. Dag.

(For those of you who requested influences, I'll be working on those tomorrow. And Freddie, now that I know it's you, my mistake is especially hilarious.)


Anonymous said...


Funny that you wrote this today. I've been thinking about the same thing this holiday. I agree that one of the most frustrating things is when the people that love you have no clue who you really are - and seem to be fine with it. It is hard to accept that you can make every effort to know them, and they still may not ask the question you're looking for...'So, how are you?" Not sure how to proceed with the relationship from there. Because of this, it is easy to give up on the deeper stuff and just stick to safe topics like movies and recipes. Still in some cases, I have to wonder if out of habit, I have missed those that are really making an effort. Dunno...


Henri D said...

The people I love (out of choice) do know me. the people I love out of obligation (aunts, uncles, mailmen, cousins, etc...) tend to not know because obligation is a bitch.

Also, I think movies have influenced the propensity for us to "go on diatribes and lose it." I believe what happened is that writers (of stage plays and then movies) wrote these meaty monologues to high light the ideas which they were trying to put forth through their character in an emotionally driven moment. So, we see this and think, "Yeah, that's what I would say (aside to self) but way more articulate and with less swearing. and so we build these little speeches to mimic the "way it should be" in the movies which were imitating a life that actually didn't exist but the writer wish it had.

and so we await our opportunity, but in reality, even the court room speech is short sweet and to the point. Cause in the end, do you really want to be on the receiving side of that? Are you even reading this any more? if so why you know it'll just end in tears and .... *This concludes our broadcast day*

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