Hi everyone, Merry Christmas! Well, not quite I suppose. How about Merry Christmas Eve? Maybe that’ll work since we still have a day to go.
Our family used to open presents on Christmas Eve and this day feels more like the real Christmas than the day itself. We’d go out as a family — my immediate family as well as three or four aunts/uncles along with our Grandma and Grandpa — to those shitty family restaurants that only old people seem to visit regularly. We’d have a room to the side of the main dining area to ourselves and it would soon be filled with cigarette smoke (smoking inside was legal then; what quaint times). Our eyes would burn from the toxic atmosphere, not that we knew how toxic it actually was. We’d eat our pasta with tears in our eyes, excited to finish the dinner formalities to get on with the important part of the evening, at least that’s how it was for us kids.
From there on we’d head over to Grandma and Grandpa’s to open gifts. Cigarette smoke once again filled the air, our eyes watered, and us kids would escape to the bathroom or the bedrooms to get a reprieve from the burning in our eyes. We opened our gifts from youngest to oldest; I was second after my sister. I took great pride in sorting the gifts into piles for everyone, moving them with purpose from under the Christmas tree to the piles I placed them in. As time went on I fell back a couple of ranks as my cousin had kids, but didn’t pay it much mind. The adults would sit around quietly, making small-talk and alcohol-fueled jokes as they made sure the fuel for their jokes didn’t leave their systems. It was usually wine, the ‘classy drink’ (except for Uncle Tom who only drinks Budweisers) but sometimes bottles of stronger stuff made an appearance. We didn’t notice them much in our childhood excitement over our presents.
After our gifts were opened we’d start playing with them. One year I received a Nerf bow-and-arrow and took to sniping the Christmas cards dangling from the wooden ceiling beam separating the kitchen from the living room. For some reason Grandma and Grandpa hung their slew of Christmas cards from that beam and they made perfect targets. I was maybe seven, eight, or maybe nine and this was one of the few Christmases I actually remember. And maybe one of the last that I actually enjoyed.
There was no grand Christmas tragedy, no family falling-out, nothing to steal the childish joy of Christmas from me except the passage of time itself. I got older. I became jaded. I became cynical. I lost the naivety that is the definition of childhood itself. I didn’t care about the presents as much. There wasn’t anything exciting about opening gifts. Toys weren’t fun and I could only be mildly excited about a new video game or a music CD. Christmas turned into a way to get things I needed without buying them myself. Socks, new boots, new pants and clothes; these are the things I apathetically found myself asking for year after year.
And for some reason the season holds a sense of loss for me. It’s a dull sense of loss, once again no one passed away that instantly changed the quality of Christmas, but there’s that bitter undercurrent of inevitable change and loss. The cards aren’t hung up anymore, and their numbers have dwindled over the years. Us ex-kids would sit around, drink, and wonder where all of the magic went. We didn’t go out to eat or over to Grandma’s anymore. With each branch of the family expanding, most have broken off into their own manageable sections of families, holed-up in their own homes doing their own things, making their own traditions, living their own lives. To their kids this probably feels like the Christmases at Grandma’s did to me, and the inevitably of these breaking apart in decades is…I’m not sure of the right word here. Bittersweet? That still doesn’t feel like the right word though.
Does everyone eventually lose the childish joy of Christmas? I don’t think so. One of our kids, nearly 17-years-old, still has the joy of the season like a kid would. There is zero cynicism to how she feels about the holidays so there’s at least one person immune. Whether she or I am the exception, I don’t know.
Part of my apathy from the holidays is surely due to a few life choices I’ve made. A death-blow to Holiday spirits always seems to be working retail. I almost view it as an unwritten law of the universe that once you work retail you instantly lose your love for the holidays. The Holidays mean greedy people trying to find gifts for people they’re obligated to shop for: hundreds of people shopping, dealing with traffic, hunger, lines, and the other miserable denizens trying to fulfill their societal duty to buy shit. No one seems to like it, but it’s expected so we all play along. No one wants to be the guy who doesn’t buy their family gifts out of “principle” or some other high-minded bullshit.
I worked at Sam’s Club for a few years in the produce department — not in any way directly related to Christmas shopping — and the amount of people, and shit, I had to deal with at this time of year still increased. My hatred narrowed to those making their bullshit holiday meals and involved some self-pity for why I had to deal with them in the first place. Is this person really asking me about our cranberry stock? The endless looping of Christmas music didn’t help either; it’s is a form of torture that slowly kills your soul. I’m certain any fellow retail workers would share stories with me like war veterans share with each other. I was never happier at work than I would be on December 26th when the crowds of demanding assholes magically retreated from whence they came, where that happened to be.
And now? UPS and moving packages. I’m no longer relegated to the fringe sort of hell in a produce department during the holidays, I am in the shit. Our hub apparently sorts through 400,000 packages per night. While I personally interact with a tiny fraction of these packages watching the entire process is mind-blowing. 40 airplanes land and vomit their guts of cardboard and junk into the building. Through typical human grunt work these boxes are given over to miles of rubber belts and metal chutes which some massive computer programming commands, that which I’m not near capable of understanding. After that more human grunts load the packages into giant aluminum cans to be loaded into the planes. And the planes leave, delivering these 400,000 packages across the country within four or five hours after they arrived, finely sorted to deliver their cargo to wherever it needs to go. There are hundreds of extra cars in the parking lot along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of seasonal employees that are clueless to anything work-related or common sense-related. It’s all a window into how massive the holidays are and how large the machine I’m a cog in actually is. There is no doubt the importance of this time of year to our society as a whole. Sure, you buy a few hundred dollars worth of presents each year, but seeing them all en masse is both impressive and depressing at the same time. It’s the total power and wonder of capitalism with an undercurrent of excess, waste, and pointlessness. You really have to fight off severe nihilism working at UPS this time of year and it’s much easier to blindly work than to think too hard about the state of things.
I sound like a teenager who has just figured this out. No — I have nothing to crusade against — and am only writing some thoughts that have ceased to be pointed and acute years ago, but here they are. I view the whole holiday season with only one real response now: Meh? This might be the most saddening thing. Christmas has eroded from pure childhood joy, into to teenage angst at the ‘capitalism of it all,’ and now to a passive indifference to everything: I don’t care anymore. Really. About Christmas, and celebrations, and family gatherings, and whatever other bullshit we do during this time of year. And if you do care, I hope you have a Happy Holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, or whatever it is that you celebrate. And I mean that sincerely. Hold onto joy and happiness and love and kinship in whatever way and form you find it, and please have no qualms about doing so. As for me, well, I seem to be a dead soul to all the celebrations around me. Don’t mourn me though. I’ll manage this hellish time of year somehow and will be back writing my bullshit soon enough. But please enjoy this time of year: do it for me.