Well it’s Thanksgiving, a holiday that I truly enjoy for its intent and purpose. Gratitude is the idea, and we all need plenty of that because we all have so many reasons to be thankful. But as Thanksgiving fades, it quickly leads into what has become my least favorite time of the year. I’m not sure when I started getting referred to as a Christmas Grinch, but I do remember a number of years ago (probably 1999), when the church I worked for in Como, MS, unanimously elected me to be the Grinch in the Christmas parade. I also remember one of the church members where I worked in Tulsa, presented me with a genuine “Hum Bug” since I was known for having a less than positive view of Christmas. I haven’t always been so pessimistic about Christmas. I can remember looking forward to the holiday with great excitement when I was a young child, but somewhere along the line, somebody stole Christmas, and I don’t think it was the Grinch.
I’m not sure when it happened, if it took place all at once, or gradually over the years. Perhaps it was just a figment of my imagination that disappeared along with my childhood innocence, but Christmas was stolen nonetheless. The joyous anticipation with which I looked forward to the holiday in my younger years eventually was replaced by feelings of dread as I approached the holiday each year. Instead of something to look forward to, it became a matter of just getting through it so life can return to normal. Where did it go wrong? To understand what went wrong, perhaps I should start with what I have really enjoyed about the holiday over the years.
My mother has always loved this holiday through the best and the worst of times. Maybe she loved it too much, but one thing was for certain, she loved it and put a great deal of effort into making Christmas a special day. I think what she has always seen in the holiday are the same things I enjoy as well.
- Family. Mom had 6 siblings and parents who stayed married till they were parted by death. This love for family was quite evident as I was growing up. Even though there were times a sibling moved away, for the most part, the extended family stuck around the same area. When holidays came, the family came together. There may have been fights and disagreements, but I never remember this as a child. It was fun. My cousins were around the same age and we would bring our newly acquired toys to play together. The adults would play too. Uncle Wayne would take out his teeth which really freaked me out. Grandpa would bounce me on my knee like a wild horse, and a million other things. These were, beyond any doubt, my greatest childhood memories.
- Gifts. My parents were not financially gifted when I was growing up. We didn’t have a lot of extra money and so about the only time we would get new toys was for birthdays and Christmas. Mom married a man with five children when I was seven years old. So there were seven children and two adults living in a single wide trailer at first. There wasn’t a lot of spending money, but that meant we, as children, didn’t really expect much either. Mom budgeted for Christmas, and I could hardly believe the things we’d get. I’m sure it would be nothing compared to today’s standards, but when you expect nothing, and know the sacrifice, every gift is special. I have never really understood why people insist on perpetuating the Santa Clause myth, nor can I remember believing it. What was special to me was mother sacrificed to give me something she knew I really wanted.
Children. As I grew older, children became the focus at Christmas time, of course. One of my all time greatest memories was video taping my niece Christmas of 1991 as she opened up her gifts. The look of excitement and screams of glee are nothing short of intoxicating. Even today, as I watch the video, I find myself starting to tear up. As a parent, I live for moments like that where I can brighten the day of a child to the point that he screams with excitement. But in a materialist society where gifts from parents and relatives are expected, such moments are rare indeed, and very short lived if they take place at all.
- Time to relax. Christmas also represented time away from the grind of daily life. Even when I was driving a truck, I was usually able to take some time off at Christmas and be with my family. It was a change in pace and I really enjoyed this. Even in Marine Corps boot camp (Christmas 1984), they let us take it easy. This day was special enough that if at all possible, everyone could stop and just relax.
- A time where people thought of others. Perhaps more than any other time of the year, I have seen people from every status in life trying to do something special for somebody else. Even bitter enemies will attempt some sort of peace agreement at least temporarily for this day.
So how does such a special day go from being joy-filled to being something I dread? It’s because somewhere along the line Christmas was robbed of its significance. Much of what I loved about the holiday was stripped away and replaced by things that I could really do without. It all begins the day after Thanksgiving and really doesn’t let up till after New Year’s Day.
- Black Friday. The only thing appropriate about Black Friday is the name. Isn’t it ironic that immediately following a holiday based on thankfulness, we have a day based on unadulterated greed? Retailers drop prices below cost in hopes of luring customers. As a result, people lose their minds. I absolutely refuse to take part in this practice that has resulted in injury and even death. People have been trampled, beaten, and everything else all in the name of starting off the holiday shopping season. NO THANKS!!!
- Stress. What good is a day to relax if it is preceded by weeks of unrelenting stress. This may be the stress of getting meals prepared, getting the right gift, or just trying to keep everybody happy, but it is undeniably the most stressful part of the year. It gets even worse when hard times hit. It’s nothing unusual for people to lose their jobs during this time of the year, and that is bad enough, but now there is the addition of disappointing the children because we won’t be able to get the latest and greatest toys.
- Greed. I don’t even think this one is on purpose. I think our intentions may even be selfless, but we still manage to enhance greed. I’ve seen kids who are perfectly content and excited to get some little plastic army men to play with. On the other hand, I’ve seen at least one who was given a brand new car, but he was bitter and resentful towards his parents because it wasn’t the New Lincoln Town car he was hoping for (true story). Over the years I have watched possessions increase by previously inconceivable amounts, but the desire for more only increases along with the possessions. Parents who strive to make their children feel special only succeed in producing spoiled, ungrateful, and selfish children who actually grow to resent their parents instead of appreciating their sacrifices.
- Disappointment. Closely related to greed is disappointment. This shows up in many ways. Perhaps it’s a spoiled child who didn’t get what they wanted, but more often than not it’s a person who is disappointed that the expectations for the day didn’t turn out as envisioned. It may even be the person overcome with grief from recently losing a loved one. Either way, the holiday just seems to make matters worse. There are a thousand reasons, but disappointment seems to run hand in hand with Christmas.
- Guilt. One that has plagued me over the years is guilt. As a parent, I have faced many times of financial devastation. We didn’t have money to pay the bills, let alone buy Christmas presents. I can remember how such times made me feel. It’s humiliating. Probably my biggest source of guilt has been from the extended family. My wife and I come from families that live hundreds of miles apart. There has always been this battle of where we are going to spend Christmas. Either way we decide, we disappoint somebody. My mother is now a widow and I know how much Christmas means to her. On the other hand, we have spent the last several Christmas’ with her since we lived just down the street, and it would have been quite costly to make the journey. Now I’m closer to my wife’s parents. Each year we lived by my mother, I felt guilty, my wife was not able to make it to her parents. Virtually every Christmas it would become evident my wife wanted to be with her family. Now I feel guilty because my mother isn’t able to be with her family. The children and grandchildren don’t come around much anymore, and I know it’s breaking her heart. It feels like a no win situation.
Out of all the holidays observed in the United States, Christmas is the most prevalent. It has the most potential for good, but it also has the most potential for bad. When the bad starts to outweigh the good, there’s a problem. I have just gone over 5 of the top reasons that come to my mind. I haven’t even started on the spiritual aspects of the holiday, but I will have to save that for another blog. My whole point to this is it sure would be nice if we could get back to some of the things that made Christmas special. But I don’t even know if that is possible. Maybe it was just a child’s perspective that made it special, and the negative side has always been there, it just stayed out sight.
The fact is we don’t need a holiday to make people feel special or to spend time with a family. We don’t need a holiday to make a little child’s day or make a person feel special. We don’t need a holiday to think of Jesus or attend a church service. We don’t even need a holiday to relax and play together. Holidays seem to carry with them expectations, and expectations lead to disappointment, and disappointment leads to stress and guilt. Who needs it? I’m not sure who stole Christmas, but I’m not so sure I can’t do without it.