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Claustrophobia

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This column contains mature subject matter and vulgar language. Viewer discretion is advised.

So, it’s to be expected that a column appearing in the first week of December would have a go at that merry, spendthrifting, emotional and financial catastrophe we call ChristmasTM. I, as a rule, avoid being predictable. This, according to some, makes me exactly that, since they always know that I will do precisely whatever is unexpected. So, for that selfsame reason, they are likely expecting me to avoid writing about Christmas entirely. Well, haha, assholes.

The other unpredictable part of this piece (at least to those who have had some experience of my rage-wracked and cynicism-perforated mind) is this: I like Christmas. I bloody well like the sack-stuffing fuck out of it. I like the entire homily-burdened, turkey-genociding, nostalgia-inducing, cheery sumbitch of a holiday. How better to mark the end of a return sweep past the same spot on the sun than to illuminate the dark corners with multicolored illumination and indulge in a little gastronomic and imbibatory (it’s a word if I want it to be) excess? I like having a week of sweets and meats and feats of eats and drink, oh, drink, I think, I think, I’m on the brink, of a dietary cataclysm. And, apparently, turned into Dr. Seuss.

But when the end of December wends its way around, miserly Life goes all Scrooge-on-the-morning-after and doles it out like it was bank bailout money.

Most important, however, is the opportunity to take stock of the whats, hows and, assuredly, whos that are most of the mattering. For the year’s other fifty-one weeks, Life gets its grasping digits on my free time and doles it out in absurdly small rations. People I like, love and generally count as quality become shades, haunts, spectres – the groan of an email; the chain-rattle of a Facebook note; the bump in the night of a phone call. Actually gathering in anything like proximity becomes rare and pined for.

But when the end of December wends its way around, miserly Life goes all Scrooge-on-the-morning-after and doles it out like it was bank bailout money. Those ghosts-of-whole-year-past become tangible and manifest once more, and there seems all the time in the world to remake old acquaintance, none forgot, and a merry ‘get stuffed’ to the staff meeting, the university paper due, that crisis, always some crisis, craving attention like a girlfriend with low self esteem. There’s always a meeting, a paper, a crisis; or a tub to be scrubbed or tooth to be filled or life decision overdue. Except during Christmas. The only obligations then are to do an inventory of who I’ve got, and assess why I’m glad I‘ve got them.

Not to be hemmed in here by sentimentality, there’s also the guiltless gorging and time off work and, well, I wouldn’t usually buy that particular pricy single malt but, hey, it’s freakin Christmas, where’s the ice?

I even like the decorations. This surprises some, as my home is generally full of blacked out windows and art on the walls that prompts new acquaintances to refer to me as ‘interesting’. But, being a night person, what better than to step into the black and find supplanting the dreary, insipid streetlights a forest of brilliant, ripe illumination? C’mon, if you could make pine cones glow red and green, you bloody would too.

So, that’s out of the away, and I’ve made it clear that my Humbug quotient is not as fearsome a number as some might assume. This is not to say that it is resting at zero. Oh, my, no.

It’s not just Marley wearing chains

You might have noted that I referred not long ago to the ‘other fifty-one weeks of the year’. Now, that math seems pretty straightforward. Fifty-two total, take away fifty-one, carry the long weekends, ah, yes, that leaves one. One week. Seems about the right amount of time. Baking and decorating and visiting to be done. Quality time to be spent. Those people you have avoided for 11.75 months for very sane and solid reasons, well, they’ve a max seven days to impinge upon your consciousness. Sorry, time’s up, lovely to see you, oh dear, hadn’t time to salt the walk, hope you’re alright, kindly shag off. Sure, the holiday is a one day affair, but we’ve stretched it to three, and three’s a bloody good number, too. Three installments: Eve, Day, Boxing. There’s a certain wholeness, a balance there. Three dimensions, three panels in a triptych, Yahweh’s split personality is in three bits. Three wise men, three wishes, and three scotches. Which is how many I’ve had before sitting to write this. Hoping it doesn’t show.

Where was I?

Right. Three day holiday. Add a couple on each side for prep and clean up, and done like turkey dinner. See the year out in style, and back to life as we know it. One week.

Except it’s bloody not, is it?

Now we start drawing up shopping lists in August and decking halls in Fall. It would not surprise me if the number of anti-anxiety/depression/psychosis prescriptions took a mad upswing come November, when the real rolling-up-of-ugly-sweater-sleeves takes place. Trees are appearing in full glittery ostentation in living rooms before winter’s got its icicle-nosed mug in the door. (I honestly do believe that we ought to love and respect one another, but that excludes people who put up Christmas trees in November. Those people ought be waterboarded.)

And may whatever is in charge of the Universe…spare me from the loathsome, teeth-grinding ritual called the ‘Secret Santa’.

We have crammed this occasion so full of scheduled obligation that it has morphed from a lean celebration of family, friends and reflection into an obese terror running us about like personal assistants for some crazed prima donna actress.

Our gift-recipient lists would crash Santa’s naughty/nice database. Spouses and partners take part in a sad, neurotic lovemaking in the form of materialist competition, with the scorecard being filled come Giftmas morn, tallied in spent paper and boxes set to toppling. Everybody wants some, and why exactly are we shopping for every relation, near and distant? Oh, but whatever will whatsherniece do without that dress for Maternity Barbie, she’ll need a whole new wardrobe now, you know, and what’s that show your brother’s youngest boy likes, who knows, haven’t seen the whelp in six months, but oh gods, it’s fucking Christmas. Pack the cart and hit the line-up before the wheels fall off. I swear, a lot of people must believe that, if they don’t spend crazy money on presents, baby Jesus won’t give them any of his celestial birthday cake.

I heard a story on CBC this morning about ‘the women who must do the gift shopping for the men’. Apparently, the females pick up the slack for the slovenly, shopping-phobic males. One woman said, “Well, if I didn’t get it, there’d be no present to give.” And what would happen in that case? “I’d probably have a last minute panic attack.”
 
Flaming, straw-swollen nativity scenes. How depressing.

And may whatever is in charge of the Universe, if it feels the barest twinge of affection or mercy toward this poor mortal, spare me from the loathsome, teeth-grinding ritual called the ‘Secret Santa’. Yes, let’s make it company policy to spend a piece of our paycheques on co-workers, some of whom might be all but strangers, others of whom we don’t set on fire solely because the HR department would go apeshit. Maybe so-and-so in accounting truly is in dire need of a Pilates dvd or a mug embossed with ‘Accountants do it with double-entry‘, but why should I give a sleighful of reindeer shit? I show up to staff meetings and retreats because I have to, but anyone looking to make it a part of my job to buy presents for other people can lick my sweat-flavoured chestnuts.

Yes, let’s make it company policy to spend a piece of our paycheques on co-workers, some of whom might be all but strangers, others of whom we don’t set on fire solely because the HR department would go apeshit.

Scrooge had it right, just for the wrong reasons

Full disclosure: I once used to make that panicked December 23rd dash to the stores. Wade into the frenzied and harried horde seeking – no longer the perfect gift, whatever said beast might be – but something, anything, to fill the gap in the offering; to quell somebody’s need for stuff. I also mastered the unflinchingly appreciative look, the one required when someone gifted me with something that I would never – not for Bill Gates’ money and Kate Beckinsale’s undivided attention – wear, read or in any way put to good use. Christmas had become the equivalent of running a marathon with an obese wolverine attached to the previously (and, I promise, never again) referenced chestnuts.

Then, one frigid eve some years ago, a thought struck me: the self-induced obligation to take part in the annual, en masse, lemming-like stampede of the holiday herd to the shops is some serious-ass, weapons-grade bullshit. And, at that moment, I decided to no longer be another breaking wave in the Yule tide of shoppers and slaves to that grim taskmaster, ‘tradition’, simpering twin of that right bastard, ‘obligation’. An announcement was made to friends and family that I was abstaining, resigning, refraining, renouncing and generally exiting the consumerist premises. Don’t get me anything, as I have no wish to feel guilty. I have heard that it is an unpleasant sensation and I have managed to avoid it for this long, so don’t fuck up my streak. I will share your company, make you a meal, kill a bottle of wine with you. But if I see gift wrap it had better be somebody’s freakin’ birthday. And I don’t mean Yeshua Ben Joseph’s.

How did a perfectly nice holiday become an overpriced theme park, where all the rides are compulsory? How’s this: we only so much as acknowledge the consequent Christmas once we can anticipate the impending day with single digit ‘sleeps’, and make the cut-off date the day your average, reasonably well-adjusted adult starts to wonder just how one would tie a set of Christmas lights into a noose.

…why not have a Christmas freakin’ year and save ourselves the bother of sweeping the pine needles and binning the tinsel?

Now, there will be those who chime in with ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ and good on them, have at it, it is indeed the genesis of the holiday, even if most of the associated traditions are pagan as a naked rave in a grove of elms. If that still works for you, then cue up the ‘Come All Ye Faithfuls’ and enjoy. I, for whom there is no longer any supernatural element, maintain that we need a week-long, year-end blow-out to offload and take stock, no matter which deity supposedly born of a god/virgin/both has its name on it. But two months? Holy hopped-up Balthasar on a flatulent donkey, why not have a Christmas freakin’ year and save ourselves the bother of sweeping the pine needles and binning the tinsel?

Like so many dreary and soul-sucking things in life, it’s become a routine. Malls, shops, stamps and wrap. Families must crack open the box o’ merriment and festoon the place by this particular date; individuals must tolerate those they find intolerable on every other day of the year, and hope that the very vital tidbit that Jimmy or Sally is craving will fit on the credit card without said card wilting like a porn star during a Viagra embargo.

Here’s a thought: drop a fiver on the guy sitting outside the mall who looks like he’d be tossed out by security before he got within sight of the mutant, wish-granting moose. Send a turkey to a food bank every month, not just bloody December. And spend the time – the limited, non-calendar-raping time that is actually the holiday – exclusively with those you wish you had seen more of during the rest of the year.

Sod the rest and the reindeer it flew in on.

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