Ah, sweet, relieving Festivus for the rest of us!
Every Christmas is different and I have to find my own way to get through it. My desire to see my family is often directly proportional to whatever else is going on in my life, and usually leaves me preferring to visit at some other time than Christmas. My desire to see, well, any other human being is pretty much the same. I think of Christmas as a time for hibernation, really, and like the hibernation.
I used to hate Christmas with a white hot passion, but learned that the parts I like have to do with sweet treats, pretty lights, and -- most of all -- a rest. Just rest. The semester is over -- and even with a 9-to-5 job, I had a few days off -- and the week between December 25th and January 1st seems like a free week, nothing required after the intensity of requirements from the previous months.
So, what I really hate about Christmas is the requirements -- and requirements coupled with the sense of alienation if you choose to opt out of any or all of the requirements. You don't even have a tribe if you are from a culturally Christian background and opt out.
I hate presents, for instance, and rebel against this present requirement. I'm called a "Scrooge" for it, but if you go back and read A Christmas Carol, the unreformed Scrooge would probably love this orgy of shopping that has become late November and December. Presents are not at all part of the story outside of charity. Yet, there is everybody rushing to the stores, running up the credit card debt, spending out of their means, all to prove their Christmas spirit and show their "love" or "appreciation" to everyone they have come into contact with in their lives, whether or not they can afford it.
About a decade ago, I called a moratorium in my family on presents. "Look," I said. "Most of us have to travel long distances to get together, either by plane or car. Some of us are broke or barely making ends meet, so the travel is an expense. Then, to buy everyone a present costs not just cash, but time we may not have or could better use elsewhere, not to mention the stress of it all and having to transport the gifts, which is a hassle. Why don't we just give each other the gifts of the time and money that would be spent in shopping by not exchanging presents. If you want to give presents to someone in your own household, great, go for it -- especially babies. But, we adults don't really need this."
Everyone was on board and thought it was a grand idea. You can imagine what happened next, especially if you've ever seen an American sit-com. I showed up, no gifts, and everyone else gave presents. I told them, "from now on, this is how I play. I don't give presents except to the children -- and only while they are children. Don't give me presents. Keep the time and money for yourselves."
Even with the kids, I think that they should only get one present from each adult, not fifty big ticket items from grandparents competing with one another for the child's love. Seriously, that's how these things play out in our family.
There is also the requirement of "merriness." Some of us are not particularly merry at this time of year for a million reasons. I have a difficult time thinking of many happy holidays. Not that there weren't any, just that they were a long time ago, or require a lot of concentration and denial in order to disconnect the good moments from all of the shit around them. I can't even go to a holiday at my parents house without feeling as if I'm participating in some kind of farce of a happy family at Christmas. It's not that we are all fighting (anymore), it's just that I have no idea how to act around these people who are essential strangers to me, and strangers for a reason, and figuring out a new way to be -- simply being me -- takes so much effort. There is too much in between now and those bad days when everyone made a concerted effort to be on their worst behavior. There is too much from those days that can't be addressed, for which there is not point in addressing. To address those days would certainly destroy whatever detente exists that allows us to at least carry on the farce. That's why I don't go, or don't go until the spirit of requirement has worn off.
I've, in fact, found that the best moments were often completely divorced from traditional Christmases and involved road trips or beaches and sun or pina coladas and a stack of DVDs having nothing to do with the holiday or really anything having to do with that concept of rest without requirement. Rest without requirement makes me merry, and the shape of it changes from year to year. I like figuring out the shape. We'll see what it is this year very soon, I suppose.
Right now, any possibility for merriness has been amplified by the arrival of my drug mule, whose gift of my happy pills has improved my ability to simply think anything except "life is awful life is awful life is awful" exponentially.