Saturday, July 30, 2005

A Pre-Christmas Sinking Spell

I was out running errands today, and when I looked at the huge shelves full of 2006 calendars in one store, I had a sinking spell. I thought to myself, "I wish Christmas wasn't coming so soon."

You see, it's not that I don't love Christmas. Aside from it being the celebration of our Lord's birth, it's always been my favorite holiday of the year. Some of the best memories of life I have revolve around Christmas. But while I love Christmas as itself, I get more and more cynical and depressed about what we've turned it into.

Just the other day, Mrs. Muley and I were in the bookstore, and we saw a book on unusual Texas places (like our house) that I know my history-loving mother would love to own. "Let's get this for her for Christmas," we both said. It got us to realizing, with something of horror mixed with dread, that it is now the end of July and we do not have a single Christmas present bought. Between now and December 24, we must go out and buy gifts for a list of friends and relatives that fills the back and front of a typed sheet of paper.

It's not that I'm cheap, or hate giving gifts. But I know what labor, stress, traffic jams and hours of phone interviews will be required to purchase this haul. And I know that, despite my resolution to "get 'er done" by Thanksgiving, I'll again be one of those poor schmucks frantically running around looking for something "acceptable" on December 24.

The thought of all that work and hassle fills me with dread. I'd love to just get everyone a Barnes and Noble gift certificate and be done, but then I wonder, what would be the point? Come to think of it, what is the point of all this gift giving? When two people stand next to each other on Christmas Day and exchange identical $20 Wal-Mart gift certificates, what is accomplished?

A lot of times nowadays we still surprise one another with gifts, but all too often we ask someone in our family what they want, they tell us, we buy it, and then hand it over on Christmas Day. They have already in turn asked us to name a gift, we have complied, and they end up handing that over to us in front of the tree. This whole blind, crazy dance of commerce is getting me more and more cynical about the holidays, and I've even had the radical thought that we ought to just abolish this present business altogether, except maybe for the kids.

It's not that presents are bad in themselves, or that we shouldn't want to do something nice for those we love. It's just that the need to buy presents has not only changed the way we celebrate Christmas, but the way we think about Christmas as well. We see it not as a time of love and renewal, but as one of stress and obligation.

I dread the incredible, robot-like transformation that takes place the day after Labor Day. As if by magic, Christmas tunes start playing from store music systems, red and green cardboard cutouts go up, aisles of decorations and snow globes and candy canes and Santa dolls that dance to music sprout up overnight like mushrooms. The sales push -- which means Christmas music and Christmas commercials and Christmas sales fliers and Christmas contests -- never stops, and by Christmas Day itself, I'm so sick of it I'm ready to scream. Then, miraculously, on December 26, it all begins to melt quickly away like Frosty himself, as if Christmas had just been a big sales campaign for a just discontinued product.

If all those ads and commercials and sales were presented by Christians who really knew the true meaning of Christmas, and sought to honor that in what they sold or put on TV, then maybe it wouldn't be so bad. But I know that most of the people who are producing the irritating TV commercials and hawking the gaudiest geegaws and cramming Christmas down out throats don't know or don't care what the holiday is all about. To them it's just the mother lode, the time when Americans are pre-programmed to open their wallets and start throwing cash at anything that pushes the pavlovian buttons marked jingle bells, Santa, hearths and chestnuts and reindeer and eggnog and ho ho ho.

I know this is just a sinking spell. I know that I'll eventually suck it up, and do my duty as a good American to spend the money and put the lights on the roof and write the Christmas letter. But I wish once, just once, my family and I could celebrate Christmas in a part of the world that hasn't been taken over by commerce, where Christmas celebrations start maybe a few weeks before the big day, and consist mainly of baking special foods, seeing old friends, singing old songs, and reading the Christmas story from the Bible. A ride through the snowy woods on a sleigh, building a snowman, and I'd be done. And quite happy and content to boot. Does a place like this even exist anymore?

But that's just a nice dream right now. I've gotta go pull out that shopping list.


Jan said...

The Christmas gewgaws are already out here in Oklahoma City (Hobby Lobby). I think it's already time for fall/halloween decorations to go on sale, don't you?

I have some friends who had an exceptional Christmas a few years back. Instead of gifts, each family member did something charitable for somebody else outside the family. On Christmas day, they took turns sharing what they had done. She said they laughed and cried and had the very best Christmas ever. Wouldn't Christmas lunch be something else after a morning like that???

I am so on board with your entire post. Just to lighten the load, I don't want you to buy me anything this Christmas. I won't get you anything, either.

Muley said...

Oh, boy. Now who am I going to give the feather boa to that I had bought you, Jan? I picked it out to match your new profile photo. I know that's you as a kid, but I figure you still dress up like that around the house.

Jan said...

Oh - well, since you already bought it....

(Is it pink?)

Katalina B said...

Since moving here to Germany (last December), I have found out that the Christmas Celebration is the most important "holiday" to the Germans (well..a vast majority of them). They do not put their Christmas trees up until December 24th, hence no Christmas presents lying about. The children are anticipating what might appear on Christmas Day. Once the trees are up, they stay up until mid-January. Gifts are exchanged Christmas morning between mothers, fathers, and children. Grandparents are visited later in the day or the day after where, once again, gifts are exchanged. (It's almost as though the German businesses close down for the holidays. The Germans (those that work for major industries) are given roughly 15 days off to celebrate the season.

Prior to Christmas, each village has their own "Christmas Market" where there are vendor booths who market a lot of old world, hand made items. (There are modern gadgets as well.) There are food booths..yumm.. the smell of chestnuts (or somebody's nuts) roasting !!! (had to say that, LOL!) Mulled wine, brats... You will also hear caroling from children, arias sung by adults, classical musicians (adults and children). Everywhere there is a "...feeling of Christmas..." I wish we could do that back in the States...but... alas it seems that we Americans (not all) have become too materialistic. I have to say that it would be ideal if we could dispense with the spending portion of gift giving and give our pocket books a rest. Don't get me wrong...I LOVE GIVING to others! I must admit...I do enjoy receiving gifts myself...BUT...the caveat to my receiving gifts doesn't have to be a "store bought" gift. Something simple is (in my view) quite appropriate. Something handmade...even something re-cycled... Last Christmas was the first time my husband and I spent Christmas away from home and family and friends. There was only the two of us and while it was a bit sad to not see the joyful faces of our grandsons as they opened up our gifts, we were not "unhappy". We had each other (we didn't even exchange gifts)
...and I have to say, it was probably one of our "best" Christmases ever, simply because we appreciated all of what God has given us in this life...truly this is what the season is all about...honouring the Son of God and appreciating the life that has been given to us.

Nettie said...

Makes me think of all the poor schmucks I had to help last Christmas...

Muley said...

Nettie, I find that's one thing I definitely look forward to at Christmas -- being able to help others through gifts or caroling older folks (which we do every year).

Kayalina, who are these little "brats" that hang around Christmas celebrations in Germany? Are they obnoxious weiners?

Katalina B said...

..yuk..yuk!!!! Yup! Thay'um dang "brats" is ALL OVER GERMANY!!! Ah cain't go no place without see'in 'em lil "wieners"!!!' pleez don't cornfuse thay-um with those "carolin' childrun"!!!
(...yup...southern Hi-wai-ee iz whur ahm from!!!)

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