DANNY: The other day I hit the mall hard because four of my closest friends decided to have a birthday in the same week. So I’m browsing through the card shops, looking for the perfect gifts, minding my own business, and there it was just as big as Billy BeDamnedChristmas. First of all, let me point out the obvious: It’s September, early September. We’re barely past Labor Day and can’t even see Halloween and Thanksgiving, they’re so far offbut Hallmark’s got a cheap plastic ornament on display for you right now. And it makes my stomach turn.
Before you finger-wagglers start writing in and yelling “Scrooge!” at me, you should know that I love Christmastime. But I start loving it when I see Santa at the very end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and not one minute before. I love finding that perfect present for my friends and family, drinking hot chocolate and walking down Main Street in Franklin all huddled up in a coat and mittens at the annual Dickens of a Christmas celebration; I love big fleece blankets and warm fires, and most of all when How the Grinch Stole Christmas comes on the TV. But I do not, I repeat do not, love it when it’s 95 degrees outside.
Every year after Christmas, I vow to set up a separate savings account and put money in it all year long so I won’t be so financially strapped in Decemberand I never do. The only benefit I can see of having to put up with the hip-shaking Santa cowboy doll that sings “Jingle Bells” this early in the year is that it reminds us to start buying early so we don’t do it in one big chunk after Thanksgiving. But that really doesn’t work either. One year I bought everybody’s presents early and got way ahead of the game, but just as I got done congratulating myself, I got so wrapped up in the Christmas spirit in December that I bought for everyone again. So the only people happy about itbesides my friends and familywere the bloodsucking demons at Citibank MasterCard.
I know it’s been said many times before, but what bothers me about Christmas is that it’s just a blatant commercialization of Christianity. When it comes to Christmas, we’re so far away from religion that going to church is just a small stop-off in between parties, shopping, and present-opening. Don’t get me wrongI’m not a religious person, and this isn’t a diatribe about how we should get back to basics. I’m just saying let’s drop the whole charade and admit that, for most of the masses, religion is the least of concerns when it comes to Christmas. The son of God was born, you say? Well, then, let me show my excitement by setting up a glowing plastic manger scene in my front yard!
And while I’m (sort of) on the topic, let me say that I think religion should be a personal thingnot something you airbrush on a tank top. All those “His Pain Our Gain” T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other assorted memorabilia seem to contradict the message. And don’t even get me started on that whole W.W.J.D. craze, because I can tell you right now what Jesus wouldn’t do: He wouldn’t mass-market himself for profit.
Come December, I’ll be standing in Target for six hours picking out the perfect wrapping paper. Then I’ll go home and make corn-flake Christmas wreaths and dye my fingers green in the process. And on Christmas Day, though I’m 28 and she’s 26, my sister and I will run out to the living room to see the spread of presents in our parents’ house just like we did when we were kids. We’ll sit under the tree that holds decorations to mark every year of our lives since birth, and it’ll be great. But I won’t be kidding myself that it has anything at all to do with religion.
BEN: I’m about as religious as a hooker at a political convention during an election year. But I’m supposed to get up in arms about the fact that Christ’s birthday has been coopted as the ultimate marketing scam. B.F.D. Isn’t that what religion has always been about anyway? Isn’t the Bible really just a great brochure with real-life stories about salvation, resurrection, and turning water into wine?
Karl Marx was right; religion is an opiate for the masses. The world is a hard, callous place with no easy explanations. This is a difficult thing to deal with when you’re human and you want your life on this planet to have meaning. Religion has always been a multinational selling answers to life’s inconclusiveness, as well as a way of measuring oneself morally and ethically. And in that sense, I think the Christmas “Buy me, I’m your gift answer” spirit and the homilies about goodwill to man are entirely appropriate. This may be shallow, but if it gives people some sort of solace after another brutal year in an increasingly disillusioned world, so be it.
What irritates me is sentimentality for sentimentality’s sake and obligatory gift purchasing. I like to buy people gifts as well, but only when I’m inspired to do so. I like buying things for people I care about when I see something I know they’d like. I hate this idea that just because it’s December, you’re required to come up with a present, whether you want to or not. To fulfill your obligation, you end up spending money on junk nobody would want in order not to look like an asshole. Doesn’t it mean more when it’s actually from the heart rather than mandatory?
Such gift-giving not only goes against the grain of genuine emotion, it also fosters some pretty ugly ones. I worked in a mall once during the holiday season, and it was one of the most miserable experiences I can recall. Working retail during the holiday season is like being a piñata. Frantic people are constantly coming up and badgering you for information you couldn’t possibly know; they pummel you repeatedly, thinking you’re going to break open and spill it out for them. I remember one woman asking me what she should get her father for Christmas. How the hell would I know what her father wants? I don’t even know what my own father wants, much less hers. He’s your dadwhy don’t you try getting to know the bastard and figure it out for yourself. (Obviously, it’s people skills like these that got me where I am today.)
So let’s all just lighten up on all the forced camaraderie and generous spirit. What it all comes to down to is that Christmas is one of those times you’re required to spend with your family. So instead of fretting over the religious meaning or whether or not we got somebody the right gift, why don’t we just enjoy each other’s company? The other 364 days of the year, we have to deal with all that other real-world junk, like religion and consumerism. Let’s just have Christmas for ourselves.
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