I really, really want to like Christmas. It would make my wife deliriously happy if I did, so I try hard every year. But I lose the battle every year.
I was brought up culturally, though not very religiously, Jewish. Until I got married to a woman brought up Christian, Christmas was a day to go out for Chinese food or to the movies or, preferably, both. When I was a kid and most of my friends were celebrating Christmas, I got my Hanukkah presents and ate my mother’s latkes and was pretty happy with that. I felt a bit left out that other kids got to sit on Santa’s lap and I didn’t, but that was never a big deal.
But that was in the days before Christmas started in September. No matter how hard I try, I can’t ignore it when my local Target is putting up displays of Christmas merchandise three months ahead of time. And even the stores that don’t jump the gun that egregiously still mostly put their Christmas stuff up at the same time they take the Halloween stuff down. I don’t care if it’s more efficient that way; it’s still way too early.
It’s not just the decorations, either, of course: it’s the music, too. As fellow GeekDad Z has eloquently pointed out, some Christmas songs don’t deserve to be played that much. I’d go further, and say that no song, no matter how good it is, deserves to be played as many times as the “standard” Christmas songs are this time of year. Even the songs that aren’t specifically Christmas-related, like “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland,” get repeated over and over again to the point where they can only be described with the term ad nauseam.
The Christmas things all around build on one another. Christmas seems to be trying so hard for me to like it that I can’t help but hate it, as though it were an ad campaign that was constantly in your face. I wish for a time machine that could take me to my in-laws’ house on Christmas Eve, where family, good cheer, and good food really are the most important things. Because then the Christmas carols on the stereo there wouldn’t make me want to put on headphones and listen to my iPod, and I wouldn’t have to force myself to smile every time someone says “Merry Christmas.” I love watching my kids enjoy Christmas, and I don’t want to hate it. But I do.
Lest you think I believe Hanukkah should be played up just as much, I assure you I don’t. Hanukkah is, religiously, a fairly minor holiday in Judaism, and only has the prominence it does today because it happens to fall at the same time of year as Christmas. The only reason the tradition of giving gifts for Hanukkah exists is because it helps Jewish kids feel less left out when all their Christian friends are getting loads of them. In my family we celebrate Hanukkah as well as Christmas, giving only a few small gifts for the former and saving the bigger gifts for the latter. I wouldn’t do very much for Hanukkah, honestly, if it didn’t feel like I was surrendering to the monster that is Christmas by not making a big deal about it.
I feel bad about it, because I know it upsets my wife, and it’s not her fault that her holiday has gotten so overblown by society at large. She probably dislikes the commercialization of Christmas even more than I do, because it’s a holiday that has some fond memories for her. Unfortunately, though, until retailers wake up and realize that nobody, anywhere, wants to hear “Little Drummer Boy” or “Here Comes Santa Claus” six times a day for a month, and that people are just as likely to buy their merchandise even if they don’t have seventy Christmas trees all around their stores, the forces against my willpower will remain too strong.
[This article was originally published in December of 2008.]