John S explained why he hates Christmas last year (and the year before that), but it’s all still true:
It probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to you to hear that I hate Christmas: For one, I like hating things that are popular. More substantively, though, Christmas combines two of my least favorite things in the world: religion and consumerism. At Christmas, people are encouraged to buy a bunch of stuff that they don’t need in order to celebrate the birth of a god that doesn’t exist.
Whether or not you’d like to admit it, it’s hard to deny that Christmas brings out the worst of both of these already-pretty-bad things. Every year, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on Christmas, plenty of it horribly misallocated; advertising and the general holiday spirit inspire a sense of “rewarding yourself” and “remembering others” that can only be done through a commercial transaction.* As for the “religious” element of the holiday, Christmas cloyingly spoon-feeds us sweet and formulaic messages about the value of family and generosity: It translates moral and religious dogma into clichés and after-school specials.
*And I really shouldn’t have to sell anyone on the evils of Black Friday, which occasionally kills people. Black Friday, a completely nonsensical and suboptimal way of selling products, inspires a frenzy of purchasing and consumer madness, all acting as a hitman on behalf of Christmas.
Christmas manages to do something special, though: The two great evils—God and commerce—combine to work together to produce a synergy that is more pernicious than the mere sum of its parts. It’s not merely that people spend money and believe in God during the “Christmas season”—which now begins, apparently, shortly before Halloween—since people do those things all year long. No, it’s that these two elements, when combined, create something so omnipresent, controlling, and one-dimensional that it borders on totalitarianism.
What is so disturbing about Christmas is that it’s everywhere: When I turn on the TV in the morning, the logo in the corner reminds that it’s Christmas (even though it’s not; it’s December 18th); when I open up my computer, Google’s logo or MSN’s homepage reminds me that it’s Christmas; when I turn on Z100, the deejays remind me about “Jingle Ball”; when I watch TV, every single show has to do a Christmas episode; when I walk through stores, restaurants, or practically any public venue, Christmas music—which is, with few exceptions, the worst music ever created by humans—plays in the background; when I watch the news, I see puff pieces with Christmas messages (or, if I’m lucky, Yule Log); when I read a newspaper, magazine, watch TV, go to a movie, see a billboard—basically any activity that requires the use of my senses—I encounter an advertisement telling me what would make “the perfect gift.”
Even things that really have nothing to do with Christmas, like snow, the colors red and green, and the emotion of happiness, have been co-opted by the holiday. Hell, even Hanukkah has been co-opted by Christmas.* The fact that Christmas has now been secularized, both explicitly and implicitly, means that the phenomenon of Christmas covers more than merely the holiday itself. When someone says, for example, “Happy Holidays,” we generally interpret that as “Merry Christmas…unless, that is, you don’t celebrate Christmas, in which case, enjoy all the fuss about Christmas and stuff, and buy gifts for your friends and family for whatever totally independent and equally valid reasons you may choose.”
*The fact is that Hanukkah only exists, in its current form, to compete with Christmas. As a result, it is impossible to think of Hanukkah without thinking of Christmas: It’s like trying to imagine Family Guy without The Simpsons. At the same time, though, comparisons between the two ultimately miss the point. Complaints that Hanukkah is not as “good” or as “fun” as Christmas—while true—ignore the fact that they are both part of the same religio-commercial phenomenon.
Christmas, then, has a life of its own, with powers to do things it was never meant to do—it’s like Frankenstein’s monster or the atom bomb. Even the mere reaction against Christmas is a vaguely political act. I’d love to quietly ignore Christmas and let others enjoy the holiday, treating it the same way I treat Glenn Beck, Entourage, and the stand-up comedy of Dane Cook. Alas, such luxuries are not possible in our time. As Orwell originally said, one cannot be neutral on the subject of totalitarianism. You are either for Christmas, or you are against it.
So, why exactly, should one be against it? After all, the holiday is really only about inspiring cheer and goodwill. Well, that is precisely the problem.
It’s not, as you are probably thinking, that I hate happiness, cheer, and goodwill. What bothers me is that Christmas seems to own these emotions; during the Christmas season, in fact, the implication that anything good—generosity, good movies, sales, happiness, family—is somehow Christmas-related. As Christmas manages to ensnare all good things, though, it inevitably perverts them by making them bland and meaningless.
Take, for example, the gifts, which are really the essence of Christmas. In general, gifts are good: They provide us with something we want and, even if they don’t, they offer a sense of reward or validation. If I get a gift as a return for a favor, or for graduation, then I realize that I did something worth rewarding. If a gift comes apropos of nothing, then it is a reminder that someone cares enough about my needs and wants to get me something. But what is the value of a gift given merely because of the time of year?
Indeed, Christmas perverts the entire concept of gift-giving. For one, Christmas breeds the expectationof getting a gift. Now, this is also true on your birthday (but we should be switching to Life Days soon, anyway), but at least then you’re the only one (or one of two, if you’re a twin) getting a gift; the gifts given are still personal, and the reason for giving gifts is still you. During Christmas, however, any gift you get is inevitably part of someone’s “Christmas shopping”: There may be thought behind it, but it may just have easily been purchased because it fit into the giver’s budget, or because he happened to see it while he was out shopping for someone else’s gift. Either way, it’s given primarily out of expectation, habit, or reflex.*
*And this barely broaches the surface of the anxiety caused by modern gift-giving, particularly the mutual, simultaneous giving of gifts at Christmas: If I get a gift for this person, does that mean I need to get one for that person? Will Person X be offended if I only give them a giftcertificate? Will spending too much be seen as garish? Too little seen as cheap? What is “too much” or “too little”? What if I’m seen to put too much time and effort into my gift? Will I look stupid if my gift to Person A is bigger than A’s gift to me? What if A doesn’t plan on getting me a gift AT ALL? Am I allowed to ask someone what he wants? Does that ruin the thought? What did she mean when she said “something small”? What kind of gift precisely approximates the nature of the relationship I have with the person, or the nature of the relationship I WISH to have? Should I wrap it? Do I need a card? Etc. etc. etc.
The elements of expectation, habit, and reflex infect and corrupt every positive emotion and good thing associated with Christmas. Time spent with family becomes something to be arranged, not something organic and enjoyable. Vacations become something to be taken advantage of, and not something to be savored. The stories and narratives associated with Christmas—no matter how sweet and pleasant they may have originally been—have become predictable, trite, and boring.
In short, Christmas takes everything that is good, pleasant, and fun, and manages to make it ordinary, irritating, and boring. If you ask me, this is the very definition of evil. Sure, it seems harmless and uplifting, and likes to portray anyone opposed to it as a Grinch/Scrooge who only needs some cheering up. But this is how all totalitarian regimes start: They appeal to our basest instincts, make us happier in the short-term, while ultimately undermining the values we hold dear. And they make any opposition seem irrational and misguided.
So over the next week, the last week of Christmas (well, kind of: There’s usually a fair amount of spillover from Christmas into the last week of the year), do not get sucked in by its ebullient spirit and zaftig mascot. Don’t buy into the hype of commercialism, excess, one-dimensionality, and dull religion. Do not allow Christmas to corrupt the way you view the world, to dull and institutionalize the finer things in life. Stand up to Christmas! You have nothing to lose but your chains!