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Bah Humbug, or, Why I Don’t Do Christmas

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Aside from the obvious fact that I’m Jewish. But don’t mistake that for saying that I’m a good Jew. I’m not. I just identify with it because that’s how I was raised. I celebrated Christmas with the best of them for many years. But I walked away from it a good 15 or more years ago and never looked back.

A friend made the whole point for me: it isn't about its traditional meaning anymore. It's about excess and commercialism and I utterly despise that part of it. And since I was not raised Christian, the traditional meaning – the birth of Christ – has no meaning to me anyway.

I used to be pretty rabid about it. Anything Christmas was anathema to me. Keep it away from me, shut off that awful music, don’t wish me a merry Christmas, don’t even discuss inviting me to your Christmas gathering. But over the years I've calmed down about it and in my usual self-analytic way, I have figured out why I feel as I do, I can keep it personal, and I can let everybody else do their Christmas thing without getting all up in arms about it.

I’m no longer a person who gets offended when someone says “Merry Christmas” to me, unless I know they are saying it just to push my buttons. I know most people mean it with the best of intentions; they really do wish for everyone to be happy at the holiday season. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t need to be PC and change the phrase to “Happy Holidays” because you’re worried about offending either. In fact, that’s worse, because it’s phony.

But I still don’t like it. The endless music and ridiculous advertising are choke-worthy (kind of like political season, no?) And I choose to ignore the whole thing, as much as being part of a Christmas-crazy society will allow. There are a lot of things about Christmas that just make no sense to me.

Here is something I find funny: When the folks who celebrate Christmas decided their Jewish friends were being left out of all the fun, they elevated Hanukkah to a major big deal just because it falls at roughly the same time as Christmas. (Whose bright idea was that anyway?) Most devout Jews laugh at that, because Hanukkah is a nothing little holiday, no more than a blip on the Jewish calendar. Sure, Hanukkah is fun, and it should be recognized, but it’s just not that important. In fact, if you look at the calendars of exclusively Jewish schools, they don’t close down for Christmas or Hanukkah. They take their holiday breaks in September, at the so-called High Holy Days, and in late March or early April for Passover, which are far more important holidays. And yet somehow, many "worldly" Jews have been sucked into the same excessive, commercial crap for Hanukkah that has become the modern celebration of Christmas.

Here is what I don’t understand: Why do people feel obligated to jump through hoops to please people who have no appreciation when it is a burden and no fun? Decorating? Baking? Shopping? Spending more than you should? If you truly enjoy doing this, then go for it. But the more people I talk to, the more I am convinced that most people don’t do it because they enjoy it. They do it because it’s expected, and because they are trying to please others.

Someone please tell me, if you don’t enjoy it, if it causes you stress and puts you in debt, then why do you do it? Are you trying to please others? Why would you allow another person that much power over you?

Decorating to me is make-work. It makes more cleaning, more effort, more clutter. And it’s *stuff* for my dogs to get into and ruin. Or hurt themselves on.

Baking? Well, that just means more calories, which I definitely don’t need. And more make-work.

Shopping? Bite your tongue. Shopping on Black Friday or Christmas Eve? You wouldn't catch me dead.

And why, oh why, do people feel obligated to go into debt and spend more money than they have on gifts? Especially when 90% of those gifts aren't wanted, aren't appropriate, and aren't worth their price tag?

It’s the thought that counts? Bullsh*t. Nobody wants another silly tie, another bottle of cologne, fuzzy slippers, or some random t-shirt. The fact is, no thought at all goes into gifts like that.

Gift giving in general doesn't make a lot of sense to me, at least not for the current societal compulsion that is modern Christmas. I give gifts to people I love because I want to and because I can. I don't need a holiday for that; I can and do give gifts whenever the fancy strikes me. It’s one thing to give Christmas gifts because it symbolizes the gifts brought for that baby in the manger. It’s quite another to give Christmas gifts out of some obligation created by the retail industry.

As far as receiving gifts, I’d rather buy my own. I’m picky. I don’t do cologne, jewelry, or accessories. I prefer to buy my own clothes, so they fit right and are of styles that I can actually wear. Definitely don’t buy me a pet; pets are highly personalized. Electronics? How do you know what bells and whistles I need? Household appliances? Are you saying I need to do housework? Thank you. Music or movies? Do you know my tastes? No, anything I need or want, I can get – prefer to get – on my own. Don’t spend your money on me. Spend it on someone who truly needs it, better yet, spend it on yourself.

Are you going to say that I’m taking away the pleasure you get out of giving? Sorry. I've heard that argument before and it doesn't wash. Give to charity, give to a panhandler, give to a worthy cause. But your right to give me a gift does not take precedence over my right to refuse one.

When I was married, we used to overdo Christmas just like everyone else. We spent too much money, made the rounds to all the family gatherings, gained weight by eating too many obligatory Christmas cookies, and made our house into a safety hazard with tinsel and breakable ornaments. It was exhausting, stressful, and not the least bit fun. I finally put my foot down and said "no more Christmas for me" when my (now ex) husband insisted on buying gifts for every sibling, niece and nephew, and under-the-rock relative he could think of, many of them people we hardly even knew and who most certainly didn't need another toy or poorly fitted sweater. I said no, we had a huge fight, and I said if he wanted to do it, he could do the shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking alone and it damn well better not come out of my paycheck. And that was the end of that. I haven’t gone gift-shopping, decorated my house, or baked another Christmas treat since then, and I don't miss it one little bit.

Some readers are sure to be offended by this blog. If you’re one of them, I’m surprised you've read this far. But please don’t post a comment saying I'm spoiling your holiday, or that I need to find faith. This holiday no longer has anything to do with faith. Please remember, to each his own.

Call me “Humbug,” call me “Scrooge,” call me anything you want. Call me a student of sociology, because I prefer to watch from the sidelines and try to figure out what makes ordinary, reasonable people behave like fanatics at Christmas. Participate? Thanks, not for me.
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    HI Laurie,

    Christmas is big business. Some speciality retailers make most of their money off of Christmas sales. My wife loves Christmas because it brings the family together. She starts playing Christmas music in October! I am also instructed not to buy anything for myself in the last three months of the year, which I despise!

    I am a crotchety old guy. I dread opening packages because I always get clothes I don't like and will seldom wear. I get clothes that my wife and in-laws think I should wear.

    I like to pick out my own clothes. Since people are going to spend money to buy me stuff, I will ask for items I can use or would like. But since my tastes, are a little at odds with what my wife and her mom and dad, I get stuff to donate to Goodwill.

    I like that I get a holiday off. I like seeing my grown children. I don't want anything!

    Thanks, Bruce

    1910 days ago
    I 100% agree, Laurie. I have not bought even one thing this year. And I find myself feeling vaguely guilty about that, but for ALL the wrong reasons, since I am a mom and a grandma. And at least I realize it is all the wrong reasons. But I have hated for years what this holiday has become, and have become totally convinced that the entire holiday thing is nothing more than a marketing conspiracy geared to enrich the retailers. LOL Well,I'm not participating this year, and will probably not ever participate again. I'm boycotting guilt and phony sentiment geared to create that guilt in my own personal life, I guess.
    1912 days ago
    I agree with 98% of what you said and couldn't have said it better, and I'm a Christian, LOL. I don't mind if other people have fun with Christmas but none of the Christmas traditions of our culture have any meaning for me except for the spiritual ones, primarily prayer and some of the Christmas hymns. The most common cultural symbols of Christmas have nothing to do with the meaning of Christmas. The most important holiday for Christians (if they know their faith) is not Christmas but Easter (and not the Easter bunny version). But given the fact that there are a lot of nominal Christians and poorly educated Christians, just like there must be among Jews, people often make their own faith and mix and match what they like.
    So to try to avoid all attempts of political correctness I'll just say

    Blessings, emoticon


    1914 days ago
    I adored your blog. So truthful, so sensible and SO RIGHT on! I used to be one of those crazed people that darted here and there to get Christmas JUST RIGHT!

    Worked myself into a lather getting gifts...the PERFECT gift!

    You are SO right about getting things..and I might add receiving things (I'm thinking MIL here) that are absolutely without any thought or meaning...and most likely marked down on the close out table.

    Finally one year after reading all about Feng Shui I went through our house and threw out every thoughtless gift she had ever sent to me. It felt fantastic!

    After all the book's suggestion was that if you look at something and it doesn't fill you with joy...why keep it? Nothing that little woman has sent to me in the almost 35 years of marriage to her dear son has filled me with joy...well...other than the fact that she does deserve credit for bringing this sweet man into the world...but that's it...I'm telling you..flat out...that's it!

    As I get older and wiser I realize that Christmas is all about the commercial game...much like modern medicine...it's buyer beware. This year we are not going to be here for the holidays so it gave me the perfect excuse not to put up a big time consuming tree, and drag out Christmas baubles that take three times as long to repack and put away. It's kind of like Thanksgiving Dinner...3 days of solid work...then 20 minutes of eating...and boom it's over. Then another 3 days of clean up. Gez...I have a business to run...that's the smart place to exert my energy.

    I put out a few little accents for my Annual Girls Christmas Craft party...we have a beautiful little fiber optic desktop tree that gives me every bit as much pleasure looking at as the big tree that I know I will ultimately have to break down and put away. I like Christmas...simple! No big 'ta da' gifts we give our best friends a Costco card knowing how much they love Costco and knowing that they have a boatload of grandchildren to buy for. Practical I am!

    I think we as Americans are realizing how very blessed we are to have each other...not stuff. No one is ever going to take all that 'stuff' with them...so it's the people that we need to concentrate on. I'm pleased to have such a practical and realistic and truthful friend...you are indeed a sparkler for sure..for sure! emoticon emoticon

    But I will wish you a Merry Christmas...only because I believe in all the magic that the belief in a Santa that performs good deeds for the beautiful children in our world need to look forward to...until...they come to an age that reality sets in...oh to view the world through the eyes of a trusting and innocent child that puts cookies and milk out for Santa...those WERE the days...yes they were!

    Hugs to you my friend! emoticon
    1921 days ago
    Indeed, the "Christmas Season" has become highly commercialized and profitable.
    1924 days ago
    Laurie, I'm glad you pointed this out.

    This is the second year I've done Hanukkah, because it's a way for me to connect with Scott's Jewish background. It's been really fun learning to cook new things, choose small fun gifts, and read prayers. We don't celebrate any other Jewish holiday together, and I guess that's because Hanukkah is more accessible as it coincides with Christmas.

    I've never done a tree, but sometimes I hang ornaments around the house or put up Christmas cards that I receive. It makes my house feel a little special, but cuts the work down by a lot (and expense). I keep a paper nativity scene up all year long because it was a gift from a family I love in Germany and it reminds me of them. I'm sure people who visit think I'm nuts. ;)

    I can totally understand your feed-up-with-it perspective and I admire Carol's way of making everything her own special adventure!

    1925 days ago
    And that is why I just love my friend CALGALFOX!!
    1925 days ago
    Haha, I'm glad you pointed this blog out, because (of course) I want to respond. I missed it because it was in between people that blog every day and sometimes twice a day, so it got lost to me.

    I LOVE Christmas. Not the religious side or the commercial side, but what it stands for in my family. During the month of December we do Christmas crafts. We sit around together and make things. You can call if "make work", I get that. I was raised as the youngest in a family of five and my mother told me when when I was older that having us kids to craft projects kept us out of trouble and gave her free time.

    I thought that was pretty brilliant as a parenting technique and chose to raise my kids the same way. Both my boy and girl can sew, draw, paint and generally engage their creative sides. Honestly, raising two kids with ridiculously high intelligence levels, I don't think I would have survived their childhood without arts and crafts. ...but we don't have television and never have.

    Speaking of television, since we don't have it we don't get the political or Christmas advertising. One year I was in a toy store because Casie wanted a "doll that was soft and sized more like a real baby". When I was in that isle at the store, there were two mothers discussing a specific toy baby that had some name and did something specific. I don't remember what it was, but it brought home to me the difference between hearing advertising and not.

    What is Christmas to me? It's the time spent together with the ones you love, doing something fun together. Our annual gingerbread house party is that kind of thing. We spend days cooking the gingerbread and assembling the houses. The kids help bake and Tom always does the assembly (being an engineer and an artist, his house building is the best) and the house smells amazing for weeks.

    Friends gather and we decorate the houses...well, actually I don't decorate a house because I don't really like that part, but that's okay since I do what I like. Whole families come and join us, parents and kids all enjoying gluing (with icky-sticky frosting) candy to the gingerbread house.

    In recent years it's been Casie and I who decorate the tree, although Tom always does the lights (it's that engineer thing). Every year we think and talk about what our theme and colors are going to be for the stupid tree. We did bronze, copper and brown last year. We made hangers for the ornaments out of copper wire, crystals and beads, they were beautiful and we had a great time.

    Presents... I know what you mean about giving and getting gifts that are obligatory. Our family just doesn't work that way. If I see the perfect gift for a family member I get it for them, but if I don't they don't get a gift from me. Tom's family used to draw names so my side of the family thought that was interesting and we tried it. We all got gifts for the person we drew, but we got gifts for anyone we found them for so we stopped drawing names. Tom's side does we my side does for the last ten years now.

    I pick someone every year and give a gift that is totally unexpected. A random person in my life that would never be on my gift list and that is totally fun for me. Things like the operations manager at my last job is married to this beautiful Mexican woman and I thought a matched pearl necklace would be beautiful on her. So I made the necklace and gave it to him to give to her. He was thrilled and she loved it.

    I also give to Toys for Tots every year. I try to give at least twenty-five gifts. One year they didn't have enough baby stuff so I made sets of blankets, hats, booties and a rattle...I did eighty of them and it was really fun. This year I gave twenty-five soccer balls, because who wouldn't like getting a soccer ball?

    So if someone doesn't like getting gifts like you, I am not offended, I just wouldn't get you anything. Or...I would make sure it wasn't at Christmas-time. You see, for me Christmas is a state of being, one which I embrace all year.

    Oh, and Christmas music...bring it on!

    Take care my friend.
    1925 days ago
    I call you sensible. And you KNOW darned well you are going to get some (if not a lot of) flak about this. Imo that is one of the many reasons people don't get along.
    Not many can agree to disagree peacefully. I applaud you for having the balls to speak your mind freely and I agree with what you said.
    Why is it that people look @ you as if you've lost your mind when if asked you say you don't do christmas?
    It's NOT WRONG to be different!

    1928 days ago
    1928 days ago
  • SASRA1
    The only thing I will call you is "right." Except for the fact that I am not Jewish, I almost felt like I wrote that as I read your words. I really hate the commercialization of the holiday. Gifts were fun when I was a kid, but the memories I treasure are not of any specific item, rather of family stories and happy moments gathered around the table at a tasty meal and long after. We lingered there, after the food was gone, and enjoyed each others' company. My family tradition days are long gone, parents divorced, grandparents passed away, and I will never get those precious moments back.

    What I DO choose to do with my holidays is becoming much less each year. I will have a tree only because my mom owns a Christmas tree farm. It will be small, likely a "tabletop" tree. I don't make a big meal, but if my husband wants his family to come over, it will be potluck style. Each family brings a food item and it's served buffet-style.

    Some folks will say I'm insane, and I frankly don't care, but I use plastic plates, bowls, utensils and cups. I get a big plastic table cloth from the $ store and most of my cleanup is simply wrapped up in it and thrown away at the end of the meal. Non-traditional? Yes. Irreverent? Possibly..... but no more so than serving a pasta and salad buffet for Thanksgiving. (No turkey, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc. in my house this year!) At least it was better than the year we had a pizza party on Thanksgiving, lol.

    I believe you celebrate what you want, when you want, and how you want. Otherwise, it is simply an extra load of stress and work that no one is ever completely satisfied with anyway (just look at the return lines at the stores on 12/26).

    I applaud you for doing what is right for you. In the end, there is no proof Jesus was born in December, much less on the 25th! But, that's a whole other blog response.........

    Take care and have a beautiful winter and enjoy any holiday you celebrate and have joyous days on those you don't. :-)

    1928 days ago
    Hanukkah was a miraculous time. No miracle is minor. I'm not Jewish, but every miracle from Creation to the birth of my Savior is worthy of awe and worship. I appreciate every time God's power is shown now or I read the record of it in past time.
    PS. I do not stress over gift giving, nor put myself into debt to do it. I enjoy my decorations. They bring me happiness and peace. It's all a balance.
    1929 days ago
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