My Complicated Relationship with Xmas

As I write this, Xmas is nearly upon us. The stores have had their displays up for as long as two months already, it’s been nearly four weeks since Black Friday, and grocery store lines are longer as folks finish their holiday dinner grocery shopping. Everywhere you go, Xmas songs are playing while shoppers shop, diners dine, and coffee drinkers wait in lines for their overly complicated coffee drinks. Some folks completed their Xmas gift shopping weeks ago, some folks have waited until the last minute, and some folks have either made handmade presents or skipped the whole thing altogether.

I am one of those folks who will basically be skipping Xmas altogether.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was growing up, we did Xmas every year. Sometimes, we stayed at home; most of the time, we spent the holiday with relatives. Most of the time, it was fun (for me, anyway). If we went to visit my mom’s side of the family in Bellingham, I got to play pool with my cousins and enjoy my Aunt Jane’s pumpkin pie. Every few years, we’d visit my dad’s side of the family, which meant an airplane trip to San Francisco. (I still remember returning from our 1979 trip with rice still in my shoes from the showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show I attended with my cousins.)

Only that year my folks split turned out to be difficult—mainly because my mom wanted to keep the whole thing a secret in order to avoid my grandmother’s disapproval. The evening ended with an argument between my mom and my uncle about my grandmother, whose health had started to decline (though it would be another sixteen years before she died), and an uncomfortable ride back home, seated between my two separated parents.

Once I was out of the house and on my own, things changed. I didn’t have the same motivation to make the long trip to see relatives, but neither did I have many other options. Sure, I could spend the holiday with my dad (and I did on more than one occasion), but I never liked his new wife, so when I could opt out, I did.

Then I moved to Tokyo, where Xmas is not a holiday, but is more like Valentine’s Day is in the US. The first two or three years there, I spent the day with either my roommate, or with friends. For Xmas 1988, I went with friends to a McDonald’s outside Tokyo, where we ordered the “Christmas sized” McNuggets, which came in a Roger Rabbit bowl. That night, I bought a VHS copy of It’s A Wonderful Life, which I was seeing for the first time. (This was before it was taken back out of the public domain, so the copy I bought turned out to be missing scenes here and there, as I later found out.)

The next year, things changed again. I began having panic attacks late in the year, so when I wasn’t going to work or seeing doctors to figure out what was wrong (panic attacks weren’t well known yet), I was more likely to keep to myself. I actually don’t remember what I did for Xmas; I may have done something with the friends I spent the previous Xmas with, but it is just as likely that I spent the day alone.

During the ’90s, I alternated between spending the day alone and spending it with family. Spending it alone wasn’t actually difficult for me, except that there would always be somebody insisting that I couldn’t be alone on Xmas. If there was anything difficult about it, it was more that I seemed to be at a loss as to what to do with my life than it was about not spending the day with other people.

I did eventually reach a point where I had new friends to do things with, so I had more choices available to me for the holidays. Then, I met the woman who would soon become my wife, and spending Xmas alone was no longer something I had to worry about. Even if I did have to go somewhere I didn’t really want to, at least I wasn’t alone. Either way, I at least had the fun of coming up with just the right gift for my wife—something I turned out to be really good at.

I also continued a tradition of sorts I’d started in 1987: making Xmas mix discs for friends. My peak year for this was probably 2001, which turned into a three-disc extravaganza—and was more optimistic than my two-disc 1999 edition, which (in one version, anyway) was melancholy in several spots. In 2006, I used Toast to create a 13-1/2 hour extravaganza that included reproductions of the 1999 and 2001 mixes; yes, there was some overlap, but that’s still a lot of music. When I didn’t create an Xmas mix for the year, I’d usually find some personal project to substitute instead—including re-configured editions of selections from the Tinty Music catalog, and even a video one year.

But then the marriage ended, so the last three Xmases saw things go back to my spending the holiday alone. 2012 was the exception, since my dad came up to visit; we didn’t specifically celebrate the holiday—he went through the books we’d been keeping in storage for him, while I dubbed my collection of VHS cassettes to DVD (and filled out the divorce papers to file with the court)—but it was close enough. And, with moving on my mind, I wasn’t particularly inclined to worry about compiling any mixes—or doing anything else along those lines, for that matter.

Last year’s Xmas came a little over three weeks after a huge panic attack, so I was not feeling inclined to go anywhere. I think I watched movies on Amazon or Netflix or something. It wasn’t great, but it was nice not having to worry about accommodating anybody else’s schedule.

This year will probably be similar. Although I feel better than I did at this time last year, I’m really not interested in taking a road trip. So, I plan to make myself a ham, with pineapple chunks and two or three yams; and spend the day watching movies. If I feel so inclined, I’ll probably write a poem or two.

It remains to be seen what will happen going forward. Over the last few years, my enthusiasm for the holiday has steadily lessened. I still listen to Xmas music from time to time, but I’m no longer terribly interested in adding new tunes to my collection, or in making new mixes (not even for myself). I don’t do Xmas shopping anymore; if I’m going to give somebody a gift, I don’t worry about what time of year it is (apart from birthdays, that is)—I just give the gift. It just feels more genuine that way. Either way, I avoid doing any shopping during the last two or three months of the year that I wouldn’t do earlier in the year; if I must buy something, I’ll order it online whenever possible. In short, I just can’t be bothered with all the bother.

I do actually look forward to the day when I can feel excited about Xmas again. I just don’t know when that’s going to be. I would like it to be soon, but these things are so unpredictable…

For now, Happy Christmahannukwanzaakah!

(23 December 2014)