December 21, 2010

Confession Tuesday

I confess that the older I get, the less I care about Christmas.

For the record, I'm not actually a Christian. I was raised by a lapsed Catholic and a lapsed Methodist, who during my early years gave lip service to Jesus' birth, but then gave up the pretense entirely when we were teenagers (though my mom still watches the Pope on TV every Christmas Eve). Of course, neither of them is happy that my sister and I are atheists (with tendencies towards agnosticism), but that's the risk you take when you don't indoctrinate children from the moment they're born. Anyway, I stopped caring about Christmas as a religious holiday a decade ago.

For awhile, especially in high school and college, I reveled in the materialistic nature of American Christmas. In college and grad school in particular, I referred to it as "Capitalistmas." But as my identity as a capitalist weakened, so did my desire to participate in a holiday based on consumption. I'm not saying I'm a great sage Buddhist who has renounced all worldly possessions (my Amazon wishlist is prodigious), but I'm just not motivated by a holiday that revolves around giving things. I do appreciate the thoughtfulness of my mother's gifts, I really do - she puts a lot of care into selecting things that we will love and use. But at the same time, I find I'm not really fulfilled by giving people presents. She is, and that's fine. I'm not judging her; it's who she is. Giving people nice presents makes her happy. And I'm not her.

I confess that this year, my sister and I treated ourselves to a nice dinner before she went to visit Mom for Christmas (she's the good daughter). We had time together and a nice meal rather than just another object we probably wouldn't use that much. It was so much more fulfilling than buying the perfect gift would have been.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't even put up my (fake) tree if my mother didn't send me a new Christmas ornament every year. I feel obligated to put it up to give each ornament its moment. (And yes, my sister and I have tried talking to her about how we feel about celebrating Christmas. But she's a die-hard observer, and won't hear of it.)

Right now, I'm pretty much going through the motions to make my mother happy (and I'm not even going home for Christmas this year. I'm 1,500 miles away, and I'm still going through the motions enough to make her happy. Yes. I have a strange relationship with my mother). My sister says that once mom passes on, she's giving up Christmas completely, and I'm inclined to agree with her.

I confess that I was interested in celebrating Solstice, not because I attach any spiritual meaning to it, but because I think it would be cool to celebrate major temporal milestones easily observed in nature. Last night was the longest night of the year. The days will now (slowly) start getting longer. That is something to celebrate! But I always miss the solstices, no matter how interested I am in celebrating them. Yesterday (and today still) I'm battling a virus while finishing a course of antibiotics that gives me nasty side effects. Celebration was not happening.

I confess that this year, I've decided to take a cue from my sister and not send Christmas cards. I'm going to send New Year's cards instead. I've decided that I'm still going to put up the tree out of habit, and I'll visit friends who are hosting Christmas celebrations (I'm not going to miss out on moments of togetherness just because I'm a bit of a Grinch), but I personally will not observe Christmas anymore. Instead, I'm going to celebrate the New Year. It's more my style. It doesn't have religion at it's core. While department stores still build sales around it, it's not the capitalist feeding-frenzy that is Christmas. It's a holiday about fresh starts, about new beginnings, a constant reminder that the past is over and the future is still bright before us.

I confess that this year, I got my mom a Christmas present, and the only other friend who got a Christmas gift is the son of one of our friends (for some reason, giving kids Christmas presents doesn't make me Grinchy). (Okay, I gave my husband a Channukah gift, but he's actually Jewish and does observe Channukah, and it's an entirely different holiday; I don't lump it in with my Christmas angst.) My sister and I are not exchanging gifts. I have a few good friends I would like to give gifts to, but I haven't purchased them yet. I'm saving them for New Year's. I'll give New Year's gifts this year rather than Christmas gifts, and I think I'll make that a permanent change.

I confess that in the New Year, I will try to talk to my mom again about my feelings about Christmas, but I won't be offended if she won't listen. She has her traditions. While she raised me with those traditions, I find they don't fit the woman I have become. So I'm making my own.

(Though I confess that there will always be a place in my December schedule to watch A Christmas Story. Nothing will destroy my love for that film.)

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