Christmas always seemed like such an arbitrary holiday to me. I guess they are all pretty much arbitrary, except for the 4th of July, which is one of the only ones I can think of that actually corresponds to an event that happened on that day. There’s only a one in 365 chance that Jesus was born on December 25, but at some point somebody decided that on that day and for the entire month preceding it, we would sing songs about little drummer boys, dress in hideous red sweaters, spend our year-end bonuses on an obligatory gift for our uncle’s third wife and prop up big evergreen trees in our living rooms.
The Christmas holiday has gotten so folded into our culture and our mentality that it no longer feels like something we repeatedly choose to do– it feels like something that naturally occurs, like a blizzard or a rogue wave. December is marked by the occurrence of Christmas, which is characterized by holly and reindeer and snowmen. What must it be like to live in the half of the world where Christmas occurs in the summertime? Do Bolivians dress their chihuahuas in little elf outfits and reindeer antlers despite the fact that it’s 95 degrees outside? Because that would be kind of weird.
The point is, everyone sort of goes through the motions of Christmas every year, buying gifts for people and putting milk and oreo cookies out for Santa simply because that’s what’s always been done. I go home to Louisiana for a week, revert to my childhood dynamic with my brothers (hair-pulling, name-calling, etc.) and sit around with my old high school friends for hours while everyone catches up on who’s married, pregnant or in jail. We tell each other the same stories every year– the one about Peggy Sue getting suspended for flashing the math teacher, the one about Betty Jo convincing everyone in gym class that she had leukemia.
What’s different, as we get older, is that the holidays give us so much more perspective on our lives. Your friends start to come into focus as adults– John is a 5th grade teacher, Susie is an architect, James is running the first co-ed brothel in Reno– and this forces you to evaluate what kind of adult you’ve become, how your life compares to theirs, how your relationship or lack thereof compares to theirs, and which friends you still want to take with you into adulthood. Your grandparents are older, your little sibling is becoming more like a real person than a little sibling, and your ex-boyfriend’s toddler has his unibrow.
Single people are made to feel really single at Christmas, and relationships are either broken or fast-forwarded. That guy Sarah was fine with dating in July suddenly becomes unacceptable in December because it’s clear that he will never marry her, and Jacob realizes that the girl he was so-so about in November is really great with his family and their dogs and has thus become a stronger candidate for life-partnership.
Christmas is an annual emotional upheaval, and it’s all very strange– but by January 1st, you really do feel a sense of closure on the previous year. You’ve had a chance to reconnect with family and friends, to evaluate your life and relationships, and to get a better idea of what direction you want to steer your life. It’s a perfect time for the new year to begin, a fresh slate.
So for me, and I think for a lot of people, Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. In fact, this was the first year of my life that I did not attend Church with my family on Christmas eve, and in lieu of the priest’s homily, I discovered the meaning of Christmas for myself (cue theme music from Miracle on 34th Street). It’s about seeing your life in a snow globe, figuring out the kind of person you want to be at this time next year, nurturing those relationships that are important to you and shedding the ones the aren’t.
I’m also really excited about my new iPhone, but that’s neither here nor there.
So tell me, friends– what have the holidays done for you lately?