Artwork by Sarah Musi
Today has been nothing but bizarre to me, and I’m sure my experience is relatable to someone out there, albeit someone in a minute minority. It’s the 18th November and today I built a Christmas tree. Not one for myself of course, and when I say built I mean slot a ton of plastic branches into a plastic stand and then stuffed some decorations onto it half-heartedly. My partner comes from a normal family; one that enjoys Christmas, get excited for it even. They like it so much they do it twice; one real one with the family and the other fake with their neighbours. As you can judge from the date, this was all in preparation for fake Christmas of which I was kindly invited to attend. However, I warned my boyfriend well in advance, back when we started dating, that I was going to be pretty clueless when it came to this season, or rather, pretty contemptuous of it.
I keep it no secret that I quite strongly dislike this commercial-Christian-originated-orgy we call Christmas, though I love that it brings people I care for so much joy and excitement. My entire existence at this time of year is painfully incongruous. I refuse to throw myself into this existentially linked commercial-come-religious holiday, though I enjoy the act of gift-giving, and to show my love to those who do celebrate the holiday I partake in this aspect of it (though I insist on receiving nothing in return). I, like many who disapprove of Christmas, have an appropriately lengthy shopping list of reasons as to why this holiday is so disagreeable to me, but like all others I wish to assure the Christmas lovers out there that this trade of disagreement isn’t personal. I respect others’ engagement with and celebration of this holiday: all I ask in return is not to be regarded as a miserable, heartless, joyless, and selfish.
Thanks to Charles Dickens and Dr Seuss, it is almost universally considered that those who don’t love or experience the joy of Christmas are evil, bitter, self-involved people who refuse to share love amongst their fellow man or who spitefully wish to rob joy and cheer from those who experience it. A Christmas Carol is a beloved read of mine, but whenever I hear someone jest in my direction “Bah Humbug” upon hearing my disdain for Christmas, I enjoy pointing out the deep capitalist irony of the analogy. Scrooge was, primarily, obsessed with money at the expense of making time to spend with other people and being empathetic towards those not so obsessed with wealth; this mentality is precisely what powers Christmas today. Those who celebrate in Christmas delight in putting their hard earned cash into the pockets of Scrooge-mentality corporations under the guise of Christmas spirit: those pretty seasonal Starbucks cups and limited edition flavoured lattes, those fancy varieties of Baileys, mince-pies, chocolate boxes and puddings you see every corporation churning out in the supermarket, those unbranded, excessively decorated cheap and affordable, sweat-shop produced Christmas jumpers are produced by women and men around the Globe who make millions out of having the same mentality that is so criticised by Charles Dickens’ Scrooge so…just keep that in mind. By purchasing them you’re doing nothing more than supporting a Scrooge-business to make money rather than capturing the “Christmas spirit” as much as you enjoy this process.
We are now in an age when we celebrate a holiday which has encouraged adverts for products, supermarkets and department stores to become something of cultural significance. If that doesn’t make you self-reflect on your upheld fascination and love of “the Christmas spirit” I don’t know what will. If anything, I don’t understand why people don’t repeat the holiday celebration ritual more frequently throughout the year: if basting turkeys, cooking excessive amounts of food for large family gatherings brings you so much joy and excitement, don’t feel socially conventionalised to restrict this happiness to one time of year.
The primary reason I don’t celebrate Christmas is because I’m atheist. I see as much reason for me to celebrate Christmas as to celebrate Ramadan or Diwali. Whenever I tell people this, however I’m usually met with the response “I’m not religious either! Christmas isn’t really religious anymore, but a commercial holiday” to which I respond with yep: that’s even sadder. Why would I proactively wish to celebrate commercialism and capitalism? Christians are always having to fight their corner against the commercialisation of their holidays (see: Easter), why should I propagate this offence? Christ-mas: no matter how you try to deny it the word itself is intrinsically religious. The cola advert man in a red suit is still St. Nicolas, the holy and red berries symbolise the crown of thorns and blood of Jesus, and the Christmas tree is but another Christianisation of the pagan traditional ritual surrounding Winter Solstice, appropriated now to symbolise the trinity rather than Thor. Christmas today, as it is celebrated by the 95%, is nothing more than a superficial subsumption of Christian beliefs into a generalised cultural buzz. The deeper irony of the whole thing is that Christmas is mainly a recycled Pagan ritual, mentioned nowhere in the Bible: but what is mentioned in the Bible is God’s condemnation is using Pagan rituals to worship him:
“. . . Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it”
See also: 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 2, Corinthians 7:1 and John 4:24
Christmas is a time to get together with your family, bringing people from all ages around the dinner table, which in all fairness must be an incredibly heartwarming and exciting time for many, unless you’re someone who doesn’t have a family or doesn’t have a “normal” one. I fall into the latter category; my memories of Christmas involve fights, upsets, storming out of houses, leaving in the night and packing stuff up or being left behind. I saw family members storm out on each other, slamming doors, packing suitcases; when I was younger I was just pulled along appropriately based on the location and which adult was doing the walking, but when I became an adult I was promoted. I too was now worthy enough to be the target for baseless and nonsensical, immature behaviour and screaming. At least as an adult I have been able to protect myself; no longer the child in an adult’s home but a woman of my own. I now could be the one to force people to leave Christmas day or Eve, to not have to see members of my family and just have the power to stay alone and not do anything.
The Christmas season for me involved living out of a suitcase and being reminded I didn’t have one, big happy family, or even a small happy one. Christmas made me feel very disconnected, freakish and at a loss, ashamed I didn’t feel amiability, let alone love, for my biological family; but then I was made to feel bad for these feelings because they spent so much money on me, the least I could do was like them. I was made to feel selfish, they had bought my love fair and square: but I felt nothing but indifference or dislike for my family. I’m still recovering from a childhood of being made to feel like a spoilt brat for gifts which were thrust upon me, resulting in an overwhelming sense of sadness, guilt and exhaustion. Societal standards insist families come together at Christmas and New Year; but I learned the hard way that toxic families should not follow suit. My worst memories seem to circulate primarily around the seasonal holidays, and I shan’t elaborate on them ever in writing: all I can say is that when I have discussed my memories out loud with trusted friends and counsellors, I have been assured my dislike for the season is valid based on my experience of it.
It’s still difficult to rid myself of being forced to “celebrate” Christmas, I’m still not entirely free from walking on egg-shells, family feuds, stressful kitchen yelling and just feeling miserable and forcefully indebted, but thankfully my ageing and maturing has resulted in me having more power to remove myself from the season as a whole, and I’m sure that in time I can do so completely.
What’s more fascinating is that we as a Western society are perpetually fed a diet of hollow, unintellectual TV programs showing us what a family Christmas is, and these tend to not be too far removed from the truth. Unlike the glorified, perfect Hollywood productions of the clean, romantic white Christmas, people invest their Christmas days watching murderous family fights on Eastenders, car crashes on Coronation street or ‘humorous’ meta-Gogglebox, overstuffed, exhausted families hunched around the TV (as the viewers are) muttering sarcastic comments to one another whilst glued to their only source of entertainment on this glorious holiday. To not find fun in these modern traditions is to be a Grinch, void of the beauty and magic of the Christmas spirit.
As someone who has major financial issues herself in adulthood, and came from a bankrupted family, Christmas has never been enjoyable. Since a young age, seeing the horrific health and mental damage finances caused on my family, particularly my mother, I have always regarded Christmas as an incredibly insensible time of year, and once I felt guilty my mother and family felt socially pressured into celebrating to make their children feel “normal”. Christmas has always been incredibly stressful, and was a painful reminder for families such as my own that we are less because we had less. As someone who spends less than £11 a week on food due to my financial situation, the expectation to splurge for two months which results in me actively eating less is always a time of dread; and I do have to splurge, because people are encouraged to splurge on me (and everyone else in their life), which innately makes me feel like an awful friend and poor gift giver when I fail to return the sentiment equally (on a financial scale, of course). There is nothing more shame-inducing than giving one gift over to a friend who suddenly hands me four, all beautifully wrapped and deeply sentimental. A shame which is entirely derived from conventional pressure and stresses. This is an incredibly first-world problem, but it’s one that effects millions of people in the Western world, because competitive commercialism is a thing. Millions of people actually lose sleep at night dreading what people are going to buy them, this time of year makes them ill.
I work in a supermarket, and I’ve worked in retail for done for years; I’ve been on the blunt end of aggressive commercialistic stress. I’ve been blamed and viciously berated at strangers for impeding the speed which they purchase food for an apparent immanent nuclear holocaust which I am entirely ignorant about (having been on a shop floor for minimum wage for nine hours). I’ve also seen people try to make Christmas less commercial by, ironically, buying books, spending a fortune of craft materials and watching hours of television shows starring Kirstie Allsopp about how to make your own ‘homemade Christmas’. Enforced domesticity is pleasurable and rewarding for some, but not for others. I honestly don’t find the surplus of cooking and food wastage pleasurable or exciting, I don’t see any point to the overpriced crackers filled with cheap, repetitive toys and gimmicks. I’d rather not worry about producing some perfect, manufactured happiness and facade of family love or affection which I never practice throughout the rest of the year (out of honest emotions), and I therefore ask Christmas lovers ever so politely to please cease fencing us in with compulsory cheer against our natural interests. Please stop trying to force us to see Christmas differently, to change the way we do X or Y: some of us just don’t want to, in the same way you’re disinterested in Hanukkah, Eid al-Adha, Navaratri and Sukkot. Some of us just aren’t interested in these rituals, traditions, and find no joy, pleasure, or excitement in engaging with them; that doesn’t make us miserable, moody or unloving, merely happy in other ways.