Why do people torture themselves over a holiday?
Christmas has come and gone, and once again, I hear the same old sob stories about how "stressed out" people are over Christmas. It's enough to make you renounce Christianity. Well, that and all the other things.
But seriously, it seems every year, people freak out over what is a manufactured holiday. If you really want to celebrate Christmas, go to a Christmas church service and be done with it. It is a religious holiday and less important, really, than Easter. But since it was bootstrapped with the winter solstice holidays of many prior religions, it has become primary - and secularized.
So what sorts of things do people freak out about? Lurking on the Internet, I see the following scenarios repeated time and time again:
1. Travel Nightmares: People feel they "have to" travel sometimes thousands of miles, to "see family" for the holiday (and apparently no other time will suffice!). Of course, since everyone is doing it, and it can be a time of year when weather is nasty, it is a setup for failure. This year was particularly bad, and yet I know people who refused to make adjustments or cancel their travel plans, even as blizzards buried their "home towns" the were returning to. Many ended up spending Christmas in an airport, motel, hospital or the morgue. Just a suggestion, but why not spend Christmas at home and see "family" some other time of year when the weather is nicer and there is less of a mob scene? Radical thought, I know!
2. Family Issues: The second largest complaint encompasses all sorts of family issues - and by the way, this encompasses Thanksgiving as well. You travel to "family" in late November and then, since you are indeed a masochist, do it all again in December. The well of abuse is not deep enough! family issues are many. Mom or Dad is a drunk (BTDT!) or Brother or Sis are drug addicts or insane (ditto) and drama ensues. Or adult children are forced into separate sleeping arrangements than their fiancee, significant other or even spouse because of Mom and Dad's "religious convictions." Why would you even bother with such annoying people?
3. Present Tense: The giving and receiving of presents is a difficult thing to navigate. In Japan it is considered a high art - and so tricky that Americans are encouraged to just not participate as they will likely embarrass themselves or their host by giving an inappropriate gift. There are stories galore about people receiving the wrong gift, or the gift is not perceived as appropriate, or worst of all, some crass people make loud noises as to the relative value of "exchanged gifts." The whole thing is, of course, encouraged by commercial interests. And the easiest way to deal with it is to simply not deal with it. Gifts are for the kiddies - toys and trinkets they might enjoy. But as adults? Bring a bottle or wine if someone invites you to their home or bring nothing at all. I can honestly say that getting off the "gift" bandwagon was the greatest gift I could give myself - and others, too. So many have told me they were relieved when I said "no more!" to the "gift exchange" as it was one less damn thing they had to do for "Christmas." Why not cut to the chase and do nothing?
4. Work Issues: Folks complain they had to work Christmas or the day after - or their requested "leave" is rejected at the last minute - after they made expensive plans! Others complain when suckered into "Secret Santa" gift exchanges at work, which I believe are usually organized by some busybody in the office who is probably going through the "gifts" and then rearranging them so they end up with the one of most value. A more recent trend is someone in the office collecting money to buy a gift for the boss (his Ferrari and Yacht are apparently not enough!) and again, I wonder how much of this cash is siphoned-off by the busybody organizing this crap. Then there is the office party, which is just an awkward nightmare or a way to end your career if you have too much eggnog. Just say no to "Secret Santa" and office parties. Work is for working, and socializing with your workmates never ends well.
5. Perfect Christmas: So many folks turn Christmas into an endless list of tasks that, no matter how perfectly performed, will always come up short in their own mind. The house must be decorated, a tree set up, and presents bought. Cookies and cakes must be made, the perfect Christmas dinner (which takes a whole day to prepare) must be made. Carols must be sung, Christmas parties attended to, sleigh rides arranged, and the kids must see Santa at the mall! How anyone could do all this, in this day and age, and still hold down a job is beyond me. And since no one can physically do all of this stuff and do it "perfectly" there is the inevitable letdown, which can be exasperated by alcohol or mental health issues. The post-Christmas depression is inevitable.
6. Financial Nightmare: In January the snow falls, it is cold as hell, and the credit card bills come due. It can be a real let-down. Since you are "shopping" at the same time as everyone else, there are few bargains to be had. And since you "have to" get "home for Christmas" you pay the highest rates for airfare and hotel rooms. No one in their right mind would intentionally do this, if they sat down and thought about it logically. Financial ruin and depression set in, post-Christmas. The brief rush of the holidays are simply not worth the cost.
So what's the alternative? Well, the best Christmas gift you can give yourself is to get off the Christmas Bandwagon. It can be done, and worldwide, most people don't celebrate the holiday as we do (but many are sucked into other holidays of their own countries and cultures, with similar results). You can approach Christmas on your own terms. You can do your own thing. There is no need to bankrupt yourself flying to a remote town to see hateful relatives and have an awful time which, at best, is merely boring. At worst, a nightmare.
So why do people do it? Why do they intentionally engage in behavior that they know will result in discomfort, confrontation, awkwardness, unnecessary expense, and depression? It is an interesting question - it seems most people feel obligated to do what society "says" they should do - without questioning why these "traditions" are in place. Few people have a personality strong enough to question orthodoxy and then act on their own conclusions. Most people are sheep.
In many cases, these "traditions" are not very old. Today, many consider "Elf on a Shelf" to be a traditional Christmas thing, and yet it was created from whole cloth only a few years back, by an author who wrote a book (which came packaged with said elf) and on the cover were the words, "A Christmas Tradition." Frosty the Snowman? Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Modern Santa? These are things that have been created within my lifetime, or that of my parents or grandparents. They don't hark back through the ages - they are relatively modern "traditions."
You can manufacture this crap in wholesale lots. If you are a musician, you will have perpetual royalties if you cut a Christmas album. This year, it was "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" that was in endless rotation ("You Really Must Stay" fell from grace after being accused of being a date-rape song). "Santa Baby" was a big a few years ago. Next year, I predict, "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" will rise back to prominence. Again.
You can create your own traditions - or have none at all. You can use Christmas as just another day off or a time to catch up on your laundry. I give you permission. What I find that makes me happiest is to not have to deal with the stress associated with the holiday. We decide what we want to do, up to and including nothing.
This year, we found 400 feet of lighted garland in the dumpster behind the Club Hotel "Casino" (an archaic term for an exercise and changing room - no gambling involved) and we dragged it all out, fixed the broken strings and put it up along the eaves of the house. It was a fun way to spend a day and just about all we did in terms of decoration. No tree this year - last year we put it out on the lawn, sans ornaments.
There are no rules when it comes to Christmas - but many folks seem to think there are. "You have to.." I hear from folks, about Christmas tasks. But you don't have to. You can do whatever you want to.
Sad, but most people don't feel that way about life. They feel life is just one obligation after another, and that they have no say in the matter. No wonder so many people suffer from depression!