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Why I suffer from Fear of Christmas

November 26, 2012

 

Today is 26 November 2012.

This could mean a few things. Firstly, Mercury is moving direct after being in retrograde for most of the month, which hopefully means that my life is going to be free of delays and mechanical failure for a while. Please, oh please; no more shit! It also means that I have to start paying the accounts for the month. If you’re a doomsday type with the Mayan calendar behind your toilet door, it could also mean that we’re about a month and four days away from the end of the world.

Even though our planet might be exploding into a million little shards on 31 December, there is one thing I fear infinitely more. Whenever I leave the house, I start sweating like a racehorse, my pulse races and my only desire is to crawl as far under the bed as I possibly can. So, what could be worse?

It’s one month from Christmas. That’s why.

I noticed the first tinsel and fake pine trees at the beginning of November, when I was visiting my mom in Pretoria. A small bead of sweat surreptitiously trickled down my back. My blinking rate increased. And I looked at my already challenged wallet with trepidation. How hard would this poor little bugger have to work, the closer the Silly Season drew?

Up to now, I’ve been spared most of the usual horror. I don’t go to large shopping malls at all – I’m a neurotic with above-average anxiety levels, so dropped ice cream cones, screaming youngsters, unflattering overhead lighting and distorted announcements don’t do it for me. My local mall is small and manageable, thank you very much. And, with the recession making more people careful with their spending, it hasn’t been that full or noisy. Nobody has tortured my ears with the enduring horror of Boney M – with Mary’s Boy Child or my ultimate ghastly Chrismas song, The Little Drummer Boy.

Yet.

But I know it’s coming.

Christmas through the years

My childhood memories of the Festive Season are vague but quite pleasant. Christmas on the farm, especially, was a thing of beauty and simplicity. There were no shops, so the relentless tinkling of the cash register wasn’t even part of the equation.  Although the stuffing-of-the-face was already very much present. The human race will find any excuse imaginable to slit a few animals’ throats, roast them, stick pineapple rings and cherries on them, drench them in mint sauce and tear into their flesh like a bunch of Cro Magnons after the lean season.

Burp.

As a young adult, far from home and with hardly any family left and the rest living on the other side of the planet, I often had to make elaborate plans so I didn’t end up reading a suspense novel in bed while munching on a bag of chips on Xmas eve. Sometimes, my life was saved by friends who invited me over – I met my friend-of-many-years Lesley when her dad, Don, who was a colleague of mine, invited me to spend Christmas Day with them.

Even these days, the Boyf and I hardly ever spend Christmas together as I’m in Pretoria keeping my elderly mother company over the “big days” and he’s down here with his birth family.

A lonely time for many

In the end, if you don’t spend Christmas as a clan, created through marriage and procreation – with children as one of the most important accessories – you get to feel lonely, anxious and completely alienated. In short – you feel like a failure. I know that I often am at my saddest over the festive time. Because I’m thinking of all those folks who somehow didn’t end up in a family situation; who are watching television and eating a sandwich while the rest of the plane are opening presents. Or who are out there, without any shelter or food.

A gay friend of mine, who like me doesn’t have a conventional family, tells me how he once spent Christmas Day all on his own, munching on a Kentucky Rounder – his parents had both already passed on. I once invited two lost souls like myself over for Christmas Eve. We drily referred to it as the “Orphans’ Christmas Eve”. In sheer rebellion against the gammon-and-ham-and-leg-of-lamb thing, The Boyf and his sister last year spent lunchtime on 25 December working their way through a barrel of KFC.  Just imagine – no dishes! I bloody hope they recycled all that packaging, though…

There are lots of people in a conventional family setup who pretty much associate Christmas with noise, crowds of people and being busier than any other time of the year, despite it being a so-called “holiday”. My sister often says she equates Christmas with work, work and more work.

All screwed up by retail

What is this thing about being alone on Xmas that drives some people to the brink?

First, let me make one thing clear – I don’t celebrate Xmas as a religious event. And for those who do; I respect that. To me, that’s the only valid reason one should make this day any different from others. But if you don’t, and you don’t have a traditional family set up, and you somehow are still made to feel that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, then you know that somebody has gone and turned what should have remained a simple, peaceful and loving religious celebration, into a terrifying circus.

Yes. I blame it all on retail. Except for those other events that they try and squeeze to capacity (think Valentine’s Day and Easter, among others), Xmas is their One Big Opportunity to milk you like a cow. And to make you feel like you simply don’t fit in.

Just look at the ads – cute little kids round the Christmas tree, mom and dad looking cosy and loving, with a reasonably well-preserved grandma and granddad looking at their clan with enormous pride. The scene is all dressed up with baubles, tinsel, wrapping, fairy lights and all the other obligatory Christmas crap.

Ah, and the window displays in the shops! All carefully draped and twinkling invitingly to get you to walk in there and buy, buy, buy. It reminds me of a story I once read while I was working in Japan. A foreigner was strolling around a shopping area during the festive season, and chanced upon a nativity scene in a shop window…complete with a mini Father Christmas in the manger. That sort of sums up the retail angle of Christmas, doesn’t it? The Japanese – whose religions include mostly Shinto and Buddhism – celebrate Christmas with a fervour that is astonishing.

Goodwill

Another angle – and a good one – that gets punted to smithereens is the “season of goodwill” copy line. At Christmastime, people are much more inclined to help out those in need. This is wonderful, of course. My only comment: goodwill should happen all year round. Not just in December.

I am hoping that, in the economically challenging time, that people will concentrate on the goodwill bit this year, as so many can’t afford the retail orgy on offer out there.

So what’s the answer?

I have no idea. The human race is an opportunistic species – so squeezing the consumer for his last penny over December will never go away. I’ll do what I can to survive those Big Days, and appreciate the time I have left with mom – she’s almost 90.

Then, I’ll get one with what’s left of 2012. And make a little list of resolutions for 2013. That is, of course, only if those Mayans were wrong. If they were right, I will never have to endure Boney M’s Christmas album EVER again.  A fleeting thought that brings sheer bliss….

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