Sunday, November 21, 2010

How do you tell your children that you hate Santa?

Julie's either a saint or a glutton for punishment when she chooses to take me to a mall at Christmas time.

Things started out pretty well yesterday, and we were both pretty happy to be able to spend some time with just the littlest one (Chloe was with her aunt), and I was ecstatic that they hadn't started to play the Christmas music yet. But try as I might to remain upbeat, my mood turned sour as I stood in countless lines, returned items that were supposed to be on sale but weren't, and dealt with a gift card glitch at Sears that took 50 minutes to resolve. So by the time Mariah Carey and Brian Adams started in on the Christmas tunes, I was already on edge. Rather than ruin Julie's good time though, I slipped out for a few minutes to cool down. When the shopping was done, Julie said to me, "that was so successful. I can't believe how well we did." "Really," I said, "that's great."

This is hard to confess, and I've been in denial for many years now, but I'm finally ready to step forward and tell the world that I kinda sorta hate Christmas. Not all of it. I love the day - the food, the wine, the wonderful company of friends and family. I love the conversation, the games, the warmth. In fact, Christmas day is probably my favourite day of the year.

Unfortunately the Christmas season doesn't last for 1 or 2 or even 3 days. It marches on to the beat of that sickening Christmas music for 6 bloody weeks before the big day. A 6 week propaganda campaign - not support our troops, but support consumption. Get your fix. Buy, use, consume and throw away.  And get the kids hooked early. "Ho ho ho, want to be happy in life?  it's all about the toys kids."  And it works. Growing up, we go from kids who want toys to adults who need toys. We use clothes, gadgets, and food to distract us from whatever void we'd rather continue to ignore.

And whose fault is this? It's Santa's. And we all know it.

I'm sorry Santa. You were once my childhood symbol for everything good and magical and generous in society. But you've changed. Or maybe you never were who I thought you were. Because Santa, it seems to me that you stand for very little but the glory of industrialism and mass consumerism. Hell, your toy factory in the North Pole would make Henry Ford himself jealous. You're fat, gluttonous, and probably diabetic and you want us to be too. That's how you keep the lights on in your factory - and at Macy's.

Now, before my families disown me completely (and I wind up with nothing but coal for Christmas), let me qualify what I've just said.  There's nothing wrong with making gift giving part of the Christmas tradition along with the food, wine, games and conversation I mentioned above - especially when there are kids to watch opening presents. I love that too. It's special. But answer me this: Would Christmas still be wonderful without the gifts? Would it still be wonderful if the gifts were smaller, homemade, or more practical? Obviously you know my opinion.

And I should add, if I still want turkey and pie, that my families are both very sensible with our gifts. We don't spend much, and we buy what we know other people could really use.  I still think we could do better, but that's just my opinion, and I'm only one member of the family. But many families spend themselves into debt that takes them until spring to get out of. Many children come to expect that they can have whatever they want for Christmas, and in life. The world is their oyster. Only it's not really, and Mom and Dad are stressing out over money just to keep up the charade. We spend so much at Christmas, more than we spend the whole of the rest of the year combined, that stores stand or fall on their Christmas sales.

So what's a great Christmas gift idea? Well I have lots, and it all depends of course on who's getting the gift. But here's one.  How about, for one year at least, everyone gives a well thought-out donation to a charity that they know would mean something special to someone else in their family. It's small, it's thoughtful, it's practical, and it's from the heart. Best of all, it won't keep the assembly line going in Santa's village.

And what about the state of the economy, which depends so heavily on the Christmas season to keep afloat? Well, maybe we need to reassess the fundamentals of our economy and our society.

Now how am I going to tell the kids that I hate Santa...

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