The Ecphorizer

De-Thorning the Holly-Days
Martha Johnson

issue #04 (December 1981)

'Tis the season to be jolly -- if you live through it

The air is cold, but hearts are warm as the holidays approach. 'Tis the season for love and brotherhood, when families gather together giving simple gifts and well-being swells out to every stray in the land. Yes, 'tis the season -- or is it? When you

First, realize that the Christmas expectation is an impossible dream.

hear those ringing silver bells do you feel, not the joys of Christmas time in the city, but the urge to dump the contribution bucket over the head of the person ringing the damned things? Do you feel the warmest thing you can give your fellow-person is a curse that Santa's reindeer defecate down his chimney? Do you feel that you are out in the cold and all alone, even in the midst of crowds?

[quoteright]Over the years, I have been forced to deal with the "holiday miseries" and have done considerable analysis on the causes, as wall as come up with some survival techniques.

I first noticed the emptiness of seasonal expectations as a child. There was such a tremendous build-up for what seemed like ages and ages, with planning and all sorts of activity and finally, after a virtually sleepless night, the big day arrived. But where was the wonderful, warm, spiritual magnificence I had somehow expected? Nothing magical had occurred. Now I don't want you to picture a forlorn waif sad-eyed in a cold corner. I was not a deprived child. My home was a warm and loving one and I received an abundance of presents. I enjoyed it all, but beyond the gifts and the glitter, there was always a faint sense of letdown, a little of the "Is that all there is?" feeling.

We hear stories of children who receive and open many packages and then turn, looking for more.1 This is considered a sign of the materialism fostered by our commercial Christmas season, and certainly some children probably are greedy. But I suspect that some of them are also looking for what was promised - at least by implication - and which ain't been delivered.

This unrealizable expectation is the heart of the problem. In the United States, there is a dream of what Christmas should be. In this dream, everything is shining and bright, families gather together with much love, and happy times abound with good friends. It is all covered with a fairy tale sparkle and viewed through a soft focus lens. There are no family feuds nor warts nor pimples nor ugliness of any kind.

The Christmas dream has been created in literature and fed by business and church. Commercial enterprises found they had increased revenue in December and that if they built on the dream their profits increased. Indeed many would not survive without their holiday revenue. Individuals in religious organizations who saw the beauty and wonder of spiritual ideas attempted to share then with others and used material means to communicate. This too fostered the dream.

The result has been the source of much misery. There is the hypocrisy of those people who pretend to have the elements of the dream in their lives and the desperate gaiety of those trying to hide from themselves and others the gap they feel is there. There are those who apply pressure on others to make them fit into their role in the dream. This pressure is usually unconscious and sometimes brutal. It in turn produces a sense of obligation in others. Men seem to feel most the pressure to buy gifts. Most I have talked to about this do not object to the gift-giving itself but resent having to do so at one particular time of year. Women feel the pressure more in other duties of the season as they are pushed to create the atmosphere the dream requires. Finally, there is the despair and loneliness that can be felt by all but which is worse for some. It seems to these people that everyone everywhere is experiencing the dream, but not them. Extreme cases of physical and emotional want generate publicity. Charitable organizations bring cases to our attention to obtain donations to provide assistance and continue their work. The media look for an eye-catching story.

Listing all these factors makes the season indeed look grey and glum. But it need not be.

First, realize that the Christmas expectation is an impossible dream. Just as there is no fairy godmother, no tooth fairy and no Easter bunny, there is no Christmas dream. Then figure out what the season is all about for you and do what supports that purpose. If you are a Christian, born again or only once, the task looks fairly simple (not easy, just simple). What better way to extol the Prince of Peace and the expounder of the Golden Rule than with love? You can, of course, get into innumerable discussions with yourself and others as to just what love is. Aha! Thinking like that can keep you going for years.

If you feel pushed to do a lot of "expected" things, check to see if you really must. Just this year, I finally got the courage to say to an old and dear friend, "Hey, it doesn't mean I don't care for you and your family, but we see each other so seldom, let's not exchange gifts." She said, "Oh, wonderful," we both heaved big sighs of relief, and whoosh, another Christmas duty gone.

If you have a large and loving family and many friends, enjoy the reality of this, but expect a few problems. Don't be surprised if you disagree yet again with Uncle Elmer. In fact, if you look closely and honestly at what happens when you get together with Uncle Elmer, you may decide that the wisest thing you can do is stay far away from the scene. This will contribute to peace on earth, not only for you and Uncle Elmer, but for any others standing nearby.

Take very good care of you and your feelings. When I am alone, I make it a rule, especially in December to be sure I schedule one activity each weekend involving people. I make some commitment at least so that if I sink into despondency, I have to get out because I am meeting so-and-so or because I promised such-and-such. The Mensa calendar is a big help here, as are the variety of people and views which Mensa provides. Seeing things from a different perspective can sometimes eliminate a problem.

To summarize, with some thought and planning, Christmas can he a delightful season. It won't look like a commercial for men's cologne, but the reality can he a lot better and more satisfying. Just keep everything in perspective and don't read too many newspaper stories in the last week before December 25. HAPPY HOLLY-DAYS!
1  See Editor's Note in right sidebar 

At the time of original printing (1981) Martha Johnson had just begun a job at Nolan Bushnell's computer game company Atari as a programmer/Analyst. After two trips to southern France, she had then embarked on a lifelong search for the perfect potato-leek soup. Editor's Note In this article Johnson mentions stories of kids who seem to expect more even after opening many gifts. This triggered a memory of a long-ago single panel Dennis The Menace cartoon where his dad and mom are in the background - dad with a new necktie and mom with a new necklace, and Dennis atop a pile of toys and wrapping paper at least three feet tall. The caption is Dennis saying, "Is this all?" The cartoonist, Hank Ketcham, managed to capture in a single panel the whole concept of "gimme, gimme gimme" that seems to pervade our society even today. -Tod Feb 2006

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