Saturday, December 25, 2004

I'm going to keep going with this religion and Christmas theme because I've been harping on it all day.

As the previous post demonstrates, I'm having some issues with Christmas this year, issues I normally don't have.

I don't know how long ago it was, perhaps ten years back: my father had gotten into an awful fight with my mother as the holidays approach. I was still in college then and the prospect of driving six hours to New Jersey, where I knew no one, only to be trapped in a house with my sulking father and drinking mother was not appetizing.

"He does this every year," my mom said on the phone. "We don't even believe in this stuf, blah blah blah. And maybe we don't but he ruins it for me. I like it." My mom was right; he did do this every year, and for the sake of family peace, I finally decided to do somethign about it.

"Don't worry about it Ma," I said. "I'll talk to him."

We hung up and I dialed the phone. "Steve Skwire speaking."

"Dad, it's Brendan. Look, we have to talk."


"Look, you're annoying Mom with the Christmas sulking. No wait, let me finish."

"What do I do to annoy her other than being alive?" He spit these words out like an asp.

"You know what you do. I said. The sulking. The bitching; the moaning. I justw ant you to keep this in mind. I make $7.00 an hour as a cook, and I don't get paid time off for Christmas. Plus I have to drive six hours. You on the other hand don't have to travel, you're having your kids come to pay you a rare visit, AND you get the holiday paid. So you know what you're going to do? You're going to shut the fuck up with the moaning, you're going to eat your fucking turkey, and you're going to appreciate your three kids on federal Hang Out With Your Family Day. And you're going to stop annoying your wife. And I'm goign to call her back now, tell her what i told you, AND I'm going to tell her to calm down with the Christmas hysteria, which I'm sure drives you even MORE nuts."

Ever since, Christmas has been relatively peaceful. Until this year. I have turned into my dad, 1994 model.

I don't know what it is: surely the bitterness is driven in part by the difficult turns my life has taken this year. But this year has also seen the triumph of the Christian right and the Free Marketers, and together, these two forces have made an already expensive holiday the most unpleasant time of the year for me. Because I DON'T believe in Jesus in any meaningful way. Because I CAN'T afford it. Because what I DO know of Jesus Christ's teaching lies so far outside the scope of the holiday as it's now celebrated the cognitive dissonance is too much.

I have no problem with Christians exchanging gifts on Christmas, as I have no problem with Jews eating horseradish on Passover or Muslims fasting on Ramadan. There is no expectation that I too will fast or eat bitter herbs. But for some reason, EVERYONE is made to feel like they should participate in Christmas. You wanna talk assimilation, the only reason kids get gelt on Hannukah at all is because their parents felt they were left out of the fun the Christian kids were having.

My nephew Floyd, who's in fourth grade, met me at my parents door as I got out of the car. Jokingly, I said, "Did you say your prayers to Jesus yet?"

He stared blankly and said "What?"

"Jesus!" I said. "Did you say your prayers this morning, did you go to church to celebrate Jesus?"

"No!" he exclaimed, as if to say Stop being silly Uncle Brendan.

"Well, you know it's Jesus's special day. it's his birthday," my brother piped in. "Are you going to say 'Happy Birthday Jesus'?"

"Happy Birthday Jesus," we all said. And that was that. As I think about it in retrospect, I wonder why is Floyd participating in this? It may as well be Tet.

It makes me uncomfortable, this meaningless giving. It's more like Potlatch, but with out the explicit competition.

The old man and I were talking about this all day. Speaking about these Christians who are boycotting stores that don't include the word "Christmas" in their seasonal advertising he came out with a great line. "When you put Jesus in the mall, you don't elevate the mall: you degrade Jesus."

Floyd got a bunch of toys today. He didn't learn anything about the Christian religion that is the inspiration for those toys. It meant even less than Flag Day.

It makes me uncomfortable. I wonder if Christians feel the same?