I’m not a fan of the holidays. Mainly because I’m Atheist, so there is no religious meaning to them, for me. But my dislike of the holidays goes so much deeper than that.
When I was growing up, I remember being a huge fan. I was a kid, why wouldn’t I? I don’t remember piles of presents under the tree, but there was a sufficient amount for me to enjoy. Then my parents divorced, and I had two holidays for every one that my friends had. I felt like Cinderella during the Ball! My parents tried to out-do each other when it came to gift giving. I understood this because I was over the age of 10, but I still exploited the hell out of it!
I remember being forced to go to – and sometimes participate in – the holiday shows at church (or Meeting, because my dad’s new wife is Quaker). I put up with it, begrudgingly. I even went through a period in my life when I tried very hard to become the religious person I thought I should be, based on what I was taught to believe. That was short-lived, though.
By the time I was in high school, I started to seriously rebel against all things religion … except Xmas. I stopped going to church (meeting); in fact, I made sure that I was scheduled to work on Sunday mornings, just so I could get out of church, because my dad’s work ethic was much higher than his church ethic! That worked in my favor, and I was rarely scorned for not attending church. But the holiday shows and events … well, that was another story. I had to make sure that I wasn’t working on those nights. Eventually, I got out of that, as well, by telling my dad that I was threatened with my job if I didn’t work my scheduled night.
By that time, the only thing I really participated in, were the family get-togethers on Thanksgiving, Xmas and Easter. I actually enjoyed and anticipated the New Year’s Eve parties. But the rest? Yeah, not so much enjoyment there. It all felt so incredibly fake to me. Spending time with my blood relatives every other Thanksgiving was great while it lasted. Spending time with my step family was soul sucking, to say the least! It still is!
By the time I was out on my own, I wasn’t obligated to show up for anything, which was a nice reprieve. Also, by that time, I had started to question my religious upbringing, and was in the beginning stages of Atheism. I was fortunate that my first husband had only a modicum of religious beliefs, so that was never an issue for us.
It’s funny, though, because during this period of my life, I really started to celebrate Xmas, in a secular way. For me, it was all about the decorations, shopping, and gift-giving. I couldn’t afford much, but I searched long and hard for that one perfect gift that I could give to those I loved. My step-sons were spoiled rotten by me on Xmas morning!
Towards the end of that marriage, I was really on the fence, religiously speaking. When the marriage ended, and I became involved with my Son’s father, I was struggling with my religious beliefs. I was still gung-ho over Xmas, in my secular way, and did everything I could to spoil my step-daughters and our Son, even though we couldn’t afford alot. We decorated like crazy! We watched every conceivable holiday show on TV. I even went to midnight mass because my then Mother-in-Law guilted me into going.
About halfway through our 9 years together, I started to become annoyed by the holidays. I started seeing it through different eyes, you could say. I was, by then, firmly set in my Atheistic ways. But things started to change for me. I guess I grew up, and removed those “rose colored glasses” that most people wear around the holidays. I couldn’t reconcile people’s actions with their words. I would hear things like “Peace” and “Goodwill towards men” come out of people’s mouths, and then walk into a store and see these same people pushing and shoving and cursing each other out over a toy or some other ridiculous reason.
I was at the end of my 9 year relationship when I started working at Wal-Mart. I started in August of that year, which is the beginning of the “Back to School” / Halloween / Xmas season for retailers. Because we all know that Xmas crap is put out in August. Sometimes it’s more subtle, sometimes more obvious. But it’s out there! My disdain for the holidays grew stronger by the day. Sometimes by the hour! People who have never worked in a retail aspect will probably never fully realize what the holidays do to people. Yeah, we all read stories in the paper, and see videos on the news or online. But how many people actually get to see this kind of … personal interaction? … up close and frequently?
Well, I did. And it jaded me permanently. My “rose colored glasses” have long since been thrown to the ground, stomped on, and smashed to a fine dust. Most likely by an irate customer! I don’t know why this didn’t happen to me back in the 80’s, when I was a teenager, working at Jamesway (anybody remember that store?). I dealt with the same type of shit there! Probably because I was young, and saw the world as I was taught to see it. I hadn’t yet found myself, so how was I supposed to see anyone else clearly?
My current Husband, Bill, hates the holidays, too. Probably more than I do! He’s not Atheist, however his reasons are almost exactly the same as mine. Besides the hypocrisy of people (I hate to say it, but usually the religious), we’re both sick of the obligations that come with the holidays. Our first year together, we put up the tree that was handed down to me by my father. We decorated it. But with no presents to put under it, it was a source of depression for both of us. The next year, we almost didn’t put the tree up at all. But we did – for Matthew. The third year, we had moved, and didn’t have room for the tree. So we put up a tiny ceramic tree on top of the television. We had 2 presents under it for Matthew. Last year, no tree, no decorations of any kind. What was the point, when we didn’t have anything to put under it again.
Our time is spread so thin around the holidays. Not just me and my family. I’m talking about everyone! When you have kids, it’s spread even more thinly. When your kids have divorced parents … yep, even more thin. When you have divorced parents … need I say more? For us, personally, we have to schedule around 4 or more gatherings, for us as a family and for my Son with his father’s family, and usually all within a day or two of each other. That can cause any number of tactical nightmares! The kid makes out quite nicely, if he doesn’t mind eating 2 (or more) holiday meals, and opening presents at warp speed so he can be out the door to his next holiday gathering with the opposite parent, who is obligated to be at their gathering by a certain time. “Hurry up kid(s), we’re gonna be late to the next party!” is something that’s frequently heard in households around the country. While the kid is enjoying himself, us parents are stressed out and frantic, and certainly NOT enjoying ourselves. Which makes us a bit snippy with people, especially cashiers and other people we really don’t like (like Aunt Hilda and cousin Jethro).
And then we have the gift-giving ritual. It used to be that cheesy, hand made gifts were what made people happy. But it’s become so much more awful. Back to my own personal reasons for hating this time of year.
We’re poor. Really poor. We have enough to pay our bills (sometimes even on time!), put some food in the fridge, and pay for life’s other necessities. But we don’t have money to buy things for other people. If my Son needs something for school, we save up for it. If he needs clothing, we scrape for every penny. Or his father buys things for him. Occasionally, my father will buy things for the kid, because that’s what grandparents are supposed to do. But Matthew is in no way a spoiled child. He knows the value of a dollar. He rarely asks for things that are absolutely necessary. He’ll wear his clothes until they’re really uncomfortably too small, before announcing that he needs a new pair of jeans, or a new shirt. Well, now that he’s in middle school, he’s getting a little more “demanding”, but not in any way that he knows will cause a hardship on us.
What really gets me pissed off fucking irate, is that come Xmas-time, we’re expected to buy gifts for the neices and nephews. Even when we don’t have enough money to buy anything for my Son! A couple of years ago, we were relieved of the duty of buying gifts for Bill’s brother and sister. I don’t know how that happened, or why, and I don’t intend to look a gift horse in the mouth! I just know that that’s 4 less people we have to buy for every year (including their spouses). But the kids … well, they buy for Matthew, so we have to buy for them.
You’re probably wondering why we don’t say, “Hey, we can’t afford it this year, so let’s not do the gift-swap thingy”. Well, we tried that one year. What happened is something that still irritates me to this day. Bill went to his mother, who is the the family matriarch now, to explain to her about our financial situation, and ask her to spread the word that we weren’t gift-swapping that year. Boy did that ever backfire! Not only did she not agree to do that, but she in turn loaned us a good bit of money so that we could buy everyone presents. Yes, I said “loaned”, which means “debt”. It took us almost the whole next year to pay her back that money! And if you’re doing the math, it means we weren’t able to save anything for the following year’s gift-swapping madness.
Our financial situation has gotten worse since then. But we’re not stupid enough to try the “talking to mom” thing anymore! We struggle, we scrape, and we just barely make our way in life. Come November, we start stressing about how we’re going to pay for presents. We try to plan our finances. However, it just doesn’t work out for us. It seems that every December, something major happens, and we’re forced to spend whatever we may have been able to save – on necessities. Car repair. Broken water heater. Moving expenses (and not getting back our full security deposit!). Medical issues resulting in lost time from work. You name it, it happens in December.
This year, I’m more upset than ever. It’s probably a culmination of everything that’s happened over the past few years in addition to this year’s set-backs. It probably doesn’t help that we’re starting to become resentful of family obligations in general, especially when decisions are made without us.
This year, we started our shopping today, December 23rd. We bought a total of 5 presents, plus a couple rolls of wrapping paper (can’t find our stash in the floor to ceiling pile of boxes that fills our garage since we moved). We spent under $100. Bill will probably buy 2 more things in the morning before leaving work (Wal-Mart). And absolutely none of those presents are for Matthew. Nor are they for Bill or myself.
So, while we have fulfilled our obligation to buy presents for everyone else, we’ve probably broken my Son’s heart in the process. Again. For the 5th year in a row. Because he’s already been told that he won’t get anything from us until tax time, as usual, because we had to spend our money on other people. This year will be the worst year, though, because we can’t get him anything at all. At least the other years, we were able to get 1 or 2 really small things, so he wouldn’t feel like he was forgotten by us. But this year. Nope, not even 1 small thing.
He is a very understanding child. He’s grown up with hardships that alot of kids don’t ever have to deal with. But I wonder, will this be something he looks back on and resents us for? I want to think that the answer to that is a resounding “No!”, but you never know what the future holds. Right now, he holds his head high, puts his arms around me and says, “Mom, I understand. It’s ok. I can wait. Besides, I get stuff from other people, so it’s not like I’m going without anything at all.”, which of course makes me sneak off to my bedroom for a good cry.
You’ll hear this alot from me, but even more so around the holidays: I really hope that 6 years passes quickly, so we can move away to Florida, and be done with all of these ridiculous family obligations!