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Sparkling Yule

The Dark Ugly Month Of Christmas

By James Donahue

We don’t celebrate Christmas at our house. We haven’t done so since our children left the roost. Because of social influences, it is impossible for American families to avoid the frantic customs of the holiday when children are involved. They would not understand.

Christmas is a very old holiday linked to the Winter Solstice, which occurs on or around December 21, and it has its roots in ancient Roman, German and Scandinavian celebrations. The Christians tossed the celebration of the birth of Jesus into the mix and somehow Christmas trees, candles, gift exchanges, mistletoe, and festive eating worked their way into it.

New stuff keeps getting added as writers and singers create characters and stories that get adopted as part of the holiday. Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," published in 1843, created the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past. Clement Moore’s poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" published in 1822 established the character of Santa Claus sliding down chimneys and riding around the world on a flying sleigh drawn by eight reindeer.

The ninth reindeer was added after Robert May’s published children’s story about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer got turned into a popular Christmas song by Gene Autry in 1949.

The Grinch that stole Christmas became part of the lore after the character turned up in one of the Dr. Seuss children’s books in 1957.

The stories and the songs have been building and building until the whole celebration has turned into a complex mesh of traditional music and glitter that slams our brains until it becomes almost impossible to bear. The latest fad has been the lighting of yards and houses, downtown business districts and giant public Christmas trees. People try to outdo each other in personal yard decorations. Some towns even offer awards for the best light display of the season. Think of the energy it is taking to keep all of those lights on every night for a month.

The commercialism of the holiday has gone to the extreme. The television ads begin slamming your senses from about Halloween on. Every store has extreme Christmas displays with Christmas music blaring. Many towns pipe Christmas music through public speaker systems throughout shopping districts so you hear it everywhere. By the time they turn it all off, the sounds of Jingle Bells and The Little Drummer Boy have driven us into the seclusion of our basements.

Of course the purpose of all of this is the commercialistic twist to the Christmas story. Somewhere in the old Celtic tradition, people exchanged gifts as part of the celebration of the Winter Solstice. Then there were the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in the manger.

Instead of being satisfied with an exchange of a little perfume or food seasoning, however, Americans have been goaded by commercial advertising campaigns into buying high-cost toys for not only the children but for each other. Even the automobile industry is getting into the act. We see the ultimate gift on our television screens, the image of a shiny new car parked in the yard on Christmas day, wrapped in a bright red ribbon. The receivers of such an elaborate gift are shown to be overcome with joy. Indeed, we are enticed into believing that the more costly gifts we receive at Christmas, the happier it will make us feel.

Believe me, it doesn’t work that way. When we overspent on the gift giving in our house, we were left with a sinking feeling because we knew the bills would be coming in the mail the following month. It took us most of the next year to pay down those credit cards.

It was easy to come to a realization that I flat out hated Christmas. The more drawn to spending to make the holiday good for the children, the more I cringed when the holiday season came around again. We felt compelled to participate, but how could be escape the crunch without disappointing our children?

Sure, there was always the sensation of joy at seeing the smiles on the faces of our children, whom we deeply loved. And at the moment they saw the display under the tree on Christmas morning there was always the happiness we felt about having gone overboard in giving gifts to the people we loved. But that joy was always short lived. I sometimes wondered when I saw our children having more fun playing with the boxes the gifts came in, than the gift itself.

It was such a relief when the children grew up, declared themselves to hate the commercialization of Christmas as much as I did, and the exchange of gifts could be reduced to more modest items . . . a pair of gloves, a shirt, recording, or perhaps a computer game.

Now we don’t bother even putting up a tree. We usually have a nice meal on Christmas day. But we try to stay out of the stores as much as possible all during the Month of December. We endure the dark energy around us by using various tricks to ward it away. When New Year’s Day comes and goes, and the lights around us go off, I breathe a big sigh of relief.