It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Except for how it’s totally not. Whether you’re a Grinch or a Christmas-lover, some things about Christmas are really, really terrible, and all the Santa hats and candy cane ornaments in the world can’t cover that up. Instead of pretending that everyone unabashedly loves Christmas, let’s cover some of the worst things about America’s favorite holiday.
1) Everything is closed
No, seriously, everything is closed. Need to pick up the mail? Closed. Cash a check? Closed. Hit the library? Closed. Grab a last-minute ingredient at the grocery store? Closed, closed, closed. If you’re a Christmas celebrant, it’s got to be at least a little bit annoying to have every single business in town closed—even if it does seem like kind of a Grinch move to expect people to work on Christmas.
For the rest of us, though, it’s a living nightmare. First, we deal with the massive crowds everywhere as people panic in the days leading up to Christmas, frantically storming the grocery store and mobbing the post office. Too terrified to venture out, we’d like to emerge once the masses have vanished, but—everything is closed.
Look, I’m all for people being able to take holidays off. Which is why I unfailingly volunteered to work Thanksgiving and Christmas/Christmas Eve when I worked in retail, because, why not? I’d just be sitting at home reading a book anyway, so I might as well let someone who actually cared about the holiday go celebrate. Believe me, there are enough Christmas haters in the world to staff the post office.
2) The carols
Okay, look. A well-performed Christmas carol is truly, truly beautiful. I love hearing people sing it up, ring bells, and all the rest. Unfortunately, Christmas carols start playing on the overhead speakers in November, and they’re the worst sort—the music is saccharine and awful, the arrangements are horrific, and the performances are terrible. Most of it is pop Christmas music, often veiled in a thin layer of “secularity” to avoid offending people, and the result is really just an offense against the entire history of Western music, not to mention your ears.
If you’re going to play or sing carols, do it right. If not, just put on some nice Vivaldi and call it a day.
Say what you will about Mormons, but the Mormon Tabernacle Choir knows how to party:
Here’s Renee Fleming (if you don’t know who that is, I don’t even want to know you) and the MTC rocking “Joy to the World.”
Hit those high notes, grrrl.
3) Spending time with family
But this is the best part of the holidays! Au contraire. I’ve spent the last week, and I’ll spend the next week, listening to my friends complain about spending time with their families, or their in-laws’ families. Something about being crowded together in a house full of food seems to put people on edge, and they take it out on each other in spectacular ways. People argue about politics, insult each other, bring up old grudges, and goad family members into spectacular displays of temper—in a way, family Christmases seem like a contact sport to see who can be driven out the front door first. (By the way, that fun family time includes an uptick in domestic violence.)
This seems like a weird way to celebrate a holiday to me, but maybe I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. People feel pressured to go home to their families, and when they’re there, they deal with parents complaining about cooking (and refusing to yield the kitchen to members of the next generation who offer to help), people chastising them for not graduating/getting married/having kids/becoming doctors/whatever, and dealing with what happens when you add eggnog to that mix.
Thanks but no thanks, I’ll curl up with my Kobo and a cat instead.
4) The pressure of gift giving
Forking over for presents is extremely expensive. This year’s nationwide projection was almost $781, meaning that every American was shelling out the greater part of a thousand dollars on Christmas. That’s a fair percentage of a month’s rent in many areas of the country (in fact, it’s exactly what I pay for a two bedroom, one bath in rural Northern California). People feel obliged to pick out the perfect gifts for friends, family, and coworkers (seriously?), and even when they do the Secret Santa dance or place limits on family gift spending, the pressure is still on.
Picking out gifts is an art form—and all too often, people end up with a pile of random crap on Christmas and nothing to do other than say “thank you!” and then plot said crap’s inevitable demise.
Rather than being a genuine expression of goodwill, a gift becomes a pro-forma transaction between two people. Don’t give presents and you’re greedy and cold, do give presents and you’ll be judged very carefully on their quality and perceived cost. This all sounds pretty exhausting to me, which is why I have a strict no-gifts policy—oh, except for those gifts I felt obligated to pick up to avoid upsetting people.
I’m going to be honest here. If you’re talking fowl, turkey is not really a top contender in the “this is delicious!” category. I personally prefer duck above all (let’s talk Peking duck sometime), and I’ll take goose if you’re offering. A good solid roast chicken ain’t half bad either. But turkey? It’s almost all white meat, thanks to the way turkeys are bred, which makes it extremely prone to drying out, and it’s also not very flavorful. I don’t care how much you brine it, rub it, or sauce it, it’s still turkey. And unfortunately, people who just didn’t get enough turkey on Thanksgiving bust it out for Christmas, too.
And don’t even get me started on ham.
Of course, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, good luck on Christmas. Talk about the joys of spending time with family—you’ll have lots of time to think about how much you love them as you nibble at your green salad, which will be the only vegetarian thing on the table after the green beans (cooked with ham hock, of course, what’s up with that?), stuffing (made with chicken broth), mashed potatoes (milk and butter, perfect for vegans!), and whatever else traditionally adorns the family table.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll get a clueless family member grilling you about what it means to be vegetarian, or maybe someone will lie to you about the ingredients in a dish so you mistakenly eat something that contains animal products! Awesome!
6) The sheer Christianness of it all
Christmas is, fundamentally, a Christian holiday. Yes, it has become widely secularized. Yes, people of a variety of faiths celebrate it or integrate some form of Christmas (usually the commodified parts surrounding gift-giving) into their celebrations during the winter. That said, it’s a Christian holiday, and the endless displays of nativities, crosses, and other Christian iconography get a little tiring for some of us who are not Christian.
I don’t object to anyone celebrating whatever holiday they please, whether or not it’s a part of their faith, but Christmas is so overwhelmingly everywhere that it’s impossible to escape, and at a certain point, I just become exhausted with the bombardment. At least on Yom Kippur, no one’s chasing after me with a yamaka. On Eid, competing sacrificial lamb displays aren’t vying for attention with flashing LEDs on every lawn. During Ghost Month, no one’s causing house fires by burning Spirit Money.
Outward displays of faith aren’t the problem; excess is the problem, and Christmas has that in spades.
7) The travel
Traveling on and around Christmas is a nightmare, and Christmas is the reason why. There are long lines everywhere, flights and trains are inevitably delayed by weather and the sheer number of people clogging the system, and there are constant hangups as people who don’t travel regularly try to navigate the system. Look. I’m a frequent flier—with an FBI red flag and medical equipment, so getting through security isn’t always a fun time. I get that not everyone has the whole TSA thing down, and that’s totally fine. But when you have millions of people all trying to get somewhere, many of whom are burdened with small children and presents, shit gets real.
Everyone is tired, hungry, and frustrated. They just want to catch their plane/train/bus—and here’s hoping you didn’t pick one of the worst airlines for Christmas travel! They’re stressed out by the whole Christmas thing and by the delights of modern travel. It’s a recipe for disaster. Whether you’re traveling for Christmas or just happening to travel around Christmas, it’s miserable for everyone.
I know exactly where you can put your ho ho ho, Santa.