Why I Don't Celebrate (If I Don't Want To)
*Spoiler alert - “Skipping Christmas” by John Grisham / "Christmas with the Kranks"
Sometime around the cerebral cacophony of graduating high school and entering college, I read John Grisham’s “Skipping Christmas” (which was later adapted to the movie “Christmas with the Kranks”). I loved it. I loved Mr. and Mrs. Krank’s holiday plans to skip the hometown American Christmas and escape the stress with a Caribbean cruise instead; I envied their family’s adventurous spirit, as their daughter had shipped off to Peru with the Peace Corps; I cheered them on as the neighbors gave them “that look” of dismay and judgment, which somehow I knew so well I could feel it glaring at me right through the pages of the book. I shared their disenchantment and frustration with the utter insanity of the holiday season (I worked in retail at the time), and my muscles were twitching to run upstairs and pack my own bags. (About 10 years later, I actually did. The Force is slow with this one.) A happy little “Grinch” in me was thrilled and delighted by the book.
Until the plot twist and ending. I felt like a 5-year-old just being told Santa isn’t real. I was pissed. I practically screamed “No! NO! NO! Tell her NO!” at the characters’ unhearing faces, as a surprise homecoming by their daughter convinces them to change their plans and plunge headfirst back into the unholy chaos of a Happy Hallmark Holiday. They conclude that the idea of “skipping Christmas” was just as absurd as their neighbors said it was.
Fucking traitors. It’s been almost 20 years since I wanted to throw that book on a yule log and roast chestnuts on its smoldering pages, but only now do I look back at my literary critique with pride and appreciation. I was becoming. I was feeling my feelings. I was tapping into an intuition that would take many more adventures to learn to trust and follow. Long before it was an ex-vangelical zeitgeist, I was “deconstructing.” I bow to my young adult self and say, “You have much wisdom, young grasshoppa, someday I will honor your spirit.”
The time has come. I’m skipping Christmas. This time by choice, not by Lyme, nor pandemic, nor immigration. (Okay, technically this year it was by broken ankle, but I got the message right away and surrendered immediately.) Those things taught me how to do without in years past, but I don’t want to rely on viruses and wars and snapped ligaments for excuses; I want to own my decisions, to live from authenticity of mind, body, and spirit. I’m not celebrating because I don’t want to. Because I don’t believe its healthy for me. And that’s enough.
So here I would like to tell my story, write the ending John Grisham wouldn’t, illuminate a perspective that may not get enough light of day in a society that likes to burn witches and Grinches and Kranks. My intent is not to lay out a theological argument or defend a psychological thesis. I haven’t researched proof for why I’m right and you’re wrong; I frankly don’t care why other people do or do not celebrate Christmas, nor do I care if they do. I’m not trying to be smarter or holier or more or less patriotic. It’s simply something I can choose at any moment whether or not to spend energy on, and I think very few of the traditions are worth the cost to my physical and mental health. Receiving a Christmas card or a fruit basket isn’t going to offend me. I’m grateful for true generosity and human connection. However I do have food allergies, and convictions about unethically sourced or toxic materials, and don't find the decision to re-gift or contribute to a landfill particularly endearing. And I think scheduling generosity and connection for certain times of the year with certain approved rituals is absurd. (Even the Old Testament religious holidays were mere reminders of what was meant to be written on people’s hearts, in a time when few could read or study on their own.)
You can see my descent into Christmaslessness (take that, Suess!) beginning years ago on the Lyme blog (my holiday posts may or may not still be available – I’ve deleted much that I don’t believe in anymore). When chronic illness made decorating too exhausting, lights too bright, concerts too loud, food too sickening, gifts too allergenic, and people too ignorant, I couldn’t do Christmas anymore. Yet somehow, as a Christian, I was supposed to find meaning in the “reason for the season” and be content to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ. Spoiler alert: he’s not enough. When the brain is conditioned to sensory overload, warm fuzzies, and Black Friday as cues for happiness, joy, and generosity, you lose the feeling when you lose the stuff. It’s just that way. We are culturally conditioned to feel a certain way based on certain cues. And Christmas has largely become an orgy of cues trying to elicit certain feelings, and just faking the pleasure so we don’t offend anyone (and conveniently “boost the economy” in the process). Mostly we fake it so we don’t have to examine ourselves or admit that Jesus would probably die of a heart attack if he ate all the evangelical children's sugar-frosted Red-40 birthday cakes.
This realization didn’t start with Lyme. I lost the magic years before when I spent Christmas abroad, without my family and familiar cues. My friends had different traditions, expectations, and schedules. I had simple small-village moments of joy, memories which I cherish today, but at the time I was fighting a great depression. I spent most of December 25 alone and bored. Why wasn’t Jesus enough? I moved back to the US and tried to return to my old traditions, and it all just felt artificial. Why isn’t family enough? What is happening to me?
I think the magic of Christmas in a child is actually the magic of freedom and unconditional love – no school, no limit on treats, no bedtime, no discouragement of fantasy, and no matter what you actually do, naughty or nice, let’s face it, you get presents. (The kids who don’t have that stuff don’t have Christmas cheer as we know it. And how to we "fix" them? Donating stuff!) Christmas is magic because for a brief window of time, the world allows the magic it suppresses the rest of the year. Parents forget about discipline or "spoiling" for a day, and kids have a free pass for unbridled fun and receiving. Why do we lose the Christmas magic when we grow up? Literally because we stop believing; we stop believing we are worthy of unbridled fun and receiving. We believe we are responsible for creating the magic, not receiving it. We have to be givers, all the joy is in giving, or so we try to convince ourselves. (And what are we giving? Stuff!) We don’t have a Santa Claus, we are the Santa Claus (so where the f*** are my helper elves?!) Adults only ever want two things for Christmas: more money, and a break! So what do they do? Spend more money and become busier than ever, to make the kids happy. In this respect, the story of God sacrificing himself for his children is an accurate reflection of our Christmas tradition, but I'm not sure this theology begets anything but resentment and burnout. Also in this respect, “Skipping Christmas” is an accurate parable of reality: when the child leaves, the wise adults realize they have no reason to keep up the charade. The child comes home and suddenly it’s “OMG! WE NEED CHRISTMAS!” And this self-sacrifice and perpetuation of cycles is our new normal. Whether or not it’s at all healthy or reasonable.
So maybe it’s no coincidence that I don’t have children and no longer feel responsible for creating anyone’s happiness but my own. Furthermore, doing inner child work (wherein I shower unconditional love and respect upon my former self, who is still living inside my neural networks and viscera) has freed me from the “need” for Christmas. Freedom and unconditional love are my sacred birthrights which I claim for myself every day. Isn't that what Jesus brought me, anyway? I don’t have to wait for one appointed day when I’m “allowed” to experience those gifts. In this respect, I do celebrate Christmas, every single day of the year. I open new gifts every time I open my eyes. Every day I have food on the table is a feast, and every day I have a roof over my head, I feel like prancing like a reindeer for it. I eat what I want, I decorate how I want, I buy what I want, I love who I want, I be who I want, and I am loved, no matter what. What do I need December 25 for? Permission?!
This isn’t some pious lesson on being grateful, or the starving children in Africa. I genuinely feel this way. I genuinely feel the tingle and wonder, previously only reserved for Christmas, at random moments all year round. On vacation. In the doctor’s office. Alone in my room reading a book. In the ER in Baltimore. Sleeping at night. In fact, my last remaining observation of December 25 is to drape a garland on my mantle and adorn it with miniature books I created from old cards and scraps. Every Christmas I write on a new page a gift I have received throughout the year, and I reflect on my gratitude for it. Sometimes it’s things. Often it’s experiences. Most blessed, it’s people and relationships.
I didn’t one day decide that I’m going to feel this way. I didn’t just find out Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25, and that the Christian holiday is actually appropriated from pagan traditions and re-conceptualized for political and economic power, and decide that it’s actually more heretical to celebrate Christmas than to reject it (okay, I did once, but that’s of minor influence and importance). I tried for years to justify my observation of December 25. I tried over and over to re-assimilate to my culture of birth, and go with the flow and make people happy and “glorify God” and do all the things Christmas is supposed to make right in the world. And every year I find it more and more contrary to what I believe of myself, of others, of our society, of our world, of our stewardship, and of God.
The more I became a healed and whole version of my Self, and the more I became acquainted with my highest being (my soul, my spirit, my Imago Dei), Christmas actually meant more to me. Emmanuel. God with us. The child born to bring us all to glory. This Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – this Jesus – I was told, for my whole life, must be invited into my heart as my "personal savior." It wasn’t until I stopped the tradition of Christmas that I took that literally and realized I was supposed to embody Christmas (see 2020's poem.) The person of Jesus is God, for all of us, in all of us. It’s a personal insult to confine this God to a porcelain manger and gaze at it on my coffee table while I read a 2000-year-old story, when the truth is that this God is born in me, right now. I am his manger, I am his womb, I am his temple. I am his body. It’s a personal insult to offer gifts of dead trees and toxic scented candles and chemical-laden warm-vanilla-spiced-latte-crème-pour-les-mains to a person who is carrying my holy Deity in their very heart and soul. My God doesn’t want sacrifices and presents, my God wants love. My insides should leap like Elizabeth’s in the company of my sacred sister, my cousin, my neighbor, my fellow human being, anyone coming into my presence; my gift should be an exclamation of blessing. If we truly wanted to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas, we should be putting crowns on one another’s heads and offering footstools and 12 days of stress-free rest and love poems (I can take or leave the partridge).
I’m not trying to suppress anyone’s beliefs, traditions, or observations; I’m merely trying to honor the sanctity of my own. And in doing so, indeed, I must be gracious and kind to my fellow human beings as I honor their own worth as Imago Dei. But for now, I don’t know what that looks like. “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men” has tragically become a thing of stress and trauma and insult and judgment in our species. Do I live and let live? Do I set my boundaries, with others on the inside or the outside? At what point are we forcing one another? At what point am I cheapening my values? At what point am I enabling dishonor? Day by day, year by year, as I reflect on these things, my observation of Christmas will ebb and flow. I’m not boycotting Christmas. I’m not refusing to sing a carol, or kicking Tiny Tim in the shins. I’m literally observing Christmas. Watching. Exploring. Considering. Deciding what participation makes me feel whole, and well, and loved, and what makes me feel sick, and guilty, and not-enough. What causes my neighbor to laugh with delight, and what puts that look of panic in her eyes that she forgot to send me a card? I let life and love lead.
I do this with everything. This is my deconstruction practice. This is my meditation practice. I am deep into exploring the Divine manifest in flesh. My flesh. Your flesh. Our flesh as we come together, as we drift apart, as we dance. This cannot be bound in a day, or 12 days, or a season. This is the holy worship of daily devotion. Christmas is every day for me. Time around family or friends can and should be shared when the opportunity arises, not based on society’s schedule. Whether we gather to celebrate or grieve, play or have serious discussions, is in our own sacred timeline, not the national calendar. Sabbath, and sacred time for oneself, can never be dictated by tradition.
So why not just choose to celebrate in December with everyone else and revel in our divine flesh? Because this is contrary to the nature of my flesh, to the nature of the earth, in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway. In Chinese Medicine, seasonal attunement is a major part of healthy balance. We must eat seasonally, act seasonally, and think seasonally if we want a harmonious relationship with our bodies (i.e. to not be sick). We must flow with nature if we want to have a healthy natural flow in our biological cycles. When nature is defied, when the flow is obstructed, or rushed, or unbalanced, there is disease. Winter is nature’s time of rest. Cold. Stillness. Seeds buried deep, dark, and isolated, storing up energy for the burst of creative spring. To remain healthy through the flu season and for the rest of the year, we must respect this cycle in our lifestyles. Go to bed earlier. Do less. Stay inside. Rest. Reflect. Do the inner work. Our 8-5 work schedules already provide a baseline of disease; they do not respect adjusting the workload for seasonal attunement. Florescent lights defy the sun’s early rest. Grocery stores of tropical and greenhouse produce defy the earth’s natural nourishment through specific cold-weather crops and herds. Our society is already in a very unhealthy imbalance against nature’s cycle of rest. To add the extra stress of our holiday party, work party, school party, church party, women’s party, men’s party, family party, other family party, neighborhood party, gifts, cookies, cards, and oh-my-god-I-forgot-the-mailman! is to throw fuel on the fire. From a holistic natural standpoint, a winter Christmas is terrible for our health, even without a pandemic!
I have noticed an amazing shift in my "seasonal depressive disorder" when I honor the cycles of nature, and respect winter's call to rest. Essentially, it disappears and I have peace. To celebrate my holy embodied Christmas in December, I’d either have to head to the summer of the Southern Hemisphere to harness solar energy for feasts and festivities, or stay up north and embrace a quiet hygge observance, hibernating and meditating with kindred spirits by candlelight. Both sound glorious to me. But both sound, to the American mind anyway, exactly like skipping Christmas.
What next year, or the next 100 years, will bring on December 25, I do not know. But it is a great gift to be able to open every year and enjoy whatever I receive. Quiet and solitude, or company and celebration, I am free to choose whatever my soul needs at the time, with gratitude. The magic is back.