Growing up, I enjoyed Christmas as much as the next kid. I became ambivalent toward the holidays some time in my mid-20s, but it wasn’t until I got married that my indifference toward Christmas flared into genuine dislike. I found the unbridled materialism unpalatable (now that I was at an age when it no longer benefited me personally), the music irritating, and the moralistic undertones cloying. Craving an observance more peaceful, that felt more meaningful, I renounced the Christmas of my youth.
The first Christmas after I made my stand, my mother had a hard time believing I was serious. As mothers do, she wheedled, cajoled, and twisted my arm to join in the usual family reindeer games. I demurred, and she insisted, until finally one day, desperate to be understood and irritated beyond measure I finally snapped, “I don’t like the way you celebrate Christmas!” And watched, mortified, as her eyes filled with tears.
Now, my mother loved Christmas. She loved the tree, the music, the dopey Christmas specials on TV, the cookies, the wrapping, the craziness. She was an extraordinary gift-giver, paying close attention to the random comments of those she loved throughout the year and taking note of what they wanted and needed, and she gave precisely the things that would delight us most and suit us best. So when I made my nasty, hateful comment, I couldn’t have wounded my mother more had I slapped her across the face.
“Spirit!”‘ said Scrooge, “show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?’
I bungled it so badly, my wish to declare independence; and although my mother soon forgave me, I still haven’t quite forgiven myself. Yet I was motivated by natural impulses: I wished to celebrate the seasons in my own way, to carve out my own traditions. And as the youngest of four children I desperately wanted to be taken seriously as an adult.
Family Christmases tend to be difficult precisely because they amplify the natural tension between wanting to belong and to be taken care of (Cancer) and the desire to be taken seriously as the captain of your own ship (Capricorn). It’s tempting, when you’re first coming of age, to feel this is a zero sum game and that you can’t be your own person as long as you’re also someone’s child. And so you make foolish, hurtful mistakes, as I did, feeling the only alternative is a certain death of the self. (more…)