Hey everyone, it’s November! There’s a kind of crispness in the air, I’ve had my first can of Coke with a Santa on it, and suicide prevention hotlines all around the country are training extra volunteers to handle the imminent crush because it’s the holiday season, motherfuckers, those magical months when you’re supposed to smile and be happy and, if you’re anything like me, you dream about screaming at your family five nights a week and violent physical altercations the other two.
So okay, a challenge. A holiday season challenge, from me to you. And look, I know you have a lot going on. I know you’re busy growing a beard to vaguely raise awareness of prostate cancer or something, I know you’ve only got the rest of the month to finish that novel you’re never going to finish, because for some reason November is a month packed with weird challenges—as though simply surviving November isn’t challenging enough. But okay, I’ll add to all that, only with a twist, because my challenge is geared towards making your company MORE enjoyable as opposed to nearly unbearable (not to say that your friends and family don’t really love hearing you verbally work through your novel-in-progress, not that everyone exposed to your Facebook feed isn’t really thrilled by daily progress reports on that thin wispy shit clinging to your jaw and neck).
Okay. I challenge you to go from now, right now, this second, until let’s say mid-January at least, without once mentioning/complaining/agreeing/engaging with the idea that the holiday season has become too commercial or lasts too long. Whether you’re into Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa or whatever. Even if you don’t celebrate a damn thing. Even if you’ve already been complaining about this—and probably some of you have, probably some of you have already been inside a Walgreens since Halloween and saw all the tinsel dropping from the ceiling right over a table of clearance Candy Corn or whatever and had to vent about it, it’s okay if you’ve already been complaining about this, you can still participate as long as you stop right now.
Everyone knows the holiday season is commercial. It’s the least interesting thing to note about this time of year. It’s like complaining about the heat in July, or even worse, comparing the ratio of heat to humidity where you are to other places you’ve lived or visited. Droning on about the holiday season being too commercial or too drawn out doesn’t make you seem special or smart, it makes you boring. It isn’t edgy; it’s cliché and lame. That Charlie Brown Christmas special pretty much nailed the whole thing to the wall in 1965, you don’t have anything to add. You’re just spreading negative vibes around. Tamp it down, okay? Leave it be.
Here’s the thing—and let’s try to keep this as secular as possible—the holiday season should be long, and it needs to have a commercial component. We need it. That there are so many holidays crammed in between October and February is on purpose, because those are the worst months and we need special occasions, collective celebrations, to make them bearable, because those leaves on the trees, those orange and red leaves? That’s fucking death. Those leaves are rotting right before your eyes. And it’s cold. And it’s dark. October through February sucks, and we need Thanksgiving et al to keep our spirits up and the economy functioning because without holidays in that span we’d never leave the house aside from work and funerals for friends who couldn’t take any more of the cold.
A thing can be commercial and still have real meaning. Your favorite movie is a commercial enterprise, and how often do you complain about that? Unless your favorite movie is some Kenneth Anger thing—and no, actually, if your favorite movie is some Kenneth Anger thing, you’re lying. Your real favorite movie is a commercial enterprise, no doubt. Anyone who says their favorite movie is by Kenneth Anger, you look at their Netflix queue and it’s all Big Bang Theory and Boondock Saints. I feel very confident about that.
Here’s what I think: people who complain about the commercialization of the season are actually bemoaning a lack of authentic experience, and the real enemy of authentic experience, the real problem with the holiday season, is tradition. Tradition sucks. Tradition is a trap. Hewing to tradition is what ruins everything, even beyond the holiday season. Why couldn’t women or black people vote for a long, long time? Tradition. What’s the trouble with gay folks getting married? We haven’t let them get married in the past. Why do high school and college graduates have to wear those lame robes and moronic hats? You know why. Doing something or not doing something because you’ve done it or not done it in the past, this should not be something to celebrate. I get that traditions give people a sense of connection to the past and that there’s value there, but think about this—every terrible thing that’s ever happened to you happened in the past. You really want to carry all that around?
The reason everyone feels shitty at Christmas (I’m going with Christmas because it’s the one I can speak about most authoritatively, apologies to non-Christmas celebrants but I bet what I’m going to say is applicable to you as well) is that every Christmas is held to the standard of either some past perfect Christmas or some idealized Christmas that exists in your head. The food should be this way, the tree should be over there and look like that, this is what we’re supposed to wear and these are the decorations. These are the movies we should watch. Every Christmas, all anyone does is fucking flail at trying to recreate a foggy memory or surround themselves with all the trappings, trying to fake it until this mystical sort of warmth, this holiday spirit, envelops them.
You know the only times you hear about being enveloped in a kind of warmth is at the holidays and from people who’ve survived nearly drowning, isn’t that weird?
Yeah, everyone’s grasping at their idealized holiday, either for themselves or for their family, and anyone who’s not 100% down with that vision, even if they’re the tiniest bit off, becomes an obstacle and ruins everything.
Maybe the real holiday challenge should be to shirk all the old shit and expectations, to do stuff that actually feels good this holiday season instead of doing the things you’re expected to do. To evaluate the way you celebrate and eliminate anything that’s actually just obligatory. Shoot, I bet for some of you, some of us, complaining about commercialization is actually a proud tradition. So okay, start with cutting that out right now and we’ll get more advanced next year, depending on how this goes.