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Yultide strangulation

Fighting the beast called Christmas


It's 10 p.m., and I've spent most of the day listening to clients complain about the holiday season. I try to give an empathetic response. I get that worried look they teach us in therapy school, and I say the things they told us to say, like, "You look really sad when you talk about the holidays."

Clients, knowing me well, invariably shoot me a look if I utter such pabulum. Some feelings can't be hidden. I clear my throat. "Well of course you hate the holidays," I say. "They remind us of everything torturous about American life, like consumerism and religion. Because these are so-called family holidays, they can also force us back into the family dynamics we've tried to put behind us. Or they make us feel guilty if we refuse to go back."

I am on a roll, completely talking about myself. I ball my fists. "Every year, Christmas wraps its fingers around my -- I mean our -- throats and applies steadily increasing pressure until we buy something. The only sane choice is to dislike Christmas!"

Of course, clients invariably point out that these observations do nothing to make them happier about the holidays. To me, the solution is simple: Don't subscribe to the insanity. And if you can't do that here, get the hell out of the country. My partner and I have spent several Christmases in Paris, where the holiday is effectively confined to a few days of good eating and great music. An even more effective means of loosening the Yuletide season's strangulation grip is traveling to a Muslim country where you are awakened at Christmas at dawn by Islamic prayers blaring from a tower. Of course, John Ashcroft might detain you in Guantanamo as a suspected terrorist with ties to the Grinch underground.

Most clients find the idea of actually absenting themselves from Christmas unthinkable. And that typically means that what they really want is a storybook experience. Christmas instead reminds them of their alienation -- and they resent it, damn it. They want a place at Tiny Tim's table. One wants to thank God Christmas only comes once a year -- it should be a centennial holiday. But in truth, this compulsive refusal to give up the wish for the ideal Christmas is almost always part of a larger pattern of wanting to be "normal."

I could now give you the tired list of ways to deal with Christmas depression. But believing it is better to fight the Christmas beast than to surrender to it, I'll share the top three items from my wish list instead:

1) I wish all Christmas "muzak" would be outlawed. I was writing at Starbucks the other day and after hearing the 75th Christmas song, I involuntarily sprang to my feet, ran to the counter and begged for mercy. What this city needs is a coffeehouse that plays Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Bjork and the Notwist without regard for the season.

2) I wish for the imprisonment of retail marketing executives. Particularly loathsome is Abercrombie and Fitch. I used to find the complaints about their sexy advertising silly, but selling thongs to 10-year-old girls and featuring Asian stereotypes on their T-shirts is too much. Now people of color have filed lawsuits charging them with discrimination in hiring. And under public pressure, they've taken their latest catalog, the one featuring lots of explicit nudity, off the shelves.

Normally I applaud anything that offends the religious right, but eroticizing white fraternity boys while you offend Chinese people and refuse, allegedly, to hire black people is purely classist -- if not outright racist. But there's a worse problem: Their clothes suck. Any clothing that depends on its own logotype as its principal style element -- especially if it implies classism -- is vile. Two years ago someone gave me some yellow track pants that had the A&F logo on the ass. I put them on without noticing this decorative touch, and friends at the gym assumed I had gone mad. A few months back, a friend and I were at Phipps and he insisted I try on a knit shirt that he thought would suit me perfectly. I put on an XL, and it would have been perfect were I into erotic mummification and auto-asphyxiation. "Who the hell can wear this?" I asked the clerk. "You're too big for it, dude, but it looks awesome," he said. "Whatever!" I gasped.

3) I wish Baby Jesus would be put on the backburner. Yeah, I know it's a cliche to complain about the commercialization of Christmas. But, really, we all know in our hearts it was Santa who was born in that manger. Barring that, let's take the opposite route. Let's eliminate Santa. Instead of taking pictures of kids sitting on Santa's lap, we could take pictures of Baby Jesus sitting on kids' laps. Little girls will give up their demands for Barbie dolls. "All I want for Christmas is salvation and life everlasting!" they will tell the Baby Jesus.

Do not let Christmas spoil your holiday! It's the perfect opportunity to express your misanthropy!

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