My birthday falls at the start of the Xmas season (the old one – not the one that starts right after Thanksgiving or the one that starts right after Halloween). This year it began on the first night of Hannukah, Hanukah, Chanuka and Channuka. The upside to having a birthday in this time of over-consumption and intense decorating is that it appears people have strung festive lights in your honor. Childhood birthday parties involved sledding down a steep hill near my house then coming back and opening presents in front of a fire while eating homemade fudge and drinking hot chocolate. Good times.
The downside to having a birthday at the biggest gift-giving time of the year is that multi-tasking friends and family tend to bundle your celebrations together (“I got you something great – you’ll get it at Xmas!”) so your birthday doesn’t feel so special. Couple that with the general misery of the holidays and the result is I tend to like to spend the bulk of my birthday on my own so I don’t bum anyone out.
Perhaps this is why as the years go on, I’ve grown increasingly resentful of the holidays. They stole my birthday; guilted me into going broke buying shit for people that they neither want nor need; made me feel thoughtless when I didn’t get it together to send out cards and they eclipsed my damned birthday! Yes, I have beef with Xmas.
I particularly have beef with those Xmas junkies who walk by a guy in a turban or someone wearing a tallit and yalmuke or a disciple of Elijah Mohammed selling books like “Allah Smites the White Devil” and think they’re filled with the spirit of love when they chirp “Merry Christmas!” I’m not saying this is a Mel Gibson level infraction but it denotes a certain clueless-ness, which you can’t point out or you’ll get that big-eyed “how can you do this to the poor Whos in Who-ville” look.
This year, I’m calling Christmas out. I’m going up to the department store Santa and wishing him “Happy Chanukah.” I’m going to tell people “Jesus weeps because you never remember his real birthday,” the only people I’m buying shit for are my son and the women and kids in the homeless shelter. Everyone else will have to fend for themselves.
I used to love shopping at this time of year. The sound of the Salvation Army Santa’s bells, the piped-in Christmas Carols replacing the piped in orchestrated versions of the Beatles, the craft fairs with hot cider and shortbread enticing you to buy cheerful handmade potholders. It’s different now. We buy stuff the same way junkies fix. I’ve seen people spend an entire airline flight reading the SkyMall catalogue then have the person greeting them at the airport read it for the whole BART ride back. Instead of talking to each other! I do it too. Someone starts wearing a certain kind of ruffled scarf or shade of lipstick and I jones for it.
Don’t worry; I’m not leading up to a disquisition on the true meaning of the holiday season. I don’t believe there is one true meaning. It’s cold and dark (or here in California, slightly cooler and dark) so people create celebrations to cheer themselves through the gloominess. Lights were traditionally lit because it was dark! Delicious food cheered people up (food, like materialism is a drug.) people dressed up for the same reason. According to cultural anthropologists like Claude Levi-Strauss, myth follows ritual to justify the activities. That’s where Saint Nicholas et al come in. And Jesus? They bundled his birthday with the holiday just like my family did with mine. Only he wasn’t even a Sagittarius (if he was he would have talked his way right off that cross with a few well-placed jokes to the Romans.