Saturday, December 18, 2021

Up Your Ass with Christmas

Photo by <a href="">Markus Spiske</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>

I’m not sure when this happened to me. I didn’t always feel this way about Christmas. I used to love it — setting up the tree, keeping lists of gifts, making cookies and toffee. But this year I truly cannot wait for the holiday to be over. I just want to move on to next year, whatever that looks like. 

When I was a kid my stepfather Al used to sing an improvised Christmas carol he wrote around the house for most of December. “Up your aaaassss with Christ-mas,” he’d bellow as he rounded the corner from the dining room to the living room where the big tree took over the front windows.

When my mom started talking about a holiday event he’d close his eyes and softly sing his tune, as if to invite in a momentary respite from the constancy of Christmas conversation.

Al was Jewish and he grew up in the Bronx. He never celebrated Christmas until he met my mom. Mom grew up in the midwest with a rich Scandanavian culture filled with beautiful Christmas traditions. She shared them all in our household and growing up I loved it. As an adult, I carried many of them into my family culture. 

We always laughed when Al sang the “Up your ass” song, but I never really understood why he felt that way.

In my house now, Christmas isn’t actually that big a deal. I’m the one who gets most excited. I decorate the tree. I bake the cookies. I prepare the holiday treat boxes to deliver to friends and neighbors. And I like that stuff. I really do. I enjoy the community nature of this holiday — the fact that everyone decorates, that people send cards, and have gatherings. 

But this year I find myself singing Al’s song in my head. I bristle against the expectation that Christmas should feel a certain way, that we should be joyous and light; that we should be filled with cheer. 

Yesterday on the radio I heard a woman talking about how supply chain issues are making it really hard to get speedy delivery of sports equipment and makeup so people’s gift plans are really getting screwed up. Really? This, right after a segment on how New York had record numbers of COVID cases that same day?

There is something wrong with this picture. Maybe if I had an eight-year-old I could rally more, get behind this facade that Christmas truly is a special time of year. But I have a seventeen-year-old whose school has been shut down multiple times in the last month for bomb threats and actual shootings outside of her school. I don’t care about Christmas. I care about gun control. 

And even if I had a younger child and felt the pressure to put on all the bells and whistles for the holiday, wouldn’t I still be aware of the fact that Antarctica hit record high temperatures this year? Would it be expected that I just forget all of this for a week in December to make everything gay? 

I am writing this on the same table where I am making holiday cards for my neighbors. I can see our decorated tree in the living room and the line of Christmas cards from people I love along the window sill. I have boxes of cookies in the kitchen behind me ready to deliver. I like this part of Christmas. I love this part. 

So why am I singing “Up your ass with Christmas” this year? I think back to when Al used to sing it. He wasn’t telling my mom to stop all her Christmas activities. He wasn’t trying to quell anyone else’s holiday joy. He was just keeping it real for himself. Al had other things on his mind, things that were important to him, things not necessarily related to Christmas.

Yesterday, when my daughter and her friend were sitting on our couch feeling hungover from their COVID booster shot the day before, reporting to me on the different social media threats and lockdowns at their respective schools, I said to them, “You know, for your generation there’s really no choice. You all have to be activists. There’s so much to change and make better.”

They both nodded in quiet agreement, but later I thought about what a heavy burden that is to dump on two teenagers. It is a heavy burden, but it’s the truth. It’s real for them and for all of us. The truth is that it’s all of our burden — the new uptick in COVID, rampant violence in schools, the climate crisis, racism, housing and food insecurity — all of it.

The media hype and societal expectations of Christmas invite us to forget about all of that and put on a happy face. I just can't do it this year.  I’m the age now that Al was when he used to sing “Up your aaaassss with Christ-Mas.” Like Al, I don’t want to kill anyone’s Christmas buzz. I don’t want to scrooge anyone’s vibe, but the truth is, I really do have more important things on my mind.  

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