patapan!

12/14/05

Every year, the same damn article gets written about Christmas: some whiny wet blanket starts kvetching about how they’ve “stopped the insanity” in their household and now they don’t buy each other anything, and it’s a quiet time of reflection and homemade crafts and all that crap. This year, Newsweek has a doozy, but it could be the same article any year for the past two decades, so I’d just like to say ENOUGH ALREADY.

I’m sorry to break it to you Luddites-come-lately, but the crass commercialism of Christmas is what makes it so great. The anticipation, the trembling hands, the excited giggles of kids tiptoeing down the stairs on Christmas morning at 5:45am is not for the Christ Child, nor is it so that parents can unfurl their woodcarvings: it is for PLASTIC STUFF, and THINGS WITH BATTERIES, and ELECTRONIC GADGETS and CRAP THAT MAKES NOISE.

IanSanta1969.jpg

listing all the shit I want, 1969

Boy, you anti-Xmas people with your whimpering about the traffic and going on for hours about how crowded the malls are, you should be penalized for cliché. Christmas is Christmas because anything worth doing is occasionally difficult. Now with the internet delivering anything you want to your doorstep, you have nothing to complain about anyway.

When I was a kid, I got lots of presents – we all did – whether it was a flush year for Dad or not. When I was broke during the crazy ’90s, I still got people insane gifts. Now that I have two dimes to rub together, I not only host Christmas, but I’ll even shave the Christmas goose with a Mach 3 if I have to. While the rest of the hoity-toity world tut-tuts when their neighbors put up plastic reindeer and 7-foot-tall candy canes, I think “well at least someone’s TRYING!”

I’ve got news for you, O Blog Readers, we came of age in the Christmases of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s – and that means those football games that vibrate, Cabbage Patch doll mania, Green Machines, and my orange Huffy 10-speed with pistol-grip handlebars. The only “memories of Christmas past” come from various lyrics of the Chestnuts Roasting song and “Sleigh Ride” (which wasn’t supposed to have lyrics anyway). All this pining for some lost meaningful Christmas is a bunch of crap.

Do you know where meaning is? It’s in STUFF. As in getting it, and receiving it. So go ahead and break out the aerosol cans of window frost, and the multicolored lights that blink to music. Get a real tree and wear gloves if you’re scared of sap. Spike your eggnog, get dressed up, and indulge in material things. We live in a society so bereft of ritual that we should be happy to have a day when anything can be bought, including love.

There’s 12 people coming to my house for Christmas, and they all got each other something. That’s 144 presents! Or something like that, I failed calculus. Either way, I get to see a lot of people opening up a lot of crap, and that’s all the spiritual warmth I need.

Editors note: the author’s wife does not agree with this blog entry

0 thoughts on “patapan!

  1. Lisa in Maui

    I think the point that people are missing in this post is that it’s not about how much money the stuff costs or necessarily what it is…
    It’s about the anticipation, the pomp & circumstance of the Christmas season. Otherwise, it mostly seems anticlimatic to get all dressed up (decorating houses, sweaters, glitter…) without a big BANG of Christmas morning…(or Christmas Eve depending on your family traditions)
    Christmas Political correctness has taken all the fun out of it–I’m so sad about the pervasion of “Happy Holidays”
    So Generic.
    happy christmahanakwanzaa
    :o)
    Aloha,
    lisa

    Reply
  2. scruggs

    I’m not a Bah Humbug type, but I have never been a big “occasions” person: xmas, birthdays, secretary’s day, etc (maybe because I’m cheap). My husband has to be happy with our artificial tree, stockings, a few knick knacks, and the door wreath…all items my mother bought us because she knew I wouldn’t. At least I put them up. I haven’t even starting my shopping yet! I’m sure I’ll be more festive now that our son is old enough to get into it.
    However, might I suggest for those fully engulfed in the Christmas mayhem, contact a local church or need organization and tack on a couple of deserving kids or forgotten elderly to your “extended family.” You won’t notice the extra items on your list in all the mayhem, and I’m sure they’d dig being in on the receiving and getting, too.

    Reply
  3. LFMD

    I agree with you about the STUFF! Christmas = STUFF, STUFF, AND MORE STUFF! In fact, please feel free to send some STUFF (an iPod Nano comes to mind) to LFMD, c/o the Insurance Job, Cubicle 320, Compliance Department, Maryland. Thanks. I’ll be looking for it!

    Reply
  4. pie

    RIGHT ON! I’ve tried explaining this to folks for ever. This entry will now be my default explanation of why the “stuff” is so important. The high from getting/buying stuff is where it’s at, because it’s a chance to revel in thinking about folks you don’t get to see all the time, thinking about folks you get to see every day, and seeing what those folks thought about you. Not in terms of dollars, in terms of fun.
    Buying “sensible things we need” is the opposite of christmas stuff. My mom passed away two or three years ago, and she was an amazing giver of random books, from an overview of the history of belief in sea monsters, to a book about obscure dirty medieval illustrated manuscript illo’s, whatever she got me always brought a smile to my face, and now that she’s gone, I find that her giving me “stuff” was one of the ways she communicated with me.

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  5. scruggs

    Pie, point well taken. My father’s xmas tradition since I can remember was, on top of the usual loot, to make an xmas eve run every year to the nearest Radio Shack, always Radio Shack for some reason. Then he’d just stock up on the most random things for all of us…remote control teeth and the like. And there was the occasional 2.5″ screen casio tv thrown in (it still works, thanks, Dad!). We always looked forward to see what crap he could find. He also made us go through this silly ritual of putting the first ornament on the tree, by placing it on a pillow and having a parade first. Six xmas’ ago, the xmas before he died, the ornament fell off the pillow and broke. We all laughed that we hoped it wasn’t a bad omen. Oh well. Maybe I miss that spontaneity, can’t reproduce it, and have stopped trying.
    A positive is I have bought one gift so far, for my hard to shop for 23yr old sister who’s much more hip that I am: a Neighborhoodies gift certificate!!! Thanks for the idea.

    Reply
  6. LFMD

    Ian, you can also send me a Neighborhoodies shirt that says BE-YOOTCH, or whatever the hip word for BITCH is. I would wear it to work and PTA meetings! I would be the envy of all! Or the talk of the town! Either one would be fun.

    Reply
  7. Beth

    Piglet, what a super idea to make designated Christmas sacks and reuse them every year! Scruggs, your lovely story about your dad reminded me of one of my favorite traditions growing up: shopping with mine own dad on Christmas Eve day for presents for my mom. He’d drive us to the mall and around in circles looking for a parking spot (cussing a blue streak), and then we’d spend a couple of hours together, hunting for something special for her that was inevitably wrong (our most memorable effort was a Fry Daddy that she returned the very next day). The time was ostensibly about shopping and giving, but mostly it was an opportunity to spend precious alone time with my dad. Although poor Mom didn’t get a great gift until I was old enough to figure out what she might want.
    Nowadays I keep a running list in my Palm Pilot of gift ideas–whenever a friend or family member ogles or mentions a coveted item, I make a note of it and then track it down for Christmas or birthday (birthdays rate equivalent fanfare, in my opinion). So I agree with Pie, in that it’s fun to think about loved ones and try to give them something they really need or want and more often than not won’t have bought for themselves.

    Reply
  8. Lee

    First of all giving gifts ROCKS!! Maybe Christmas is all about commercialization, but damnitall I still get all misty eyed when my mom breaks out the pictures from 1979 of my sister and I dresses up in our Christmas suits (mine an elegant red and white plaid blazer with a pink tie and blindingly red pants) in our late 70s height of fashion living room.
    So what about commercialization?Christmas (other than the religious part) is in essense saying to someone “I think enough about you to give you something.” It may be cheap plastic, it may be something they don’t want, need or may ever use. But I thought enough to spend my $$ to let you know that someone else is out there and cares enough about your miserable hide to buy you a windup cymbal clanging monkey.
    And nothing says Christmas love like a windup cymbal clanging monkey!

    Reply
  9. noj

    eeewww…stinky. couldn’t feel anymore different – ever since young children have been spawned in my family, i’ve dreaded christmas at home and its focus on bullshit material exchange. i mean, everyone in my family is fortunate and wants for nothing and every christmas each kid gets a dumptruck full of fucking schwag that will be closet-dwelling within the week. it’s really gross and wasteful and there is no meaning attached to the day – not that it needs to be a Christian meaning, but i think that it should be a time to examine, and maybe further define, your spirituality. i’m not a sentimentalist in any other way that i’m aware of, but i sure would like to preserve the “It’s A Wonderful Life”-y type sentiments that used to accompany the holidays – let cynicism eat Easter, leave Christmas alone.

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  10. anonymous

    I’m bummed this year (my wife even more so) because it seems that everyone in my family is asking for and giving out gift certificates. It’s basically become a money exchange, with no actual gifts involved. We’ve essentially become like the mob families in the movies – just handing out envelopes of cash – and it bothers me.
    I understand that so-and-so needs Lowe’s money to finish their garage, and another so-and-so needs a gift certificate someplace else, but if money is so tight, why not everyone buy each other cheap but thoughtful gifts and spend the rest on themselves and what they need?
    And since we bought our first house recently, everyone is giving us either Lowe’s money or tools/lawn stuff for our new house. Personally I’d rather buy that decidedly not-fun stuff myself and receive fun and thoughtful gifts for Christmas.

    Reply
  11. Anne D.

    After four kids, two stepkids, and decades of clearing out the detritus of various flashy toys that broke or were abandoned within a week of being unwrapped on chaotic Christmas mornings, I have HAD IT. All the STUFF spawns an orgy of crassness that makes me sick.
    I hate to sound like Ms. Holy-roller, but this past year brought so much added misery worldwide (tsunami, floods, earthquake) on top of the normal ration of human misery, and so many horrific images of people who genuinely have *nothing,* that even flippant ol’ me has shut down the materialistic glut machinery chez nous. Our kids, all teens now, will each get one “nice” thing (such as: digital camera) and one stocking-full of fun smaller stuff. ¡No mas clutter por favor!
    Give me a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with beautiful choral music and mystery; a nice meal with family after a *modest* sharing of gifts, and the chance to help someone either materially or emotionally… and it’s all good. Ho. Ho. Ho!

    Reply
  12. Andy

    Great entry, Ian. I totally agree. Just wait until Lucy is old enough to get into it. The magic in your kid’s eyes on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning is priceless.

    Reply
  13. salem's little sister

    Since Ben at 14 months is too little to understand Santa and presents, I adopted two “Angels” from an angel tree. I chose a 4 year old girl and a 13 year old boy and I bought useful gifts and several fun gifts for them. I had more fun buying their presents than I did looking for one more yellow Fisher Price noisey thing for Ben. My gifts may be the only things these kids get this year and buying for them satisfied my need to indulge at Christmas. I look at the pile of toys in my den, then look at Ben playing with a straw and it makes even more sense.
    I am buying books for all of the kids in our family and making donations in honor of older relatives. To my dog loving aunt, a donation to the Cocker Spaniel Rescue Society, to my gardner aunt, a Family Garden Kit from Mercy Corps. We all have so much, health, homes, food and I think it’s time to give back. I do love Christmas for Santa and the pagentry, but to me, the real spirit of Christmas is God and His love.

    Reply
  14. LFMD

    I LOVE gift certificates! I buy all of my daughter’s stuff via the Internet so that she has “stuff” to open, but all the adults get gift certificates. It forces my mom to buy something nice for herself. I like handing out envelopes via the Mob. No big packages to lug around. So, keep the Starbucks gift certificates coming!!! Gimme! Gimme! Gimee!

    Reply
  15. LFMD

    Um, I kinda wish my Gimme post did not fall right after Salem’s Little Sister’s post.
    SLS — you are such a lovely person!

    Reply
  16. Tanya

    Interesting post and responses. My two cents worth after reading the above (and agreeing with many) is that, while it IS important to reflect on the whole “reason for the season,” as a mother, it’s my job to bring Caleb into the many experiences, traditions and joy that happens this time of year like no other. And I agree that things can become full of plastic and crap, but we’ve all had the luxury of that experience in our childhoods. And, my God, I LOVED the plastic and the excess and the crap. Furthermore, as Emma suggests, perhaps that helped bring me around to a more thoughtful reflection later in life. So, if you’ve moved beyond that, cool. But I want my child to wake up at 5 am (or earlier) and be so excited that he nearly falls over himself to see all the plastic and crap that Santa brought him. And if I have to throw it away in two weeks, so what??? It’s a joy that I had myself when I was little, and I’m not going to deny him of it. Besides, he’s a kid, and there’s enough time ahead of him to worry about people affected by hurricanes and tsunamis and life’s other tragedies. We’ll teach him about Jesus and his influence on our lives, and on selflessnes and companassion, as we do the rest of the year. Right now, though, we’re throwing one, big, giant party for him and Santa’s going to help!!!

    Reply
  17. eric g.

    ian, it looks like santa is loading up with his ring-laden ham-fist to sock you one. did you make some comment that raised his ire, like perhaps suggesting that he join whatever passed as a fitness club in 1969?

    Reply
  18. xuxE

    i am SOOOO WITH YOU on this!
    since my kids were born i have forced them to dress up and go take a picture with Macy’s santa. and i never even shop at macy’s, but if santa was going to live somewhere, it would be a department store.
    you know plenty of cultures get down with the multiple god type approach, i am a straight-up santa worshipper, pagan style or whatever you want to call it. i think the whole christ thing with all the sappy songs and little barn and whatnot needs to make room for other gods like santa. frankly, i am much more concerned about the cookie and milk offering and stocking shrine to please the santa-god of presents and toys, i don’t actually even put up a christ shrine at all.
    praise to santa, bring on the gifts!

    Reply
  19. Lindsay

    It’s fun to be materialistic once in awhile. But the emphasis is on ONCE IN AWHILE. Having spent Christmas with noj and fam, when Dana and I had gotten a fair amount of stuff for each other and they hadn’t, felt natural and easy on both sides (at least to me) because it wasn’t a big deal either way.
    But being around people who define themselves by their stuff (usually extended family in the ‘burbs for many of us) during an orgy of conspicuous consumption is a fucking drag.

    Reply
  20. SMS

    I read the Newsweek article Tuesday and thought “wow, I wish my family would do that!” Some of the best gifts I have received were handmade, painted, sewed, knitted etc… I can tell you each one and who made them. I takes a lot more thought than pulling out the plastic. Christmas today is way too commercial and crazy. I also had fond memories of me and my siblings opening lots and lots of presents on Christmas until I found out later as an adult that my parents took out loans to do it. How crazy is that? In our house it is church, charities, family gathering and then presents on that order of importance. And of course we do Santa for our 2 year old :)

    Reply
  21. Steph Mineart

    I love the giving and getting of gifts, but it can stressful buying stuff for my dad, the man who has gazillions, because I have no idea what to get him, and he’s completely unhelpful about explaining what he might want. That’s why I love the online wishlist technologies — just tell me what you want for pete’s sake.
    But in general, Christmas is a blast, especially seeing people I love. I can imagine gift giving would be even more cool if I had kids, though.

    Reply
  22. kjf

    there is nothing like xmas when you have kids who believe in santa. otherwise it really is way too commercial.
    and as for gift certificates – stores love for people to buy them because of the percentage of people who never use them up.
    i used to give my kids (adult) gift certificates for xmas and then i just felt lazy (although they loved them). so this year they got gifts and i included the gift receipts so if they hate the gift they can return it….and i will never have to know.

    Reply
  23. xuxE

    ok, and i do have two additional rebuttals for the misguided burlap sack exchanging seventh day adventist types –
    first of all, the real fun of the christmas giftapalooza is in being clever about it. i mean, it is like an artform in itself (you can tell by that sweatshirt making site whateveritwas.com that ian gives good gift). so it’s not like there are only two options and you have to either go all bullshit commercial like a fucking moth drawn to the blinking old navy sign to get some stupid striped hooded fleece, or else whittle a block of wood by hand.
    for example, one of the best gifts i gave my son one year was an *actual* authentic 5 cent gumball machine, made of glass and like iron or something, full of giant gumballs, that i got for like $40 at an auction, and that was the year we finally let him chew gum.
    another fantastic xmas gift – kid-size flying v electric guitar and amp. kid size drumset for sibling. nowhere near as much as a playstation and 10 times cooler.
    or last year another big hit was glow in the dark stilt-boots that strap on over your shoes. totally cheap and worn constantly all year.
    secondly, i think the gift-hating is like misplaced anger, as if giving lots of presents is some kind of zero-sum game where your pogo stick purchase deprives a less fortunate kid that would have loved to have that pogo stick. whereas in reality you can always give away last year’s pogo stick to charity and make room for this year’s moon shoes.
    so by buying something cool and actively recycling you actually circulate the christmas gift joy and expand it exponentially, QED.

    Reply
  24. noj

    to xuxE: your rebuttals to us “misguided burlap sack exchanging seventh day adventist types” – outlining your creative gifting for all of us is not a rebuttal of anything we’re saying. it’s just what you do. so do it. save the rebuttals for people who are arguing with you. i don’t know if i was being lumped into the fantastically clever mischaracterization quoted above, but if i was, then allow me to clarify that i have no problem giving or receiving gifts on christmas – i have a problem with the christmas holidays being distilled into “what am i getting?” and “what am i gifting?”. It doesn’t matter if the holiday itself has any religious signifigance for someone – it doesn’t for me. i just think the holiday can also be used as an opportunity to do some good things that don’t have to do with contributing to the shitpile of merch that every fortunate child in my family has.

    Reply
  25. CP

    LFMD!
    you don’t know me, but just got back from a screening with the beeyotch herself (btw, everyone see match point, it’s pretty awesome, and from woody allen no less), who will no doubt be very flattered you want a neighborhoodie inspired by the one she so defiantly wears…
    what can I say? I’m in love.
    merry festivus!

    Reply
  26. xuxE

    ok, noj, starting fights, yes yet another xmas tradition – i wasn’t talking about you PERSONALLY but just that particular philosophical team in general, but since you brought it up, sure i’d say you are on the moral grandstanding bandwagon, going on about the wonderful life/self flagellation activity mode as being “spiritual” and saying the folks on the other team having a big gift-o-rama baccanallian orgy are clearly NOT doing something spiritual (i.e., morally worthwhile). so yeah, that sounds really condescending, i offer a rebuttal against that christian ethic type definition of spiritual activity.
    and i would just say to YOU to leave the folks alone who want to do their celebrating in a banal pleasure-seeking glorification of presents and sparkling glitter and glam type of way. nobody really knows how the pagans really felt about it when they started the shit anyway, before the christians came and wiped them out and slapped jesus over some goat or tree or whatever they used to be worshipping.
    anyway, i gotta go do some online shopping so if you want to fight some more i’ll have to challenge you to a game of gnip gnop. i wish you a merry potlatch!

    Reply
  27. Salem

    Christmas is about the only holiday that really puts the delight back in divorce. What better pay back for a kid, than to be shuttled around to FOUR sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles for a showering of gifts. To be the focal point of such gracious over compensating. Granted, you might be fifteen and still get a Big Jim action figure from your step mom’s aunt, but overall the harvest is extraordinary. Despite the gift giving frenzy of Christmas, I have to say that my Mother choreographed Christmas in the most amazing way. It truly was a time of warmth, love, and belonging that I wish every child could feel. More snuggling, more music, more cookies, more together. She really must have worked hard. You almost have to stop time to make room for those moments. Thanks Mom.

    Reply

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