The Silly Season

paper, lots of it

We see it ahead, now that Halloween is past; American Thanksgiving lies in its path…Christmas. Our friend George, downriver, saw the first lighted Santa lawn ornament yesterday. The advertising fliers have arrived, full of Christmas gifts, food, decorations. The silly season is upon us.

This the season to pretend we are what we are not. We are rich, successful, urban bon vivants. We are people who throw great parties. We have gourmet tastes, and banker budgets.

from ChristmasTwinkle

We’ve seen “A Christmas Carol” and read the book; we love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We think Christmas is going to be:

Victorian caroling in Yorkshire

And instead it is Chevy Chase and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Christmas train wreck

The fliers from Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart have all the tackiest Christmas decorations anyone could want, because nothing says the joy of the first Noel like a huge inflatable plastic snowman. Mostly, in this climate, they partially deflate from the extreme cold, and flip themselves over in the high winter winds. It looks as if Santa jumped from the flying sleigh, and his parachute failed to deploy.

Then there are the gifts that seem to appear only at Christmas. Beyond the gag gifts (mooning Santas, ugly reindeer sweaters, tinsel jewelry) the stores stock up on odd appliances. This year I see something called a wine aerator, and I have no clue how that works, as if the $12 plonk you do drink could use a little oxygen to improve the bouquet; a travel blender, because don’t you hate staying in a hotel room  where you can’t have daiquiris in the middle of the night; various massaging foot appliances, from booties to baths; the usual suspects of electric shavers in various styles and genders; coffee makers that do everything from grind beans and heat the cream to duplicate the processed sweet sticky mocha drinks you usually buy at the convenience store; and crackling wick ™ scented candles, and I have no idea what that means.

The catalogs and store fliers show svelte young women in spangly, low-cut dresses. I wonder how many women actually buy these dresses for the rounds of holiday parties. Maybe they do in wealthier enclaves; here party wear is jeans and sweater and parka. The fancy dress-up might give us a momentary sense of, just this once in the year, being in the 1% instead of toward the bottom of the 99%, but it also seems a fantastic waste of money and spangles. First, when will you ever wear it again? (Clue: Never.) Second, we live in the snowbelt, and that wee bit of spandex and glitter will not keep you warm if the car breaks down two miles from home.

Saddest is the Christmas food. Not the candy canes, which are just sugar and flavouring, but the “have on hand for drop-in guests” frozen hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Little bite-sized pastry wrapped savoury things; chocolate dipped everything-else. Are we sitting at home, waiting for friends and neighbours to just drop by to admire our lovely Christmas decorations, bring a small but tasteful gift, and flaunt their spangly Christmas clothing? More likely we are folding the laundry on the couch, watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If the neighbours drop by acting all uptown, they are likely to get coffee and pretzels.

I’m suspecting that the retailers and merchandisers are in for a big surprise. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. If they have credit cards, they may be unwilling to charge gifts and treats when they are hanging on to any unused credit balance in case they need car repairs. Maybe the days of sitcom Christmases are over. I won’t miss that, because I never had them, really.

And the chocolate-coated-everything will be half-price by December 27.



18 thoughts on “The Silly Season

  1. I am laughing at your post, but it is really a sad commentary. Though we disengaged from trees, decorations, and gifts when our kids were still small I do have those memories of what seemed like a magical Christmas in my childhood. Wearing red or green new dresses and shiny shoes at big dinners at both grandparents house, sitting in our dining room in the dark wondering about angels and heaven ( as pictured on gift wrap) as I stared at the twinkling tree, caroling on a cold crisp winter’s eve, the neighbor’s dog bringing a wrapped box of homemade chocolates in his mouth ( yuck? It seemed cool to me then), midnight mass, and on and on. They really can be haunting, those memories, but then I remember the other parts. Sitting in a cold car in a bar parking lot while adults did stupid things, arguing going on as we were trying to open gifts,etc… . Obviously, I clung to the magical illusions. These holiday feelings are powerful ( the resistance and upset I meet when I try to cut back and not have certain dishes at Thanksgiving is astonishing) and I have to shake them off myself as I try to focus on what is real and rational. When I go into a store near Christmas I run into one of two things: angry people tired from shopping or smiling people whose holiday giddiness permeates the store. One might find a selection of both, but it seems to me one or the other rules. Anyhow, we have been surprised to find some folks putting up Christmas decorations in October, trying to lift their spirits. I will never ever understand, though, the tacky stuff out there today used for decorations. Never. Ever. If everyone used them I would have no trouble ignoring the holiday stuff.

    • My father, for years, cut our Christmas tree from the nearby woods – we lived in a sort of Currier and Ives setting. The surprise of the gifts was always great. As an adult, I think I am less concerned about recapturing the “magic” of Christmas – I never had the home stability or money to do much. I doubt if we will ever see the sort of “Victorian” ideal of Christmas we had a couple of years ago, living in a friend’s big manse of a rectory, and her delight in having someone cook and bake and decorate in that style. Our families do not gather at Christmas, so for us it is only a commemoration of the nativity. Considering how mean-spirited family members can be, I do not think I want to gather with them anyway.

  2. Absolutely. This year our household has faced the embarrassment of telling friends and family that we will no longer be giving (and do not wish to receive) Christmas gifts because we feel enough is enough – we think we and everyone we know now has had enough cheap costume jewelry, scarves, bags and chocolate and will find better uses for the money.
    We are not stopping our celebration – far from it. We shall sing and eat together, join with the grandparents for carols, and make the house beautiful with berried holly and branches of bay from the garden. We will light candles, share in home-made liturgies, and go together to the lovely candle-lit midnight service to welcome the Christchild.
    Our whole family will enjoy the ones who normally work outside the home being here so we are all together round the woodstove with its faint fragrant smell like incense.
    And in my heart I will give thanks that we have food in our cupboard, a productive garden, paid work, provision for our daily lives, and that we live in safety and peace.
    I cannot think that tacky store-bought gimmicks could add much to improve this beautiful festival of Christmas.

    • We had to do that starting six years ago, and excepting that one eventful year sharing Christmas with another family, we cannot and do not want to be extravagant. We will decorate much as you do – only we don’t have holly and bay here in the subarctic – I will do some cooking and baking – if family choose to gather with us, that would be wonderful, but I do not expect it. We set out our creche and light candles and I suppose we keep a rather severe monastic Christmas in the eyes of most, but it is the mystery of the incarnation we remember, not the artificial jollity of modern holidays.

  3. I am caught between two worlds. I gave my husband the Christmas/Birthday wish list he demanded and found out that I dissappointed him because it was not long enough. I have cut back my lists and I have found ways to stretch the holiday food budget. I start shopping for holidays a month in advance when things are on sale. I also have reduced how much of somethings that I make.
    As for the “gift shopping” again I start early and watch for sales. I have a limited list of friends and no family on my side. Husband has a few relatives and no friends so it balances out. I also give family gifts rather than individual ones for the most part.

    Lastly I like to make baskets. I did a “cookies and” basket last year for one friend. I put a box of cookies and an assortment of k-cups in a basket and covered it with a holiday hand towel from the dollar store. Another friend who lives in a tropical climate got a basket of snow – snowman towels, snow flake cookies, etc. Little things bought at the discount store that looked like junk but when you put it together in a basket with a few mugs and etc. it becomes something.

    A cheap dvd, microwave popcorn, christmas mugs and hot cocoa packets and you have a movie night basket.

    • What gifts we will give will be handmade – which hasn’t disappointed anyone yet. I am hoping for another five pounds of butter (from our son and daughter-in-law) and 100 pounds of potatoes. Grain, hay, firewood, flour – all appropriate gifts here!

  4. Good one, MJ!

    As for your statement do women really wear abbreviated, low cut dresses for the holiday parties? They sure do down here at the company holiday parties hubby and I had to attend. Not because it’s the Southwest, They dress like that all year ’round!

    Yes, I remember National Lampoon “Christmas Vacation”.

    • When I lived in the District of Columbia, women did have dressy cocktail dresses for holiday parties, and depending on your level in the government, there might be quite a few social functions. I made a fairly demure one in fuschia moire with a white lace collar (this was 1992) for a company Christmas party but I borrowed a spangly blue tank dress for another party where my boss and co-workers were not going to be!

      • I once had a “company party” conservative dress, with white collar and small by flouncy red bow tie at the neck. That was back in the late ’80’s early ’90’s also! 😉

  5. Each to their own I say. We keep Christmas low key, we enjoy advent, we decorate a day or two before Christmas, we attend midnight mass and then celebrate a fine day with our family sharing traditional foods and companionship, this is how we choose to celebrate Christmas.

    There are many who simply celebrate a fun family day of gift giving and food and don’t give thought to the “reason for the season”, it is their choice to do so. I find it amusing that the half dozen or so Indian employees at work, all of whom are Hindu, get together to celebrate Christmas, again they focus on the getting together and good food etc. but they still say they are celebrating Christmas:)

    I think one huge positive of Christmas, whether celebrated from a Christian perspective or a secular perspective is that it brings people together, it is one day of the year almost everything but the basics stop, few stores open, front doors thrown wide open to welcome family and friends, good cheer, it is a wonderful time of the year. Obviously there are those who struggle through the Christmas season, they are lonely, ill, suffering, so it is up to all of us to be aware of those around us and make sure that we do all we can to be a blessing to others. And as with all things in life, moderation is a good thing to practice during Christmas with eating, spending, drinking etc.


  6. “Considering how mean spirited family members can be, I do not think I want to gather with them anyway.”

    Thank you, Magdalena, for this honesty. You make me feel less alone – Christmas was nothing short of purgatory in our family and, since leaving home, I have never celebrated it nor gone shopping. (Is it possible to contact you via a private email – if you’d rather not, don’t worry – quite understand. You’ve never met me and are not likely to.)

    To end this comment on a lighter note. An apocryphal story is told of a man looking in the window of Harrods during the Christmas season – he sees something very expensive, made of real leather and gold, but cannot work out what it is.

    Finally, he goes inside and asks the shop assistant: “What is that”? The shop assistant looks at him snootily and says: “That, sir, is a Christmas Present.”


    • Of course you may contact me directly. I will send you an email, although I have no problem with anyone writing to me via e-mail, as that is what it is for. Writers used tor eceive much personal mail from strangers; Mark Twain joked of having an attic full of unsolicited manuscripts. Your story reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s post-war essay on the commercialization of Christmas, and he was writing in the early 1950s.

      • I think the CS Lewis article you have in mind is “Xmas and Christmas” – wonderfully satirical stuff.

        Don’t go to any trouble with email (don’t seem to have received one yet).

        It’s just nice knowing that I’m not the only person whose memories of “family Christmas” are not all they might be.

      • I think that is the one. I don’t seem to have a copy of it, but will see if it is online. I did send another email; if it doesn’t reach you, my email is I have no problem with anyone writing to me privately. Our childhood Christmases were wonderful in many ways, but it was when we tried to get together as adults that conflicts arose.

  7. I’m sorry things aren’t going well with your family.

    We don’t celebrate Christmas, but we do keep those pre-baked hors d’oeuvres. Makes it much easier for my husband when we’re having people over for non-meal entertaining.

    Jewish holidays are so over-the-top that they make Christmastime, no matter how crazy, look relaxed and restrained.

    • We were talking about that this morning, as we both have had friends with Jewish family. I agree that when we do a lot of entertaining, those little appetizers that can be heated and served on a tray are very, very nice. I was suggesting that people who don’t entertain much get the idea that the holidays are only “right” if they make an attempt to do what they normally wouldn’t!

  8. Loved this blog Magdalena!
    When I worked in the airline industry our Christmas parties were all out low cut, fancy dresses and I am from Minnesota!!! Here at home we keep things very low key, when the children were small we would enjoy typical things like the train around the base of the Christmas tree, baking cookies and making home made treats to give to relatives. I did tend to be rather spendy when I first started out but as the years went on I realized this is all crazy! Like the day after Thanksgiving, the shopping craze, people getting trampled by the massive crowds looking for that cheap item they and everyone else has to have!!! I backed out of all that crazy, in fact the past couple of years we opted to not even put a tree up, just a few decorations, and you will not see me in the stores shopping mad anymore, homemade gifts or no gifts. Plain and simple. The first Christmas party at my current job I felt more at home, we even prayed before the meal was served and all the men’s hats came off at that moment of prayer. =D

  9. Great post! I love Christmas, but not the hype that has come about. Our gifts are homemade here. Those we give and those we recieve, it is our tradition. The tree is tiny and has ornaments from long ago. Those the girls made in school, a few treasured from family.
    I don’t ‘shop’. I do cook, for family and friends who join us to share the spirit of the season. This year, there will be a ham, farm raised, along with sweet potatoes, green beans and other things harvested here and locally. It will come from the freezer a nd jars I have canned.
    Carols will be sung, we will enjoy ourselves.
    I prefer the simplicity, find it unnerving to go out and see all the ‘overkill’ that advertising, greed and profit have built.

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