“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”
“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.
“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
It’s been said that I am somewhat of a Grinch or Scrooge about Christmas, and the sad part is that my accusers are probably right. In spite of repeated assurances and vociferous assertions to the contrary by my family, I really do struggle with the whole thing. Every day of the Christmas season tends to bring something that makes me want to either scream or retreat to my cave. However, the comparison is incomplete.
In the case of Scrooge, his dislike of Christmas stemmed from his miserly ways and the selfish desire to extract as much profit as possible from the populace. While I have a strong distaste for the fiscal liabilities and financial strain of the holiday, I flatly deny that my feelings are based in greed or selfish motivations. When I was younger, I assumed the stress and unhappiness that came at Christmas time stemmed from the somewhat constrained financial resources in my family growing up. My parents struggled to make ends meet from time to time, and the holidays were always an extra burden on an already tight budget. I watched them stress over how to satisfy the greedy demands of the season.
Worse than the strain on my parents, I began to recognize selfishness in myself. I began to compare the presents my friends got with what I was given. I saw others flaunting their ill-gotten gains and was jealous. I became unsatisfied. Recognizing those feelings in myself engendered a sense of self-loathing that still haunts me from time to time. Every year, as Christmas rolls around, I am reminded of what I felt and how I acted. They are shameful memories complicated by the fact that I see the same behaviors in people around me without the shame that should attend.
However, monetary scarcity is not at the heart of these frustrations. As time has worn on, I have progressively made more money until I’ve reached a point where I consider myself rather well to do. I distinctly remember looking at the pay tables many years ago and wondering what I would do with the kind of money I am making now. However, in spite of this change in situation, Christmas is still a financial pain. Contrary to popular belief, more pay doesn’t necessarily mean more unallocated money, and by the time Christmas comes around, we end up making financial trades in our house to try to accommodate the extra food for all the parties and other social gatherings (never my favorite thing), decorations, more parties, gifts, more parties, gas to get to the stupid parties, etc… Those trades spark some of the same selfish tendencies that taught me to hate the holiday many years ago. I have to admit to fundamentally hating the fact that I have to give up some simple pleasure (often a matter more of time than of money) so we can hang out with a bunch of people I don’t really want to be around from work or other associations. Recognizing this selfishness, in spite of years of working to suppress it, is depressing. Unlike Scrooge, I don’t hate Christmas because I’m selfish and want to keep what I have, I hate it because it exposes selfishness I wish to suppress.
Nor is the story of the Grinch a complete comparison. The Grinch’s feelings about Christmas weren’t too far off from mine, but that was simply a function of his misunderstanding. When the Grinch came to understand the real meaning behind the holiday, he had a change of heart and embraced the season. Unfortunately, I have a crystal clear understanding of why Christmas is celebrated. I absolutely agree that the subject of Christmas is a reason for great joy and rejoicing. Angels heralded the birth of Jesus, and we too should remember that event with joy and rejoicing. The problem I run into is that I don’t celebrate things the way the world would have me do.
The ways the world celebrates don’t focus my attention, thoughts, prayers, or actions on Christ. They don’t help me remember the incomprehensible miracle that was His birth. In fact, they tend to distract and depress me. I tend to celebrate in very private and personal ways, and demanding that I participate in public displays of any sort is almost a sure-fire way to cause me to rebel against whatever it is you desire me to do. This rebellion sets up a vicious cycle of me being unhappy, someone else (usually Liz) being unhappy because I’m unhappy, which makes me even more unhappy.
Unfortunately, nobody seems content to let me alone to celebrate in my own time and manner. I guess I don’t understand why it’s so wrong to feel as Scrooge did when he said “Nephew! Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”