Merry Christmas Mr. Grinch

I don’t like Christmas, one might say I’m a bit of a Grinch. Ironically, I happened to watch the 2018 rendition of “The Grinch” on the plane over to celebrate Christmas with family this year. I cried.

You see, my enjoyment of Christmas has steadily decreased over the years. My distaste for it started as a child, back when I was about 10 years old. My parents divorced when I was 9 and the settlement mandated that us kids were shunted back and forth between two families every alternating weekend.

For me, this caused a lot of stress during “handover” periods. I couldn’t really put a finger on it as a kid. Thinking back, I think it boils down to three things:

  • The sense of “divided loyalty”, needing to intentionally sever feelings of affection for one whole group of people and re-imprint on another group of people, entirely based on some arbitrary schedule
  • The social effort required to engage with my father’s social circle, his extended family and suchlike
  • As the peacekeeper in the family, I personally felt a strong need to always intercede and make everything OK, especially when there was tension between the two camps.
I used to be a bass but now I’m more of a baritone, so my rendition of “Mr. Grinch” isn’t as deep as I’d like, but I think I got the camp parts right.

This stress as a child manifest in a lot of “avoiding” behaviours. My sister and I would hide out in the kitchen from strangers, or spend extra time in bed to avoid engaging with the day. Preferring quite moments to big social events.

This “alternating” visitation thing happened for Christmases as well. Every second year we would celebrate Christmas with my father and his family. We weren’t really allowed to avid socialising in these situations. Understandably, my father wanted us to enjoy our time with him and his family, to engage, especially over the festive season. The big social events were unavoidable.

I don’t want to make it sound as though I had a horrible childhood, far from it. It’s just that Christmas in particular I associate with:

  • a deep sense of social obligation to people I don’t know very well
  • the requirement to perform a sense of happiness and togetherness in the context of being actually separated and uncomfortable
  • a sense (as the peacemaker in the family) that I could never possibly make everyone happy even though I wanted to

This general sense of Christmas being an uncomfortable time only became more intense when I grew up, came out and met a number of other queer people who didn’t have any kind of family to rely on. So many people I know in my life now are depressed over Christmas because for various reasons they can’t engage with their birth family and members of their family of choice are busy with their own Christmas things.

Chloe, my ex, would endure Christmas like a soldier hunkering down in the trenches of the first world war, and I think that feeling of being embattled kind of rubbed off. In the past I have hosted “orphan’s Christmas” for my social group of people who have nothing, but it’s always a mixed bag.

I wasn’t an orphan but I certainly empathise with the Grinch’s feelings about Christmas.

I brought these complaints up with my psychologist, Chris. I didn’t want to go to Christmas with my family, but they expected it. In the spirit of me being more assertive, shouldn’t I just eschew this time period and go do something else?

Chris’ advice was, “well, if you’re just going to be at home being grumpy, you may as well spend Christmas with your family”. I relented and so here I am, and I’m sure I will enjoy it. I am sure it will be a good time with good memories. It’s just this is not my time, this is not for me, this is for someone else, and having lived a life in service to other people for so long, it especially grates this year.

The other part of Christmas that irritates me is the forced consumerism. The news here in New Zealand reports how busy the shops are and how much money has been spent in retail as if these are metrics of interest to everyone other than shop owners. The commodification of every kind of cultural or interpersonal experience into something that can be turned into cash makes me kind of sick. I pride myself in being able to find the most ideal gift for people, but like most people I genuinely dislike how cheap, tacky and performative Christmas is.

I’m not sure if I will have the same epiphany the Grinch had and suddenly have a love of Christmas, but I do know how important it is to others, especially my mum.

So Merry Christmas, Mum, I’ll keep my humbugs for later.

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