“You coming home for Christmas?” my friend Lauren texted me the other day.
“Nope,” I wrote back. “I don’t believe in Christmas.”
This statement might seem ridiculous — who doesn’t believe in Christmas? It’s clearly a thing that exists, as jingles and merchandise start reminding us the day after Halloween. But, as I do with astrology, I refuse to believe. When someone asks me what my sign is, I tell them astrology isn’t real and walk away. When someone wishes me a merry Christmas, I do the same. “Christmas? Don’t know her,” I say, turning on my heel. I’m sure this drives well-meaning souls crazy, but I’ve got a War on Christmas to win over here.
I understand the appeal of Christmas for kids. Kids are greedy, and getting shit is fun. It’s also the only time that a break-in by an obese man in a red suit would be anything but terrifying, and there’s great joy in waking up your parents before dawn to rip open your presents. I see the value for parents as well. What better way to control your children than to tell them Santa and his magic sack will skip your house if they don’t clean their rooms? It’s bribery, and it works — at least until they find out the truth about Santa, and see for the first time that parents are liars.
The realization that Santa is a myth can be traumatic. I remember the moment in my own life clearly: My twin sister and I were calmly eating lunch and scribbling on the walls one day shortly before Christmas 1990 when my dad walked into the kitchen.
“Guess what?” he said, “There’s no Santa! And there’s no Jesus either.”
We burst into tears. Jesus I already knew about, but Santa? Now this was a shock. I loved Christmas. I loved leaving cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. I loved staying up so late to hear hooves on the roof that my mom started giving us Tylenol PM on Christmas Eve. But it was all a lie, just one long con to make me behave.
My good feelings for Christmas have only declined since 1990, and now I ignore the whole thing altogether. Instead, I pretend I’m Jewish for the day. I meet my friends for Chinese food and afternoon matinees, and talk about how much more special Christmas would be if it weren’t every goddamn year. “It should be once every four years,” I say. “Like the Olympics.”
My biggest problem with Christmas isn’t the obligation to travel or the slaughter of evergreens or even the whole virgin birth thing, which, frankly, offends my intelligence. My biggest problem with Christmas is the presents.
Shopping for Christmas is time-consuming, expensive, and ultimately pointless. I could give you that book/camera/fondue set on your Amazon Wishlist, and you could give me a that jacket/sweater/ounce of weed I mentioned I’d like. But wouldn’t it be easier if you bought your own book and I bought my own weed and we skipped the whole charade? Or, you could give me a check and I could rip it up in front of you. That’s basically what Christmas is. Besides, we all know that it’s the spontaneous gifts that really touch people — the flowers you picked from your neighbor’s yard, the doughnut half you left for your spouse. It’s not the ones we give because there’s a white elephant party at the office.
Somewhere along the line, most of us absorbed the idea that gift-giving at Christmas is mandatory. But it’s not. The truth is, you don’t have to participate in this consumerist tradition that mostly benefits retailers, manufacturers, and Amazon.com. Sure, Christmas drives sales and expands the labor market, but as someone who has worked seasonal retail jobs, believe me, these minimum wage gigs don’t create much wealth — at least for the folks ringing up your purchase and wrapping your gifts. There’s always another option: You can skip it. It may seem impossible, but you don’t actually have to fly home. You don’t have to get a tree. You don’t have to buy gifts. You can just not do it.
Luckily for me, my family agrees. My brother sent us all a text earlier this month asking us not to get anything for his kids. My mom was less than enthused by the idea, and will probably sneak a truck or two to her grandkids, but the rest of us agreed. “Great!” I replied. “I’ll keep that Xbox for myself.” My nephews don’t need more plastic toys in their lives, and their parents don’t need more to trip over. We all have enough, and when we want more, we can get it ourselves.
If you feel like you must do something for the ones you love, might I suggest unsubscribing them from unwanted newsletters? How about listening to any voicemails that have been stressing them out? That was my suggestion for Christmas this year, but instead, my family is donating the money we would spend on presents to the charities we care about. And on Christmas day, I’ll be sleeping in late. There will be no tree to light and no gifts to unwrap, no Jingle Bells on the radio or Silent Night in my head; just dim sum, a movie, and the satisfaction — perhaps even the joy — of sitting the whole thing out.