PHILIP'S BLOG: The Christmas Cringe
BY PHILIP PATSTON
To say it's been quite a year is an obvious understatement. Hellish. Chaotic. Scary. Overwhelming. Uncertain. Wild. They are probably better adjectives to use.
Interesting. Different. Curious. Paradoxical. Unprecedented. Perspective-changing. These are less dystopic descriptors.
Take a mix both and you'll probable come to a more balanced idea about 2020 — the year of COVID-19. I wonder how it will go down in history. Will it be a year? A decade? Longer?
I haven't deliberately not written about this year, I just haven't had the motivation. And it's all been said really — fake news, science, conspiracies, kindness. What more could I have added.
So now Christmas looms, with lockdowns in many countries, and Aotearoa luckily under Level 1 alert. I'm using all my willpower to predict that we'll return from parties, gatherings, holidays without COVID returning...
Since I can remember, I've never liked Christmas and I've never pretended to (as good friends and family will confirm). I have childhood memories of acute embarrassment as people watched me struggle to unwrap presents. Excitement turning to disappointment as, finally having unwrapped it, it wasn't what I expected. Don't tell me you don't know what that feels like — or maybe I'm just an awful ingrate.
As I grew older, Christmas became irrelevant. I'm not religious, I'm not fond of capitalism and commercialism, neither gift-giving nor -receiving are my "love language" (spending quality time is). Oh and, of course, 25 December is my birthday, just to add to the awkwardness.
Christmas is also "family time" — if not blood family then chosen — and, as a single, introverted, fringe-dweller who chooses to live alone, I don't have a go-to crowd (and those friends I do have are mostly with their families).
I've been called a grinch — I've even called myself one. But it's not quite the right sentiment.
I experience what I'd like to coin "The Christmas Cringe" (TCC). It's not mean-spirited or ungenerous or ungrateful. It's an uneasy, anxious, sometimes lonely feeling of meaninglessness. It's like watching a movie without being able to suspend judgement. It's seeing smiling faces on social media and then hearing that people weren't really enjoying themselves. It's watching adults regress into childhood because ... well ... because it's Christmas.
TCC is also knowing that it's a western privilege that billions on the planet don't have the opportunity to experience. TCC is an awareness that other cultural celebrations are diminished by its dominance. TCC is understanding that many people don't have families and friends to be with and they often blame themselves for their isolation.
This is not written as a pity party, or to invoke guilt or shame. Please enjoy Christmas if you do. However, at the end of a year where so many things we took for granted were taken from us, please pay attention to the fact that there is a diversity of stories of the experience of Christmas.
Next time you want to judge someone a grinch, perhaps have empathy for their cringe.
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