This year, I caved for a family Christmas. My boyfriend has a generous, welcoming family who lives in suburban SoCal and who really embodies the Yuletide spirit. They’ve invited me to join them in the past, and I’ve turned them down in favor of my usual solo Christmas. This year, though, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
It’s about presents.
I knew this, of course. I was a child in an American middle-class family, and spent a lot of time circling things in the Sears catalog. I watch TV, I see the wish-list fervor, I see the reports of injuries and mania that ensue in the rush of the holiday sales. I love to get gifts, myself, and while I could really take or leave Shopping, I like giving gifts, too. But, goddamn, the presents.
We spent a lot of time opening gifts. I mean, a lot of time, to the point where we were long past the point of feeling loved, where we weren’t getting things we needed anymore, but rather bracelet after bracelet, cologne after bottle of cologne, reindeer after nutcracker after angel. Because Santa and the gang were going gangbusters, Christmasland was out in full force (a kitsch that seems so cliché it’s not even kitsch): Caroling snowman families. Miniature ragtag pageants. Santa-capped puppies. Angler elves with baubles on the ends of their poles.
On the drive back to northern California, we made a stop at a thrift store, where all the holiday trinkets had been crowded onto a half-off table. In among the polar bears and wise men and sugarplum snowglobes, sat a holi-deity like none I’d ever seen. It was a Santa, not a Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas, but that twinkly-eyed, cotton-bearded type who was first drummed up by Clement Clark Moore. He had the black boots, the fur-trimmed jacket drawn close to his potbelly by a shiny belt. He looked jolly. But here’s the kicker: rather than red, he was dressed head to toe in blue. Blue Santa. I felt like I’d discovered some undocumented species of bug.
The variety of consumer goods is just that great.
Has the actualization of human desires become so perfected, that the diversity of trinkets has surpassed that of nature? Meanwhile, the number of plant and animal species that disappear increases each year. We sit around a tree, a dead evergreen—always—an evergreen that slowly sheds its needles. Perhaps someone hands us a gift-bagged ornament: a giraffe, the evolutionary marvel of its neck bedecked with twinkling lights. The giraffe, in all its evolutionary wonder, has somehow become entangled as it reaches for that star at the top of the tree.
And like that giraffe, with our everlasting plastic and our distant nations full of barely existing slaves, we too, reach for the star, or stars rather, until Christmas becomes about seeing how many shiny things we can hold in our hands. And once we have too many to keep track of, we panic.
We are panicking, right? We just don’t want to say so for fear of ruining Christmas?
And that’s why I like to spend the day alone. At least when I’m alone, I can create a psychic cap. There are only so many bottles of wine I can drink without dying, only so many pizzas I can fit in the freezer. There are only so many classic cartoon characters they can convert into CGI blockbusters, right? Only so many sequels they can squeeze out of each before one loses money.
And Santa—that most generous of spirits—Santa can only give so much before he drains himself blue.