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Why Christmas stinks

December 29th, 2004 · 7 Comments

I find myself wishing that weblogging had a tangible component. By that, I mean that sometimes words aren’t sufficient for what I want to say. I wish I could reach through this blogpost and give a hug. But the best I can do is try to say it.

At BloggerCon II in Boston, John Perry Barlow described disembodied presence. This was his term for the relationships he was building through his blog, and, I believe, also for his frustration that these people were only represented by words on a page. If he was concerned about them, he couldn’t do anything to help them. They were only a disembodied presence.

In the past week, I’ve wished for bodied presence in this blog. I’ve wished I could send out hugs along with the links. For the past few days, I’ve thought of Alison and wished I could give her a hug. Dave Winer published an email from Alison on Christmas Eve.

Christmas stinks. I am not one that suffers that holiday depression thing, but the pressure got to me last night and I broke down, cried for about 5 minutes.

I cried a few times this Christmas too. Christmas does stink. I feel that there are often so many expectations heaped atop this holiday that it is doomed to fail. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.

On Christmas Eve, the Seattle Times published Job’s getting jolly difficult, professional Santas find describing how draining work is for Santas, both emotionally and physically.

For starters, questions from children are tougher than ever. True, for as long as children have climbed onto Santa’s lap, they have been tenacious interrogators. But now, with thousands of children pining for a father or mother serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, the questions are as heart-rending as they are unanswerable. “Can you please bring Daddy home from the war in time for Christmas morning?”

The next day the paper printed a piece titled How to help kids handle disappointment.

For many, the day can only disappoint. The image of Christmas perpetuated through culture is one of perfection. Everything gets in order for this one day of the year. Christmas means unwrapping happiness. People come together and make memories that are as pretty and treasured as the ornaments on the tree.

But reality for many families is that Christmas is as fragile and sharp as glass. Hopes are smashed, annually, as yet again relatives feel pain given to them as gifts. Presents fail to fulfill. Loved ones who should be at home aren’t there this year. December 25th feels depressing and deficient.

Christmas has always been a hard holiday for me. I’ve written about my wrestling with questions during this season. This year December was difficult with two funerals in our family. But it has always been stressful month for me, a time of sorting through mixed motivations as well as childhood memories.

I’m someone who often seeks to live by expectations set by others. But my life has never looked like a Hallmark card, even at Christmas. My parents are divorced and my brother is dead. There are other rifts among my relatives. We can’t pretend that our family is whole and happy. It’s not content for a carol. There’s grief among the gifts.

My home with Ted is peaceful. We enjoy each other and our daughters. Yet I still cry at Christmas, aching for something I can’t have.

This year I found some comfort in others blogs including Dave’s, Beth Grigg’s and Richard Silverstein’s. I know I’m not alone in my dislike of Christmas.

Christmas stinks. In the process of composing this post, I knelt to change my daughter’s diaper. Yeah sure, I joked to myself. Christmas stinks. ‘Cause there are diapers. Baby Jesus had diapers. Stinky ones too, I’m sure.

Christmas stinks because we are human beings. We stink. We make messes. Trying to pretend that one day of the year will heal all our flaws and fix our faults only adds to the aggravation. We are imperfect people on an imperfect planet. We have divorce and death, earthquakes and tsunamis. We have poverty of possessions and of the soul. These are truths that will be with us as long as we live on this earth.

Christmas stinks. People stink. I know I do. The manger did too. I’m sure that the stable where Jesus was born didn’t smell sweet.

Yet I’m also sure that in the midst of volatile evil, eternal good can come. I see glimpses of this Good at moments in myself and in others. And I believe that what I long for in this life, this sense of happiness, home and hope, will be there in the next. Someday the ache that causes me to cry will be gone. And then there will be Christmas. And that’s why there was Christmas.

Tags: christmas

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kai Jones // Dec 29, 2004 at 10:49 am

    I think you’ve probably read The Velveteen Rabbit. A friend of mine says that the people you only know on the Internet are your imaginary friends; when you meet them face to face they become real.

    I have many imaginary friends. I’ve managed to turn a dozen or so of them real.

  • 2 Alison // Dec 29, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    I think the stinkiness is all about the buildup and expectations. Realizing that, and reading posts like yours, and Daves, makes Christmas not stink. Here’s my cyber hug back to you Julie 🙂

  • 3 Richard Silverstein // Dec 29, 2004 at 2:45 pm

    Julie: Thanks for the link to me in this post. Yes, Christmas is a hard holiday for non-Chrisitians, especially Jews. But then again, we’re used to being outsiders. This is but one example of it.

    BTW, I’m so jealous that you atteneded BloggerCon. I first discovered it two years ago. I’d so like to attend! Why the hell don’t they do one out here on the west coast? If you’re in contact with any of the organizers like Winer maybe you could suggest it to him. I’ve written him an e mail or wrote a comment at his blog with this suggestion which he didn’t respond to.

  • 4 Katherine // Dec 29, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    Wonderful post, Julie.

  • 5 Betsy Devine // Dec 30, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    I think Christmas is especially hard because so many people–including sometimes our family and sometimes us–expect ideal happiness in everybody’s stocking. If only!

    Still, when you consider that we Moms are doing battle, 365 days a year, against the Second Law of Thermodynamics–even our small successes are worth being proud of.

  • 6 Julie // Jan 1, 2005 at 12:14 am

    Thanks, everyone!

    Other posts linking to this one:



  • 7 Tesfaye // Jan 3, 2005 at 11:37 am


    I agree with you that the holiday season as interpreted and executed by the market is a stinky business.

    But as for baby Jesus, He came as a baby so that you and I, if we want to, have life and have it abundantly for ever. Give it a serious thought and ask the creator of heaven and earth, Jesus himslef, for guidance.

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