Behind the joy of Christmas

The other day I was asked to explain Christmas to someone who didn’t celebrate it. A question more complex than one would think.
Christmas is so complicated. I reckon most people would say that it’s ultimately about family. What was once a Christian holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus, is nowadays merely a celebration of capitalism, recognized by food, lights, gifts, mulled wine, decorated trees, and god-awful sweaters. Eating until you nearly burst, tacky movies with biblical undertones and snow-covered landscapes outside the windows (unless you’re from the south of Sweden, where we haven’t seen a white Christmas since long before Greta was born…). When one puts it that way, it does sound like a truly jolly and cozy time of the year. And for those who don’t celebrate it, I suppose it’s easy to see nothing but the festive side of things. But the twinkling lights sometimes cast long shadows. For a lot of people, Christmas is a painful reminder of what they don’t have.

When I was young, the Christmas holidays were one of my favorite times of the year. It still is, but back then it was an escape from everything I didn’t know how to handle. The eccentric kid that was me found it difficult to fit in at school. I struggled to find a way to be that others would accept, and the holidays were a break from all of that. At home, I always felt safe, since it was the only place back then where I didn’t have to pretend. I’m very grateful for that today. Especially since I now know that for a lot of other people, it was the other way around. For some people, being in school was when they felt the safest. For them, Christmas meant something entirely different than sitting around a decorated tree, singing carols, and sharing gifts. We seldom know what goes on behind closed doors, and that’s why Christmas is a difficult time for so many people.

A lot of people would say Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. For some, that stress is about time. Finding the time to decorate, cook, organize and buy presents while balancing all other chores of everyday life is not as easily accomplished as it sounds. Many people, and safe to say mostly women, take it upon themselves to bear the burden of creating a successful Christmas for the rest of the family. A dated division of duties one might think, but nonetheless, still a reality in many households. I wonder how many families would be left with anything even noteworthy of a celebration if the lady of the house decided to take a leave of absence a day or two before Christmas? It’s not rare to hear stories of people who barely sat down during entire family gatherings. For them, Christmas is a marathon. It’s almost funny how a stress-free and enjoyable Christmas holiday for one person almost always comes at the expense of another person having the exact opposite experience.

Christmas is often financially straining. Regardless of your income, it is an expensive time of the year. Those who feel obligated to not only buy but also pick out personalized tokens of appreciation for their friends and family have all felt this. Some people seem to think that Christmas is all about the exchange of gifts, and yes, particularly amongst kids this is true. Maybe that’s why a lot of adults decide to only spoil the kids and not themselves? Christmas can be expensive, and for that reason, many people feel like they cannot afford to make anything out of it. Because behind the stress and pressure, lay the expectations and fear of disappointments. When Christmas is reduced to only being about buying presents for one another, this is inevitable. Even now as I’m writing this, I find myself thinking what an askew culture this is. Yet I’m a part of it. As you grow up, Christmas ceases to be a time to get the things you cannot afford, which is a relief. Then again, even if it’s only about finding something personal for someone you love, this is also a stress factor. If a gift is bought for the sole purpose of conveying a message of how well you know someone, what’s then at stake?

That Christmas is also a holiday for drinking goes without saying. As so many people don’t know how to cope with it all, they resort to alcohol instead. A massive culprit to why not everyone has fond childhood memories of Christmas. For a lot of people, Christmas wasn’t a time when they could fully enjoy being kids; it was a time when they had to grow up. And left behind all of them; the kids happy to get a break from school, the kids dreading one, the kids disappointed over the gifts they didn’t receive, the parents guilt-struck because they couldn’t afford said gifts, the anxious mothers who said they’d “take care of it all, the people drinking too much, the people not drinking to care of the former, and the ones who fall victim to when others crack, are the lonely people who might not have any family at all.

For some people, Christmas isn’t stressful because they have a family to provide for, but simply because they don’t. It the shadow of perfectly filtered realities on social media, many people are reminded that maybe they don’t have a partner, maybe not any of their parents, maybe not all of their siblings, maybe not all of their friends, maybe not all of their kids, or maybe they never had any kids. Even if they have a family, perhaps they don’t like them. So many people don’t. For some people, Christmas is the most heart-breaking time of the year. And one should contemplate that now and then. Even if it is the season of love, love is rarely as simple as we wish it was.

Merry Christmas everyone 🤍