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When Did I Start Hating Christmas?

Photograph by Getty Images

As a child, Christmas was my favorite holiday. Looking back, that’s interesting to me because we were dirt-ass poor, and I never got presents that I really wanted. Ever. One year I wanted a candy-apple red Schwinn cruiser, and I started campaigning for it months in advance. I told my parents, every aunt and uncle and some friends. When Christmas arrived there was no red cruiser, and I was bummed out. But cruiser or no, there was lots of music and food, and a big family party where the kids got to stay up really late.

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Christmas was always about the family festivities and never about gifts. Every year my grandma, who didn’t drive, would start frantically calling each of her six children for a ride to the grocery store. I listened excitedly to her end of the calls, and eventually found myself in the backseat of someone’s car as she recited her list on the way to the market. This was the event that started the holidays in my home each year. We’d return home, unpack the food, and the cooking would begin.

For the next two days my grandma would be up late cooking and baking. The house would fill with aromas that made my mouth water. On Christmas Eve, one my grandma’s children would bring all the food (and us too!) to her sister’s house where my entire family would gather and celebrate Christmas.

Now that I’m a mother, everything has changed. I feel less and less a part of something that is about family and community. And although we still attend a family dinner, it is nothing like what my grandma and her sister created. Now the focus is on the “things” and our togetherness is at best an afterthought.

It makes me wonder if Christmas has become more about things because many adults are reliving their childhoods through their children.

My 7-year-old son starts asking about Christmas at the end of summer, and he’s ready to make his list as soon as the first days of school arrive. My son, unlike me when I was a child, always gets what he wants. Lately he’s been into Nerf guns. He's obsessed with all things guns, and I can’t seem to understand how this happened. Everyone who asks him what he wants for Christmas gets the same response, “Nerf guns.”

And while the commercialization of the holidays is more rampant than ever, I can only hold myself responsible for my son’s mind-set. Last month, I suggested to his father that next year we should focus more on the family event and less on giving gifts. He rejected my idea completely saying, “I never got what I wanted for Christmas, and sometime I didn’t get anything at all. I will not have our son experience that.”

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This makes me wonder if Christmas has become more about things because many adults are reliving their childhoods through their children. Ironically enough, my father once gave me a soldier uniform and a toy machine gun for Christmas. We went outside and played “war” early on Christmas morning. Looking back, I recall how happy we both were. I was happy because I was playing with my father, and he was happy because he was playing with guns. Geez.

Well I’ve been losing the Christmas battle, and this year my son will have at least two or three Nerf guns beneath the tree. It’s highly likely that I will play “war” with him at some point during the day. But this time around, only one of us will be happy.

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