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Lifestyles: Happy Holidays?

God, I Hate Christmas
Or An Atheist Tries to Survive the Holidays
by Colin James Haslett

My earliest memory of Christmas (more a memory of a memory really, aided by the snap shots my mother bewilderingly took of the occasion) is of receiving a flying Snoopy’s doghouse. I loved it but my father, despite his best efforts, couldn’t get it to work properly. Or maybe he just couldn’t get it to work quickly enough for an impatient four year old hyped up on candy canes and jingle bells, it was three decades ago so you’ll have to forgive me if the memories are a wee bit fuzzy after all.

Regardless, my joy quickly turned into a complete bawl fest, with photos to record it for posterity. I don’t know who I was more upset with, my dad for not being able to make it work or Santa Claus for sending me a broken toy. Obviously, at that tender age, I believed in Santa. I think that young children, rather than believing in anything, believe in everything. They don’t have their B.S. detectors yet, so they take everything they’re told and everything they see and probably everything they can imagine at face value. Mommy saying Santa comes down the chimney means that Santa comes down the chimney, and it doesn’t matter if the chimney’s a four inch metal tube or if the fireplace is even real. Daddy can’t make the toy work on the first try or in the first two minutes means that Daddy can’t make the toy work period, and your hero is vanquished by some cheap plastic and the words "Some Assembly Required, Batteries Not Included." And somebody reading you a story about God and Jesus and Heaven and Hell means that you believe it all, and welcome to fear and guilt and paranoia under the umbrella of religion.

I remember a few years later, when we were living in the central interior of British Columbia, coming to Vancouver one Christmas and staying with my grandparents and coming down with chicken pox on Christmas day. We still put out cookies and milk for Santa that year and my parents left him a note at home to let him know where we were, but I remember worrying that my grandparents had a fake fireplace. I was a bright kid and I had an inkling that there were an awful lot of chimneys spread out over an awful lot of area for one man to go up and down in just one night, but I was still just a kid and I still wanted to believe. After all, if the whole universe can be created in just seven days how hard can Santa’s job really be? But if you think about that the other way around…. My parents were both raised Christian, they both went to church and to Sunday school as kids but, for whatever reason, as adults they stopped observing the organized aspects of Christianity. My mother would explain that we believed in small-gee "god", not big-gee "God", but it was obvious she didn’t mean small-vee "vishnu," or small-bee "buddha," or even small-zed "zeus", she meant "Jesus’ dad." I think that as a child I might have been to two church weddings, no funerals and never to Sunday services. We didn’t say grace or bedtime prayers, but small-gee god was still watching over us and we had to be good to get into small-aich heaven, and I remember clasping my hands under my chin and closing my eyes and asking someone for help a time or two but I don’t think I had any idea just who I was asking for help.

I remember one Christmas afternoon when I was about fourteen or fifteen; we’d done the gift thing that morning, my dad had gone and brought over my grandma, my mom was cooking dinner and I just started crying. My dad took me aside and told me that it was probably just because I was feeling the pressure of the season lift off of me, that it wasn’t an unusual reaction to a sudden reduction of stress. Thankfully he didn’t also point out the fact that I was fourteen or fifteen because what adolescent doesn’t immediately rebel at being told that adolescence is hell for everybody. Coincidentally, this was around the time that a few of the kids at school had taken to calling me Antichrist because I’d let it slip out, or maybe I’d pompously announced, that I didn’t believe in "God". Or "god" for that matter. I didn’t know what I believed, in fact I’m pretty sure I told people I didn’t believe in anything, but God was bunk, a crutch for the weak minded, etc., etc. I was a bit of an ass when I was in my teens, but in my defence I was an honour roll student with negative athletic ability and a strong desire for the approval of authority figures. A geek, in other words, and being a smug, pompous ass on occasion was my best defence against my more thuggish peers. I’ll also point out that the kids calling me Antichrist were that same kids who snuck out to the smoke pit at lunch. They were the kids who spent their weekends in the park trying to be the first to finish off a flat of beers and they were the kids who took great pleasure in torturing every one of the geeks, nerds and associated junior high school outcasts. Most damning of all, in my opinion at the time at least, most of them couldn’t think their way out of the intellectual equivalent of a wet paper bag. If these were the kind of people who were sure they were going to heaven, can anybody blame a teenaged me for not wanting to join them.

I remember a total of seven, slightly non-consecutive Christmas seasons spent working at Radio Shack, Tandy for those of you not in North America. This is where most people nod understandingly if I’ve told them that I don’t like Christmas. I remember being surrounded by every beeping, buzzing, clicking electronic contrivance and toy that nobody ever needed. I remember ten hour workdays and sixty hour workweeks with one forty minute CD of carols on constant repeat that still couldn’t drown out the beeping, buzzing and clicking. I remember getting sworn at because we were sold out of the most popular toy on the 23rd and I wouldn’t call every other store in Vancouver to find one just because the store was full of people trying to pay for the items they had in their hands. I remember unwatched four, five and even ten year old children climbing displays made of unanchored, empty cardboard boxes to reach the toy at the top, and I remember being angrily told to "Unhand my child" by a suddenly present parent while I was carefully lifting those children off those displays so that they wouldn’t break open their precious heads. I remember Boxing Day, when people would want their money back on toys their children had destroyed, on items with no box or instruction manual or receipt, on items that we’d never carried in the first place. And I remember being told that I had ruined some child’s Christmas because an employee at a store across town hadn’t mentioned the words "Some Assembly Required, Batteries Not Included," to the wonderful uncle or grandma who’d bought the toy. I’ll digress here to point out that the sales commission earned on the batteries for a toy often equalled or exceeded the sales commission on the toy itself and none of us EVER forgot to mention the fucking batteries. But what I don’t remember is a whole lot of Christian charity or kindness or love for one’s fellow man. I don’t remember anybody spending a fraction of their toy budget on the gift bank hamper for those less fortunate in the middle of the mall. I don’t remember anybody handing over the last one of anything to somebody who asked for it a minute too late. And I don’t remember anybody saying "Merry Christmas," without making it sound like they were wishing it was all over already.

Illustration Shawn Scott
I remember Christmas days spent at my mother’s, being guilt-tripped for going to see my father on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, where I was guilt-tripped for not being there on Christmas day. I remember Christmas at my brother-in-law’s parent’s place, listening to my sister trash my dad’s new wife’s family after having spent the previous night listening to her trash her in-laws to those folks. I remember telling people that I didn’t want anything for Christmas because I don’t observe the holiday, only to find that "Santa Claus" had visited my desk at work AND my friend’s girlfriend’s house and left me something at both places, usually something chocolate, which I eat but really don’t need.

I franticly punch the buttons on my car radio trying to dodge saccharine songs about giving and love by musicians who’d have more money than the Pope if they weren’t paying alimony to a bunch of ex-wives. I pass by Salvation Army kettles set up outside liquor stores by an organization that loudly preaches the evils of drink eleven months out of the year. I desperately fear getting within blocks of a shopping mall for the entirety of November and December because, being a 6 ft. 3 in., 250+ lb., shaven headed, sensitive artist type I’d rather not have to bull my way through the shoulder to shoulder masses of much smaller, but apparently less averse to physical violence, soccer moms out to get the last one of whatever this year’s must-have toy is.

Let me be perfectly honest. I’ve had good Christmases. I’ve also had crappy Halloweens, birthdays and Tuesdays. That’s life, and it’s not like I think there’s some cosmic conspiracy to make my late Decembers miserable. That would kind of run counter to the atheism thing, although I’m a little less fanatic about that now. I know, or have a better handle on at least, the things that I believe. I also recognise that yes, I do have a belief system, it’s just one devoid of any notions of divine influence or existence. I can respect that other people believe differently from me even if I have difficulty pretending to respect the specifics of those beliefs. I’ve met some few truly good Christians, people who actually seem to be trying to live their lives according to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and I’ve met no small number of absolutely nasty atheists, the kind of people I’d just as soon not be associated with on any level. And I now know the difference between knowledge and belief and I accept the possibility that I may be wrong without it swaying my beliefs. Heck, I’ll even admit that it’s possible that not only am I wrong but that some particular branch of Christianity may have it right. I’m at a loss, however, as to how the majority of them at least can’t be doing it all wrong and be headed straight for an eternity of fire according to each of the minorities making up the religion’s different sects.

Still, this is a hard time of year for me. I get a lot of half-joking Scrooge and Grinch comments from people at work when I ask them not to decorate my desk for me. I wrap up presents for my mom and for my dad’s wife because it’s an important holiday to them for whatever reasons, and I desperately and foolishly hope that they will respect my beliefs enough to not get me anything (except for leftovers: those are always welcome). I’m bombarded by the garishness of the season, by lawn displays with Help-the-Poor boxes that use enough electricity to cook plenty of meals for the hungry, by a Santa in every mall asking the kids what toys they want from which of the stores, by sappy feel-good stories on news programs that seem out to depress the hell out of me the rest of the year. The best that I can try for is to just make it through the season and wait it out, New Years is right around… check that, I’m not wild about the artificiality of the whole concept of New Years either. And forget about Valentine’s Day, me being a confirmed bachelor and all. I guess I’ll have to wait for Eas… whoops, that’s another Christian holiday. Okay, it’s not really that long until Victoria Day… except that I’m an anti-monarchist too, so I really can’t get behind that one either. Fine, I’ll just wait for Canada Day. I’m a patriot and it, coincidentally I assure you, is also my birthday. Only six months away! God help me.
© Colin Haslett December 18th 2003

Previously by Colin Haslett
Nice Guys Finish Last
Angry Young Man Syndrome
The Big Lie
Serfs Up
24 Hours
What's Mine is Yours

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