Days Gone By

My oldest daughter is already one of these “holiday purists” who vehemently opposes the holiday creep of ever-earlier yule-tide decorations infringing on her Thanksgiving turkey or, heavens forbid, even her Halloween candy. The fact that homes and stores are already adorned with tinsel and holly offends her a great deal. I asked if she’d prefer that people wait until after Black Friday to decorate, and she was even more extreme: in her view, a week before any holiday is the earliest you should decorate for it.

I’m with her in spirit, but my reasons are different.

I’m a total humbug. The Grinch, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Johnny Roccia. Not just Christmas, mind you. I’m generally not a fan of any particular holiday.

I would very much like to make some sort of principled stand against commercialism or capitalism ruining the pure spirit of any given holiday, but truth be told, the total reverse is true. I adore commercialism and capitalism. As far as the “spirit of the holidays” goes, I’m all for it – I like Christmas music, I like pretty lights, I like peppermint, I like a general sense of both mercy and wonder that we can let into our souls during the cold long nights of winter. That’s all great.

What I don’t like is disruption. I’m a creature of habit. If you’re one of the few strange travelers who reads this blog with any regularity (or just knows me outside of it), you’ll know that I very frequently force myself out of my comfort zone. I constantly solicit new experiences from the world – I go on adventures, I consume new content, I strike up conversations in elevators.

There’s a reason for that. It’s because it’s absolutely not in my nature to do so. I am very capable of living a very grey and featureless life and never really noticing. Because I believe there’s virtue in not doing that, I’ve set up a series of mechanisms by which I fight back against it. But the fact remains that all of those things are weapons I employ against my innate self, and it takes a great deal more mental strain and spiritual effort on my part than you may appreciate for me to do it.

The one thing all of those choices have in common, though, is that they’re… well, choices. I choose to go to new places, eat new foods, listen to new music. I create specific spaces in which those things happen, and I build a framework to support them. When outside things push me, I don’t always do well with it.

As an illustrative example: my wife and I once visited the Vatican. As a tourist, it’s very, very crowded – crowded to the point where you don’t have any choice but to move with the glacial tide of that crowd. You couldn’t stand still or move faster if you wanted to. My wife commented as we got out the other side that it was the worst she’d ever seen me – I looked ready to fight, fists clenched, jaw set, eyes narrowed, practically snarling. It wasn’t that at any point I was doing something I wouldn’t have wanted to do, but I didn’t feel in control.

It has perhaps, on occasion, been gently suggested to me that I may have something of an issue with control. I think the word “freak” may have been used in a less than complimentary manner. I do not dispute the accuracy of this claim, but it’s oddly specific in my case – I have no problem yielding control over pretty much anything… as long as yielding control was a conscious choice on my part. I can be the most “go with the flow” guy you’ll meet, but it’s because I decided to be. I’ll go anywhere, but I don’t like being pushed.

Holiday celebrations of any kind represent a forced disruption to my routine; a structural weak point in my framework. Obligations and events and costs and interactions that I don’t choose to have, even if I otherwise would. Some, even many of these things are downright pleasant when I’m able to let myself believe that I would have chosen them, but it doesn’t change the fact that not choosing them makes my skin crawl.

This definitely means that left to my own devices I’d celebrate no holidays of any kind. I don’t begrudge anyone else their celebrations – Grinch and Scrooge may have been a bit of an exaggeration, as I’ll enjoy any sparkling house I happen to pass – but it’s just not in my nature to decorate.

Of course, I’ll die nowhere near this hill. I recognize that this puts me so far outside the norm for my culture that there’s virtually no chance of me even explaining it without sounding like a huge jerk, so instead I try to make the conscious choice at the beginning of every holiday season to “go with the flow” for a few months and be okay with all of the disruption. Maybe even that’s good for me. No one can be in control all the time, and maybe the biggest holiday lesson I can learn is that it’s good for me to lose my grip a little each year.

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