‘Festivus’ for the rest of us

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is about “Festivus,” the holiday Frank Castanza made up to replace Christmas. Instead of a tree you get an undecorated pole. And instead of sharing good times with friends and family there is a part of the holiday where you share with them all the ways they have disappointed you during the year. This is a holiday for the grinch inside us all.

I must admit to feeling more in the mood for Festivus than Christmas this year. Christmas brings up all sorts of internal dilemmas I can’t seem to resolve. If it’s about celebrating Christ’s birth than why am I worried that the back-scratcher I bought Aunt Bertha will go into the “Christmas Presents of Years Past” pile in her basement?

If it’s about peace on earth than why is my neighbor nagging me to put up Christmas lights – increasing the likelihood of conflict in our neighborhood?

If it’s about helping the needy than why did my gift of a pig to a needy family in Africa go over so poorly when my family found out I had made it in their name and no material gifts were forthcoming?

I have tried every way to make Christmas meaningful. I have made my own gifts, made charitable contributions instead of gifts, bought only hand-made Christmas cards to support Nicaraguan farmers, given all the cans of food in my house to the food bank, asked my family not to buy me gifts and all to no avail. No one wants Christmas to be meaningful but me.

They all want to eat more fudge, drink more Bailey’s Irish Cream, attend the Christmas Eve church service, and open presents. No one wants to reflect on the Chinese children working in sweat factories who made most of their presents, and no one wants to read the book I gave them on how the hormonal runoff from feedlots is mutating fish downstream from the feedlot and how eating beef from this feedlot will likely make men grow breasts.

And if it isn’t consumerism I’m battling it is ritual. Ritual, as so many governments have found out, is hard to banish, no matter how illogical it might seem. It makes no sense that we drink until we get sick, buy until we’re in debt, and light up the neighborhood for four weeks. But we do it anyway, because it’s expected, and guilt is one of the biggest motivators in life – just ask my mother.

Pointing these things out is not popular during Christmas, and I am resigned to believe that no matter hard I try I will be thwarted by the consumerist machine. For truly, this is the power of Christmas. Year after year we put ourselves through so much suffering (gift-buying, letter-writing, Christmas party hell) just to see the light in a child’s eye when she gets up to check her stocking on Christmas morning. Just to feel the glow of the Christmas tree late at night after everyone has gone to bed.

So, this Christmas — or rather, this holiday season (for those of you who are celebrating other religious holidays) — join with me in observing, if not enjoying, all the meaningless rituals we have decided to celebrate. We may be outnumbered, we may complain, but make no mistake — Santa Claus is coming to town.

Janelle Holden, a former resident of Montezuma County, writes from Livingston, Montana.

From janelle holden, January 2004.