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Column: 'I never give anything to anyone for Christmas and I don't expect junk in return'

Every year I have to go through the charade of experiencing the magic of Christmas, writes Barry Purcell.

Barry Purcell Writer and blogger

IT NEVER MADE sense to me. For instance, I noticed that Santa always gave more to rich kids than to poor kids.

There were other signs. Both of my parents were physically disabled, and there was perhaps more clattering and banging around high shelves in wardrobes on Christmas Eve than there should have been.

Every year I had to go through the charade of experiencing the magic of Christmas as well as my underdeveloped acting skills would allow.

Will nobody think of the children?

Clearly, it was my responsibility to say something. However, I saw the look on their faces every Christmas morning as I opened my presents “from Santa” and I didn’t want to take that away from them. At the age of nine, I decided that it was unreasonable to maintain this Christmas fiction.

One day, I sat my parents down and explained the whole thing. As anticipated, the disappointment, tinged with a sense of betrayal, was palpable. My mother launched into what she probably hoped would be understand as “rallying magnificently” and made me promise not to tell the other children.

No child should have to go through that. Will nobody think of the children?

Material gains?

Whenever I mention my reservations about Christmas, someone in the room is sure to mention the mitigating effect it seems to have on children.

I like happy children, but I can’t help thinking that the happiness of these children mostly comprises an anticipation of material gains. This anticipation has been carefully engineered by an army of cynical marketing executives on billion-dollar budgets who have been planting seeds since the October ad breaks in whatever your kids were watching. I’d prefer not to encourage or reward that level of exploitation and psychological manipulation.

Our memories of childhood surely include when Christmas was fun. But then we all grow up and remember that building snowmen was a precursor to extremely painful fingers as they returned to room temperature; visits by family members were marred by unseemly, alcohol-fuelled arguments over who was getting the house when granddad died and sumptuous feasts came with a 50% chance of contracting gastroenteritis.

Grown Ups 2

I don’t have any general problem with adults who should know better, but are nevertheless enthusiastic about Christmas, although I do feel there is a special place in hell reserved for the sort of person who so full of seasonal cheer that they say things like “Christmas Eve Eve”, or who believes that wearing themed socks is an acceptable substitute for having a personality.

The problems arise when these grown ups act hurt or offended when I refuse to share these ridiculous feelings.

For instance, I prefer to avoid the unnecessary and counterproductive viper’s nest of social expectations around the entire process of gift giving and how the impact of the perceived lack of balance will affect my friendships.

I never give anything to anyone for Christmas, and I expect a reciprocal dearth of dispensable junk in return. I’m perfectly happy to be a disinterested observer, watching increasingly desperate friends and family members exchange conflict diamonds and whatever suicidal Chinese children are churning out this year.

Family matters

We are all familiar with the myth of “spending time with your family”, an organisation so hostile that we move out as soon as we can afford to rent. As we tend to rent far away, what should have been a relaxing break from work turns into a panicked series of last-minute travel arrangements, awkward silences on the drive home from the airport and inevitable conversations with the nun in the family about why we haven’t had any children yet.

The most intense degradations are reserved for the Christmas dinner, where everyone can simultaneously hear about your special failures. All the while, everyone ostensibly enjoys a dinner composed of turkey, surely the worst of the meats, coupled with the undisputed worst of the vegetables, the Brussel  Sprout. The combination is so awful that it can only be disguised with generous portions of fruit jam (which we entertainingly refer to as “cranberry sauce”), ham and gravy.

After spending the minimum amount of socially acceptable time accepting the various humiliations of these people, you go back home and wait for your bank account to recover, which usually takes until April. You can spend the intervening time staring at that one spot on the ceiling where a bit of glitter got embedded. It’s there forever now.

And next year, instead of just rejecting the whole thing, you’ll do it all again.

Barry Purcell writes and edits Irish satire blog In Other News and atheist blog Atheist Cartoons. He lives in Clonmel. 

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Barry Purcell  / Writer and blogger

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