In the immortal words of John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) just before the Sex Pistols walked off stage after performing only one song at a US concert:
Ever feel like you've been cheated?
Ever stood on line to see a movie that got four star reviews and fallen asleep in the theatre from sheer boredom? Ever dined in an expensive restaurant and discovered that the restrooms were filthy and had no soap? Ever gone to a concert you'd been looking forward to and found your mind wandering off in the middle of it, wishing that you'd stayed home watching bad TV shows instead? Ever bought the latest CD by a cool band you'd "discovered" and realized they've sold out?
When anticipation doesn't live up to reality, you have two options. You can either be honest about it, or you can try to convince yourself that you're having a great time anyway. Let's face it: if you're visiting New York from another part of the country or the world and you spend one to two hundred bucks a pop to see some overrated Broadway musical monstrosity, are you really going to admit to yourself that it totally sucked? If you go to New York's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and wind up in the hospital after a giant M and M balloon goes haywire, are you going to complain or cheerfully say you'll be back next year? (Personally, I think the two women who got injured last year should have sued the city, Macy's, and M and M's, but that's just me. Instead, I believe they actually came back this year for more. This year, they kept the balloons low-flying.)
The sad fact is that my boyfriend BG and I are getting old(ish) and jaded. Between the two of us, we've developed PTSD from too many disappointing outings over the years. And as a result, although we live in "glam-packed" New York City, at this point we lead what most people would consider to be very boring lives. But we've often joked about the futility of running around trying to have a good time even if it kills us.
Some of this inertia, of course, is due to the fact that BG and I don't always agree on what constitutes a good time. I love to eat out. BG was a cook for many years, and now prepares nothing more complicated than hot dogs and hates anything more high class than Wendy's. I'd love to see some off-off-Broadway plays; BG would rather get knitting needles inserted in his eyes. I love Law and Order; BG would rather watch the lamest movie rerun than sit through one episode.
The thing is that by the time we'd met each other, our youthful days of exploring the city had been replaced by a "been there, done that" mentality. Taking a gamble on an outing no longer seemed worth the time, trouble, or expense. And sure enough, when we do venture out, more often than not we're disappointed.
In any case, the potential horrors of Black Friday — the frenzied shopping day after Thanksgiving — made me feel a little less pathetic about the fact that not only was I staying in that day, but that my Thanksgiving dinner from the night before had consisted of bad take-out from the semi-unsavory diner down the road. I always thought that after a good Thanksgiving meal, everyone snored in front of the TV; but apparently all over the land folks were not even giving their turkey a chance to digest before going to stand in line for hours to be the first person hurling toward the door of Best Buy or J.C. Penney, stomping on other people's thoraxes on the frenetic rush to get in. The stores, of course, enable this insanity by promising deep discounts on items such as cheapo laptops or video games (quantities limited), and frenzied shoppers then behave like crack addicts at a free sample sale.
As I sat safe and snug in BG's apartment, I couldn't help but marvel over this behavior. What would drive people to such madness? It was quite simple, really. For all intents and purposes, Christmas had begun as soon as Santa waved to the crowd as he brought up the rear at the Thanksgiving day parade. For many people, I suspected that December 25 would be an all-too-brief — if not downright disappointing — denouement to all this maniacal anticipation.
Personally, I hate hearing Christmas carols for a month straight. I hate the endless Christmas commercials. If I never hear the phrase "home for the holidays" again it will be too soon. How many people travel halfway across the country, getting stranded at airports in the snow, to see relatives they don't really like anyway? Let's face it, family life is not always Little House on the Prairie, now is it?
I have to admit that I did enjoy celebrating Christmas with my ex-boyfriend L's family — up to a point. I was an only child and my parents didn't really celebrate much of anything, so it was a thrill to be part of a big family that celebrated the holidays in style, with get-togethers and great food and glittering lights and presents under the tree. The fact that I was half-Jewish made it even more fun, because Jews always feel inadequate around Christmas time. Hanukkah is just not the big blowout that Christmas is — it's a relatively minor holiday which has been built up so that we can try to join in the Christmas fervor.
So year after year we'd wrack our brains trying to figure out what to get everyone. I was one of those people who put a lot of effort in trying to find the "perfect" gift for each of L's relatives.
But then, Christmas morning would arrive and we'd open our gifts. Invariably, I'd receive ugly sweaters that didn't fit, or jewelry I'd never wear. My ex's parents would bitch about the gifts they'd received from L's brothers and sister's family, and probably lit into our choices as soon as we took the train back to the city the next day. L's nephews were so spoiled and jaded from the sheer number of gifts they received that after tearing open each present they threw it aside and held out their hands for the next one.
All that preparation, all that anticipation, all that buildup. The maddening commercials and ubiquitous Christmas carols, the mobbed stores, the shitty gifts. And in a manner of minutes, it was all over. The crushed gift boxes and torn wrap would be shoved into giant trash bags, and we'd be faced with the prospect of lugging home a lot of useless junk on the train.
So okay, I know I'm being a Scrooge here. I know most of you probably love Christmas, especially those of you who have kids. But there's a reason why stress and even suicide around the holidays is so high, and there's something sad and scary about seeing people almost kill each other to be the first one in Wal-Mart or Target to try and nab the "perfect" Christmas bargain. Is this what the Christmas spirit is all about? And how do you really feel, deep down, when it's all over?