I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.
Poor Charlie Brown. He really is the Charlie Browniest. But he’s not the only one having a blue Christmas, just the most famous.
We all know that Christmas can be a stressful time of year, what with all the gift buying, card writing, cookie baking, tree decorating, and party-going. There’s a free-floating anxiety in the air that is very specific to this time of the year—the pressure to be ever-so-very-merry and for your life to resemble as closely as possible the picture-perfect scenes that we are bombarded with in television specials, commercials, movies, storybooks, Christmas cards, and the annual form letters included within them.
Commercials tell us that it’s completely normal to wake up on Christmas morning and find a brand-new Lexus in your driveway with a big honking red bow on top. Really? Do people really get cars for Christmas? Man, my life does suck.
But I think that the bigger culprit is the Christmas carol. The scenes described in them are so vivid and bursting with holiday imagery, they can make us feel that if our lives are any less than “a picture print from Currier and Ives” we are doing something wrong.
We’ve been hearing these same songs every year over and over and over again for our entire lives … and receiving their not-so-subliminal messaging as well:
Frosted windowpanes, candles gleaming inside, painted candy canes on the tree + The prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door = The burnt out icicles that are still hanging on your garage from last year do not count as Christmas décor. Get on it, lardo.
Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more + If you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home = You WILL spend time with family and friends and you WILL cherish every stinking moment.
It's the hap-happiest season of all, with those with those holiday greetings, and gay happy meetings, when friends come to call, it’s the hap-happiest season of all = You are a hopeless sociopath if you are not soiling yourself with glee from sun up to sundown every single day between Halloween and New Year’s Day.
Much of this idealized nostalgia is born of the '50s and '60s when many of these secular Christmas songs were written or recorded. They reflect a bygone era full of tiny tots, maiden aunts, parsons, and 5-and-10's, when times were relatively good and any familial dysfunction was a well-kept secret.
I can still remember the television specials hosted by Christmas perennials like Andy Williams and Bing Crosby. They would trot out their perfect families dressed in festive garb—the boys in Christmas sweaters and turtlenecks, the girls with their dingy curls and muffs—and they would all sing around the roaring fire or the Christmas tree, or from a horse-drawn sleigh or a lovely town square.
Once I grew up, I figured out that those heartwarming scenes were fake sets. The fire was painted in the fireplace, the snow was man-made, and you’d knock yourself unconscious if you tried to walk into the Ye Olde Shoppe.
It’s clearly an exercise in futility to try to replicate something that wasn’t real in the first place. I’ve finally learned how to get joy out of the season without driving myself into a depression trying to live up to these false ideals, and remembering that no one’s life is as perfect as it seems.
Because when the frost bites, when the carols sing, when I’m feeling bad, I simply remember that ...
Bing Crosby’s son wrote a “Daddy Dearest” tell-all about how his father was a lousy drunk who routinely beat him, Karen Carpenter died of anorexia-induced heart failure, Johnny Mathis has spent most of his life as a miserably closeted gay man and been in and out of rehab, and Andy Williams’ cutie-pie French wife left him for a professional skier whom she later shot and killed …
And then I don’t feel soooooooooo bad.