I'm Not the Reason for the Season

What the @#%! is a zhu-zhu pet?!

ZhuZhu Pet Hamster Toy Mr. Squiggles

Christmas has a remarkable effect on the psyche: people who are otherwise very shallow and unreflective are inspired to talk about meaning in their lives. Even non-Christians get caught up in the act--which is why we go around wishing each other a somewhat awkward and stilted "Happy Holidays." Just because some of us are going to burn in Hell for all eternity for our heathenish ways doesn't mean it isn't still the most wonderful time of the year. 

Perhaps the only inexcusable "holiday crime" is is to write about the meaning of Christmas after the holidays have come and gone. Fortunately, the Twelve Days of Christmas don't end until January 6th (the 7th in the Eastern Orthodox Church) so I'm good.

Perhaps it was just a seizure caused by all the flashing lights, but this year I had a minor epiphany about the meaning of Christmas. I realized that Christmas is not about me. No doubt you are as surprised as I am. 

So if not me, what is Christmas about? 

Christmas is of course supposed to be about the birth of Jesus. But that's not what I'm talking about. I have in mind those aspects of Christmas that stay with us all year, long after the season has passed. Jesus, as you know, only survives until Easter. 

That is, however, longer than the useful life of a poinsettia. And it's definitely longer that that other proverbial meaning of Christmas: the joy on the little ones' faces as they plow over the cat on their way to the loot. Those smiles are long gone by 9:30 (10:30 in the Eastern Orthodox Church), supplanted by the emotional and physical fallout from too little sleep, too much sugar, and the soul-shattering realization that Christmas stockings are not bottomless.

Nor am I talking about family, even though family endures and has arguably the biggest impact on our lives. Your family will indeed be around long after Christmas has passed. But therein lies problem. Even in functional families, the genuine pleasure we take in reuniting with loved ones and sitting down to big celebratory dinners does not extend past the 26th, though their flights don't leave until the 28th. 

By "three French hens," Grandpa has used up all of his funny stories and dirty jokes and is now just a cranky old man still trying to figure out the coffee machine at 5am. "What am I doing? I'm just trying to get a blasted cup of coffee, that's what I'm doing! What's this stupid machine with this...this button thing?!...Of course I know what time it is, I have to get up to take my pills!... And you know were out of bourbon, right?" 

But apart from all of these transient Christmas goods stands something more lasting, something that remains a presence in our lives long after the poinsettia wilts, Grampa heads back to Boca, school starts, and Pilate washes his hands: Christmas toys. You'll be tripping over those damn things until at least Thanksgiving.  

What this means, therefore, is that Christmas is really about buying toys. If it would make you feel better, you can call this "playing Santa," or even "generosity." But it still comes down to the same thing: you standing in the toy aisle asking, "I know it's on the list, but can I really live with the noise thing is going to make for a whole year?" 

In general, I don't believe in getting kids a lot of toys for Christmas. The mess, noise, yes, these are both factors. But more to the point, I think most children's toys are just stupid. Don't misunderstand me, I like toys, and am in fact an avid collector. But those are cool, useful toys like skis, electric guitars and hammers. 

But a zhu-zhu pet? What the @#%! is a zhu-zhu pet?! A cyborg rodent? I don't even know if zhu-zhu is a proper name that needs to be capitalized. I don't care that it's #1, 2, and 3 on the Santa list, I'm not buying a zhu-zhu pet. A robot that mimics all nervous twitches and annoying noises of one of the silliest creatures on Earth? What could possibly be fun about that? 

(Unless, of course, Santa is the kind of out-of-the-box thinker that would also leave a clipboard and an assortment of ladies cosmetics so kids can conduct their own lethal-dose-in-rodents tests.) 

Every Christmas I take the Santa list, go to the store, look for at least one thing on it I can buy with a clear conscience (made by elves, not in China), and then toss the list. "You know that Santa doesn't always bring you everything you ask for, right?"

Then the fun part of Christmas shopping begins. Oh, that's awesome, I always wanted that as a kid....Cool, I didn't think they made that any more!...Who wouldn't want an 8-in-1 screwdriver?...And now they have fully articulated limbs and working pistol grip! They are going to love this...

Sometimes I really hit it out of the park. Scale speeds of over 275(!) mph are as cool now as they were in '79. Sometimes, however, it's painfully clear I was shopping for me, not my children. You know the look: unfeigned disappointment when they open the Christmas-toy equivalent of rainbow pajamas with feet. Normally I could shrug this off as a good lesson for them that Christmas is not just about getting presents. (They'll see through the pretense soon enough, at least I will look like I tried.)  

But this year I actually felt a twinge of guilt for forgetting that Christmas morning is not about me. So I have resolved (there, the obligatory Christmas and New Year's posts in one fell swoop) to find the most imbecilic, trendiest, noisiest piece of plastic  garbage on next year's list and get two of them, in case one breaks. 

It goes without saying, however, that I will retain my Right of Disappearance, and after January 19th--the Feast of Epiphany in those Eastern Orthodox churches that still follow the Julian calendar--all bets are off.

Copyright 2013 Paul J. Rasmussen