Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's the most miseraful time of the year!

"It was Christmas Eve, babe. In the drunk tank..."

I remember the first time I heard Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl (Brietta writes about the song here).

My girlfriend and I had just broken up - the day before Christmas - and I played the video (VHS!) over and over and over until the tape wore out, and I couldn't figure out whether the boys of the NYPD choir were singing "Galway Bay" or "Go away."

It may have been the soaring strings, it may have been, "Merry Christmas, your arse, I pray God it's our last!," but something in the song resonated with me, and I've loved it ever since, in a miserable, feeling-sorry-for-myself kinda way.

Why, it's enough to make me actually want to spend Christmas Eve in the drunk tank. This year, for sure!

It's a bittersweet Christmastime tune to be sure - funny and a little depressing, even more so when you consider how great Kirsty MacColl looks in the video, and how tragic it is that she died so young.

There's no doubt about it, there are two sides to the holidays, just like a bearded Elvis Costello once sang about summer. Right insight, wrong season.

Blue Christmas

The reality is that you can't be an adult human and not have experienced some degree of sadness at holiday time, whatever holiday it is you celebrate at whatever time of year. It's life.

For me, the whole ambivalence probably started as a kid when my parents got divorced. I still remember the first, pathetic words out of my mouth when I found out what was going on: "Are we still going to have Christmas?" Ugh: like that might change things.

Of course, my story is nothing compared to the gold standard lousy Christmas: John Bender's story in John Hughes' the Breakfast Club: his dad gets him a pack of smokes and says, "Smoke up, Johnny!"
The have-nots

The holiday season, for me, has always felt more about those who don't have than those who do. It regularly gives me pause to consider that more people would rather pay $20 to see Jamie Fox play a homeless man in a movie than give $20 to an actual homeless man who could really use it.

One year, I delivered a hamper to a small house in the north end, and it practically broke my heart to see the two, little kids come running to the door in their diapers - big smiles - "The hamper is here, the hamper is here!"

Looking around, I saw that this family had practically nothing inside the house, and that this delivery was going to be the highlight of their holiday. As I walked out of the house, I glanced into the window, saw the little kids opening the toys we'd wrapped and put inside the bundle, and it all suddenly didn't feel like it was even close to enough.

Whenever I hear people at this time of year inevitably complain that the Christmas Cheer Board gets abused by people who don't need hampers, I wonder what I'm supposed to do with that info: not help out? The vast majority of people who get a hamper - trust me - needs it.

It's also no secret that the holiday season can be more hard and intense for people who are already suffering from depression, loneliness, loss, sickness, and economic hardship.

If you were one of the millions of people in North America who are unemployed, not in school, and without any income (or health insurance!) whatsoever, how would you feel about the fast-approaching holiday? I'm guessing that "merry" and "happy" wouldn't be the first two words that come to mind.

I read Jennifer Hanson's blog yesterday, in which she confesses her own ambivalence about the season. She says:
"But the holidays are tough when you're depressed. Imagine having to pretend even harder that things are "okay", not just okay but "awesome" for a whole month? It was always tough for me to do. I wondered why the Christmas "magic" didn't hit me the same way it hit me when I was a kid."
Good question!

I remember ripping into my G.I. Joe Training Centre - cave and rubber snake included - and not having a care in the world, other than scratching my chicken pox every once in awhile, which was absolutely no hindrance at all when it came time to attack G.I. Joe with a rubber snake.

Could it be possible to harness that positivity and pure happiness, minus the pox, for all time?

The Festivus for the rest of us

I asked a sensible friend today that very question, and she came back at me with some great advice: "Stop thinking about it. Get over it." Truly the two-step process to success! I will give it my best shot.

Whenever you feel ambivalent about something, it somehow always feels better to know that there are more people like you. If misery loves company, maybe the Festivus for the rest of us should be a big pity party at MTS Centre.

I'll bring the dip, the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl can bring the tunes, and Miss Otis can send her regrets.

Update: Martin Short reminds us to not kill ourselves on the holidays. It's a terrible cliche!


  1. Good post! The kids' reactions to the hamper sounds super touching. I've heard stories of just how touching it is when you go and deliver a hamper, and I've always wanted to be a part of that. I've donated to hampers for several years now, but never gone to deliver one. But at the same time it must be terribly sad for the reason you just won't feel like it's enough. And I figure if that's not enough to make you want to help out more, then nothing will.

  2. I'm also challenged to find someone who's never been sick at christmastime - or on their birthday, for that matter.

    However, it IS cliched to be cynical at Christmas...

  3. Last year, we had the exact opposite experience when we delivered our Hamper. We arrived at a very well-furnished apartment (albeit in a rough area of town) where an indifferent teenager looked up from his Gameboy and told us to "Put it over there." No thank you, no gratitude, just taking the whole thing for granted.

    I do think there are a lot of people out there who aren't necessarily taking advantage of the Christmas Cheer Board, but who have gotten the hamper every year for 10 years, and continue to get it because they always have, even though they may not need it anymore.

    There are other way to give, though. Siloam Mission, Agape Table, your local church. This year what we've done is contacted an organization called Villa Rosa, that helps teenage mothers. They helped my wife out when she had her first son, and now they have given us the name of a girl who could really use a Christmas hamper this year.

    I have never been depressed at Christmas for any reason. For me it's always a time for good thoughts and good deeds.


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