Thanksgiving: A Better Christmas

This is going to double as a Thanksgiving post and a “Why I hate Christmas” post, so we’re going to get into some deep stuff. Are you ready? Got your plate full and your Bah’s humbugged? Let’s do this.

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First off, I spent yesterday morning in the Emergency Room of a hospital I’ve spent far too much time in over the last three years. I had woken up around 9 in the morning to my roommate’s bedroom door opening and the morning shuffle that signals the start of day. I rolled over to my side, fully intending on getting another couple hours of sleep, and my body went into a full convulsion. It didn’t last long and I was conscious for the duration of it, but I had no control of my physical faculties as my hands clenched and unclenched and my legs twisted up in my blankets. When it passed, I lay there for several seconds later, surprised and shaky, and then I got up, got dressed and asked my roommate to drive me to the hospital.

I spent about two and a half hours in the E.R. and after a bunch of blood tests and a general check-up, it was written off as “probably dehydration-related”, which – assuming it’s not a sudden brain tumor sneaking around inside my skullhat – is relatively unserious. Certainly not as bad as a seizure. However, ever since the septic shock incident (which I wrote about in Life Was Simpler When I Was Dying)  I tend to not mess around when my body starts doing things it doesn’t normally do. Chainsaw-level snoring? Not healthy, but normal. Erections at work? Annoying, but manageable. Convulsions? That’s unusual.

But they sent me away with a relatively clean bill of health and instructions to drink more water and electrolytes (which I can never say without immediately adding, “It’s what plants crave!” Thanks, Mike Judge.”

Anyway, as always happens when I find myself leaving the temple of the ill, the injured and the dying, I find myself being reflective of life, the decisions I’ve made during it, those who are in it, those who have left it, and everything I’m thankful for. It helps, too, that Thanksgiving is in two days, and that it’s my favorite holiday of the year. Yes, for the food. Not a turkey fan, but I’ll be stuffing stuffing into my face hole.

Okay, I’m also a fan of another thing Thanksgiving does that I’m not sure a lot of folks realize: It’s a better Christmas than Christmas. But I’ll come back to that.

I don’t tend to think of myself as a materialistic person. I sleep on an air mattress. The bulk of my clothes have stayed in a pair of suitcases for the better part of five years. I own a ton of DVDs that I never watch and comic books I keep shelved or in storage, and I’ll buy the occasional knick-knack that catches my eye, though more often than not I’ll pass it up. I spend most of my money on food, drink, activities and travel. Don’t get me wrong: I can spend compulsively. I like doing things and tasting things, watching movies or going to see a comedy show. I live very much in the moment.

This is both good and bad, because I’m also a dreamer who wants to build a career off of writing, and I haven’t been doing any, uh…writing. I’m getting better, though! I’ve started spending less at the bar and now I’m investing money into a writing office. Cheap materials, but the pieces that will get the job done.

I’m getting off track. My point was that I don’t typically find a lot of value or investment in physical things or my money or even my place to live. It frees me to be thankful for other things, like the people in my life.

My family doesn’t invite me to Thanksgiving anymore. I’m not sure exactly why, but we sort of drifted apart from each other and, to be frank, I don’t think I’m necessarily a good fit for the relationships they’ve built with each other. I’ve always been a little outside of the family life, always been a bit of the black sheep. That suits my vagabond lifestyle, so they can and should be happy with whatever arrangements they’ve got.

One thing that did surprise me though (last year, as I was planning on microwaving whatever shitty Wal-Mart Thanksgiving substitute they had for half-off in their barren aisles at 2AM, and again this year) was the number of friends who invited me to spend the day with them. I was surprised again at the outpouring of positive thoughts and prayers and concern while I was in the hospital yesterday, especially since last year, when I actually almost died and I didn’t leave the hospital for four days, it seemed like almost nobody gave a shit.

I’ve been losing the number of people I feel I can comfortably trust and talk to. It isn’t that there aren’t people who offer, but more that as my life slips a little more out of control in varying degrees, I often feel too ashamed or embarrassed to confess what I’m going through, and when I am having an exceptionally bad time, it depresses me a little that some of the folks I would expect to reach out to me first are people I never hear from at all.

You know what that does, though, is it makes you so much more grateful for those who are there. Maybe they don’t know you as well, or even hardly at all. Maybe there was beef at some point, but it got patched up over one or the other going through some shit. But these are the people who do make an effort, who invite you into their homes, or come to visit, or even something as small as send out a concerned call or text message.

And caring for others and being grateful for each other and for what we have that not everyone else does, hey, that’s what the holiday is all about! It’s right there in the name: Thanks-Giving. And ignoring whatever historical fallacies we were taught and any sort of horrible connotations that pilgrims might have, the spirit is there to be grateful and kind and loving.

Thanksgiving is a day where we gather our closest friends and family and we share a meal and love with each other. Where we provide comfort and security and a feeling of safety with each other and we can reflect on the small blessings we have. A full belly. Four walls and a roof. Good company.

Good will towards men. Gratitude. You know what else is supposed to have those emotions? That’s right. Goddamn Christmas.

But for some reason, people turn into raging assholes literally the day after they’re giving thanks for everything they have.

Black Friday is the beginning of the consistently worst display of human behavior to each other. Greed and entitlement course through the veins of shoppers that will line up a week before the sales even kick in. They need a new flat screen TV because it’s a couple inches bigger than the one they bought last year. They need a new laptop even though the one they’ve got hasn’t slowed down and in fact works just fine still.

It isn’t enough that they will fight to be first in line and push through the doors to buy this shit, but they’ll argue over who’s first, they’re short with the retail reps who had to come in at 4AM to set up for it but don’t get commission or anything else just to be there and be treated like garbage by people consumed with material need.

It’s also the real solid start to Christmas shopping. Nobody Christmas shops in June. They wait and then they swarm like hornets into shopping malls, crowding into stores with all the patience of Hitler invading Russia. Everyone fights over the last item on the shelf instead of thinking up a different gift to get their loved one. They clamor for attention like kindergartners in a broken home. They sneer and they snarl and they insult each other and the people trying their best to help them.

Minimum fucking wage is not enough to deal with the level of stress and debasement frenzied holiday shoppers lay on retail employees. This is when cashiers break into tears. This is when ushers are sagging on their feet in exhaustion because they’ve been working thirteen hours to direct hundreds of customers to the right merchandise and an open register, and their shift still isn’t over.

People bitch and moan about long waits in line as if it’s anybody’s fault but their own that they waited until a week before Christmas to fill out their list. They haggle for deals as if the salesperson set the consumer price. They bitch about whether someone says “Christmas” (“I don’t believe in Jesus.”) or “Hanukkah” (“Uh, I’m Christian.”) or “Happy Holidays” (“There’s a war on Christmas!”).

There is no war on Christmas. There’s a war on common human goddamn decency and civility.

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They act as if the person they’re shopping for is more entitled to gifts, as if the other shopper isn’t trying to just get something thoughtful for their loved one, too. What is this gift buying shit, anyway? As someone who has worked many Black Fridays and been to several Christmas parties with various families, at least half of that shopping process is done out of a sense of obligation for a friend or family member that the shopper does not give one single hot shit about. But it’s a compulsion. An expectation. Why? Why isn’t a heartfelt sentiment and a nice meal enough?

Which brings me to Christmas Day.

I grew up having two Christmases, usually, which is immensely fortunate but actually also had a lot of traumatic experiences for me. Of the good memories, I would have a generally quiet and love-filled Christmas Eve with my grandparents. We would each open one present that night and the rest in the morning. My dad’s friend would get absolutely shitfaced and show up sometime that week dressed as Santa Claus and he’d pull some little toy he probably got at an airport somewhere from some giant bag and he’d give it to me. Then Christmas Day would roll around and I would go up to my step-dad’s place and hang out with my brother and my sister. My step-dad would also, every year, donate thousands of dollars worth of toys to homeless and abused kids.

Now, when I went up to my step-dad’s place, I never got as many gifts as my siblings did. I shouldn’t have. They were his son and adopted daughter, my half-siblings. He raised them, not me. They lived there, I didn’t. I never had a problem with that. I did have a problem, when they were young (this is something they grew out of) with the way they always seemed to be disappointed when there weren’t more presents. Or that out of the dozens of gifts they got, something wasn’t good enough or they didn’t get one other thing that they wanted.

I saw that in my family, and I’ve seen it amongst other friends and friend’s families. There’s also sometimes a quiet resentment when a gift received doesn’t appear to be as thoughtful or expensive as the gift given. At some point, we stopped being excited about giving to others and started caring more about receiving, and not just that, but the quality of the gifts we’re getting, as if we deserve better.

What the fuck? What the fuck?

If my parents ever showed up at my grandparents place or my step-dad’s, they were usually drunk or fucked up on drugs. They treated each other terribly, shouting and swearing, insulting and occasionally hitting each other. On Christmas. On a day that’s supposed to be about loving each other.

While I know that some Thanksgiving family dinners are awful and awkward and not as great as I made them out to be, I can’t help but feel it captures the spirit of the holiday season more than the holiday season actually does. It’s more about coming together as family – by blood or by choice – and less about buying a bunch of meaningless stuff.

I don’t buy anything for Christmas, and I hope nobody buys anything for me. All I want is for people to treat each other kindly this year. We’re all in this for somebody.

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