Joyless Critical Commentary on Christmas Stories

In my part of the world, the rituals around Christmas form some of the most tangible manifestations of prominent cultural mythologies, both religious and secular. The stories that are told and the songs that are sung throughout December stuff a whole lot of work into the days when they are allowed to be used.

And I can’t help having become a person who keeps a critical eye open to everything, which is often draining, but made even more so during this period of hyperconcentrated culture-work. From the mundane interactions that reveal the ways in which not everyone’s personal story fits into the valorized model (see also Captain Awkward), to the now-ritualized conversations about whether or not is offensive (?!) to wish someone “Happy Holidays”. There are the songs that I struggle to hear and/or sing now – once I groked the rapey-ness of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, the discomfort immediately overcame all previous enjoyment of a relatively fun tune (musically speaking), and I realized as I was singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” to my toddler that I could only be comfortable if I reversed the gendered names attached to the toys. The tumblr “Folks Dressed Up Like Eskimos” does a nice job with a humourous takedown of that particularly racist line that we all repeat because somehow, the Christmas spirit requires us to ignore the whatever partial respect for the Other that we may (or may not) have learned. My friend also pointed out to me this week that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is essentially a hymn to neo-liberal capitalism (though since it was written long before the rise of neo-liberalism it may be more accurate to connect it to the Weberian Protestant work ethic), because Rudolph is redeemed by the other reindeer only when he proves himself useful to their cause, not because of the intrinsic universal value of each and every person (or reindeer).

Most of those aren’t really new to me, and they’ve just become noise. But every year, something new does hit me. This year, it was the Will Ferrell movie Elf, which I had seen a couple of times before and enjoyed, but which I watched this year with the realization that Buddy is actually a boundary-violating douchenozzle, but we’re supposed to find it endearing and charming. The people whose boundaries he has been violating (including his female co-worker-cum-girlfriend, but primarily his father) are only upset by it because they have become lost in the world of capitalist greed and are unable to access the true joy that is manifested in Buddy. And it makes me sad, because I liked that movie and it has some really funny lines/scenes.

Maybe all that is why, like Fred Clark at slacktivist, I’m much more drawn towards the mythological expressions that bring out the haunting sense of loss and grief that is connected to all this heightened emotion. To his list, I would add the lovely “Song for a Winter’s Night”, originally by Gordon Lightfoot and then improved (imo) by Sarah McLauchlan.

Merry Christmas.



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