Christmas decorations at the Forum des Halles Shopping Center in the 1st arr. Paris
The way I see it, Christmas in the States from the time that I was a kid in the 1970s, has become “Cashmas,” which Urbandictionary.com defines as:
a celebration of materialism in which its celebrants attempt to flatter or impress relatives, friends, and acquaintances with the extent of their purchasing power. (The “power to get”.) Cashmas co-opts signs, symbols, and sympathies from other religious holidays of the winter season to mask its foundation of conspicuous consumption.
Maybe for some there is still either a genuine religious component which makes the season more for them, or they have an authentic love for All Things Christmas from the decorations to the foods to the ambiance that is created by such a warm and cozy holiday amidst the darkest days of the year. For me?
Christmas has felt like one big pain in the ass for a lot of years now.
The stress of buying gifts for family and friends, sending out a bajillion cards to those I have only been in touch with once a year, the baking and food preparation, the having to travel and then divide time between family members, all of whom want to gather within days of the Day — somehow in the economy of exchange** of all these things to do, Christmas became not worth all the stress to me.
(** I made up the expression “economy of exchange” this past year for use in my discussions about life with myself and others. Yes, I talk to myself, lol. So do you, if you admit it! Anyway, the “economy of exchange” became a way for me to discuss what is sometimes called the “cost to benefit ratio,” but not so much having to do with actual financial implications. Instead, the “economy of exchange” is what we receive in return for our actions. It has to do with a kind of karmic reaping and sowing. For example, a few months ago I [pretty much] gave up drinking alcohol because the pleasure I derived from it was not as great as the mental, physical, and social price for drinking, especially with drinking too much. In other words, drinking became not worth it. This is what I call the “economy of exchange” in my life: the system in which there is give and take, cause and effect, action and transaction, and the “weighing in” as to the personal worth of the things exchanged.)
Not even having kids helped very much in enjoying the season more, unfortunately. Having kids, instead of renewing my own childlike sense of the holiday, seemed to pile on more guilt because I felt incapable of making the season even *more* magical for them. It seemed in recent years to be such a struggle to drag the decorations out for yet another year, and worry about whether there was enough money to buy presents. Sure, there was a way in which trying to give them a good Christmas helped. I would have to be a cold-hearted beast to not be warmed by the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. Of course the joy in their eyes at presents and candy was fun to see and experience. But, again, in the economy of exchange, the happiness they felt was at the price of a lot of weariness and stress on my part, and their joy could not bear up the entire weight of my feeling worn out by the whole thing.
I have come to realize this past year that a lot of the exhaustion, a lot of the stress and anxiety I have felt over this time of year, very well could have been because of what I think is my struggle with undiagnosed Celiac Disease. I currently refer to what’s going on with me as “gluten intolerance” because I’m wishy-washy about actually saying I have the auto-immune disorder. I have never had a professional medical evaluation concerning this, and it is likely I will not in the near future. I know that I have experienced some relief of a lot of symptoms by not eating gluten, sugar, yeast, and dairy products for the past several months. I am not 100% better, however, in part because of other, hopefully temporary, food intolerances to things like tomatoes and potatoes, corn and strawberries, which makes eating very difficult for me right now. This is something that can happen when you have an immune system that is in a bit of an uproar because food molecules, instead of passing through the digestive system effectively, wind up in the bloodstream where immune action then views the molecules as an enemy. My explanations here are very simple, and if you want more in-depth reading about this, I can recommend the book Food Allergies and Food Intolerance by Dr. Johnathan Brostoff and Linda Gamlin.
At any rate, amongst the many possible symptoms of Celiac Disease is depression and/or anxiety. Food can be a *huge* influence on mood, I have learned in my research this past year.
I think I have simply been too exhausted and grouchy to enjoy very much of the holidays because they have taxed me so very much when my nutritional resources have been so low and my food reactions have been so high. This combination alone makes the day-to-day putting one foot in front of the other exhausting. Holidays? They are like running sprints with shin splints for days on end. What’s left after the years of feeling too stressed out to cope is a distaste for and dislike of the whole holiday enterprise. I have felt like I have been on the carnival ride called “Christmas” for so many years now, and feeling more and more sick being on that ride, that I have just wanted to scream “Let me off!!” and move back to somewhere in Asia where it really is just another day (although that has been changing in recent years, too. Check out the YouTube video in that article. It’s pretty funny).
So. It’s December 21. I am sitting in an apartment with no decorations up, with no tree (yet. PJ and are are supposed to get one tonight). I have done a little bit of Christmas shopping, thanks to my friend Priscilla, whom I met with last Tuesday at the Forum de Halles, and some small things for my kids in Colorado were purchased online and sent off to their homes a couple of weeks ago. PJ is pretty much in the same boat as I am concerning this holiday: he finds it as tiresome as I do and so neither of us is really in the mood to do anything extraordinary. Still, he has kids, ages 12-and-a-half and 15, and while they have long stopped believing in Santa, they are still kids enough to want stuff and have a bit of a party. Christmas has always been something they do with their dad as their mom’s side of the family is Jewish. Hannukah is not as big a deal for Jews in France as it is for a lot of Jews in the States, who are competing with Cashmas, too. So, there is some obligation to fake it and make a bit of a show of putting on a holiday.
I decided to get online and post today as it is likely that I won’t be online as much in coming days. PJ’s kids arrive tomorrow night, and will be here for about a week. What this means is that today I have to get the house readied for them, and have the grocery shopping done for meals for PJ and the kids over the next few days, as well as for the stuff I can eat. Then, they will be jonesing for Facebook time and PJ will be doing his writing as well. Buh-bye blogging for a few days, most likely. I may be able to get into the lineup of jockeying for computer time to post my thoughts on Versailles. I am *still* writing that post in my head! I finally did post the photos on Flickr into this set, though. They are not annotated yet, so while they are pretty to look at, there are no explanations as to what’s what. You’re welcome to look, however!
It has also fallen into my purview to wrap gifts from PJ’s family in the States, which arrived today, and the list of tasks seems to be growing as I think about them.
I wish I could feel happier about having a Christmas in Paris. I feel a little guilty because Christmas in Paris is lifelong dream for some, and here I am borderline-whining about it. Maybe if I were staying in a three or four-star hotel, and as a tourist appreciating the magic of the city in a compact time frame and from the center of things, I might be happier to experience Christmas in Paris, too! As it is, I am in the 19th arrondissement, in the ‘hood, living in a two bedroom apartment which is about to occupy four people (the older boy sleeps in the living room. The living room pretty much gets commandeered by kids while they are here as around the TV and computer and boy’s bed-slash-sofa is where they like to hang), and where food intolerance cramps my style so much in the land of breads, pastries, cheese, and chocolate that I really feel deprived and angry some days.
For example, a couple of days ago, David Lebovitz posted this beautiful picture of and recipe for a Christmas Stollen, one of the holiday treats I really have enjoyed through the years. Stollen made the holidays seem not so stale and made me not so sullen! When I read the recipe, I lost it. I cried, mourning one of the few things about Christmas I actually still have liked up to now: the food.
In fact, revisiting David’s post and copying that link into my post just now made me cry again.
I realize I have had a bit of a case of sour grapes concerning the whole holiday “thing.” I think what has happened to me is a deep case of disillusionment with the holiday scenario. There never will be those Christmases past where all seemed magical. Somewhere in the space of growing up, I got a peek behind the curtain, at the cogs in the works. It probably started with the time when I found out Santa was not real, back when I was five or six. From there, my ability to suspend my disbelief at the realities around me during the holidays has been less and less successful as the years pass. That, and just the sheer pressure that the holidays seem to be anymore proves to be just too much. This year, with not eating any foods relating to holiday cheer, I feel myself giving up on even really putting on any pretense of wanting to like the holidays. There just is not much left to enjoy.
So pardon me while I whine on this blog. Forgive me for not holding more gratitude for things such as simply being grateful for being able to walk, or for living in one of the most pretty cities in the world. I’m sorry if I am such a downer. I’d like to be able to try to find something that can commend this holiday, but cannot. Sorry, Jesus People, I can’t go with the whole “Jesus is the reason for the season” schitck anymore. No offense to my believing readers out there. It’s just that factually and historically, Jesus Christ the actual man was probably a Virgo, born in September (a good explanation is here: Jesus’ Real Birthday. Long, but an interesting analysis, if conservative in its bent). Christians appropriated the pagan Winter Solstice celebrations and the Roman holiday of Saturnalia in an attempt (successful!) to co-opt these popular holidays. Christmas is really just a lot of made-up stuff that has its roots in pagan celebration.
Instead of putting back the “Christ in Christmas,” I would really like to be able to put the fun back into it. But all I can really see is that it is an excuse to spend more than we have, eat and drink more than we can handle, and stress ourselves out to achieve these two goals. If I could feel a sense of joy and fun with it again, I think I could have a little holiday spirit once more.
Meh. Grinchy. Told ya.
Maybe the Christmas fairies will visit me this year and help me change my mind. Maybe ghosts will come to visit me in the dead of night and knock some holiday sense and sensibility into my noggin. I dunno. I doubt it. In fact, I got online today to read about the sad and early demise of actress Britney Murphy, and I cried a little just as I did when I saw that Stollen, except her death is way sadder. It is this kind of specter I feel shadowing the entirety of the holiday this year.
To wrap this up, if I have not made you feel too much like dressing all in black, listening to the Sisters of Mercy, chain smoking in Denny’s, and cutting, then maybe you can share your true feelings about the holiday, too. Don’t worry: if Christmas is a holiday you love and you cannot understand my thoughts here, then write about what you love about it! Maybe you will inspire me! If you are with me in wishing the whole thing would just go away, then share your like-minded thoughts. If you, too, have a lot of food intolerances, and have formerly loved food at the holidays but cannot eat much holiday fare now, maybe you can share how you have coped with not eating all the goodies that represent this holiday. Please leave a comment about how *you* feel this holiday and why you do. “Blomment” (blog in my comments) all over the place!
In any case, I really do hope that the holidays, that Christmas and New Year’s, and the completion of Hanukkah this past week, are what you would want them to be. If you are happy at and with this time of year, then I wish you *every* happiness that you could hope for! If you are Grinchy like me, then here is to our getting through it all, and, maybe as in my case, without food or alcohol to make it slide down easier. Let’s hope we survive.
And to those, like Britney Murphy’s family and friends, who have lost loved ones this year, may you just be able to stumble through this time as best you can. My thoughts are with you.
Over and out.
(an alien parisienne)