Today is the first Sunday of Advent, meaning that the time of the year that makes me freak out has officially started. If you’re curious to know why I hate Christmas, keep on reading. This is going to be a long post.
When I was a child, I used to start looking forward to Christmas in early December. Before Santa Claus Day, Christmas didn’t even cross my mind. Santa Claus came on December 6th, and from that on, preparation and waiting started. At school and at home as well. As I wasn’t raised in a religious family, Christmas wasn’t a church-related occasion, but rather the celebration of family. In those days, there wasn’t this hysteria in shops before the holidays either – or at least not to this extent. When I was a kid, Christmas used to be my favourite celebration. But now…
One thing that freaks me out is that it starts earlier and earlier. Last year, I couldn’t believe my eyes when Christmas decorations were sold at Kik in September. But this year! For instance, Tesco has started Christmas-related items in mid-August, and on September 4th, Mariah Carey tweeted that her All I Want for Christmas show was coming and tickets were already available.
So the mass hysteria starts earlier and earlier. Earlier and earlier every freaking year, retailers start to drill into your head that you have to „Buuuuuuuuuuuuy!” because it doesn’t matter if you don’t give a shit about your family throughout the year, you can express that you care for your otherwise neglected relatives by throwing presents a f*ck load of sh*t under the tree on Christmas Eve. Even as early as autumn, shops are full of chocolate Santas, Christmas trees, Santas and all kinds of Christmas-related stuff. And how do you explain Santa and/or baby Jesus (or whoever brings presents in your family) to your child? (In Hungary, baby Jesus brings presents on Christmas Eve. Santa comes on December 6th).
I’ve mentioned the “Let’s buy because we have to!” hysteria above Every year, the compulsive holiday shopping shows its ugly face in my family – and I guess in most families as well. Yay for consumer society! In my family, it usually starts in November when my mother wants to plan what she should get me for my birthday which is in late November. At the beginning of November, right after my father’s birthday, she phones me and asks, ‘So what shall I buy for your birthday?’. It’s early November! I either don’t ask for presents, or if I do, I usually tell my family to buy me consumables: coffee, sugar-free chocolate, makeup, nail polish, or if none of the members of my little family is brave enough to buy the latter two, I ask for a gift card. This year, I posted my wishlist here on the Blog to avoid getting bombarded with stupid questions and getting silly presents. And this is only a birthday. Before Christmas, we go through the same conversations over and over again and they also ask, ‘And what shall we get Peter for Christmas?’. Nothing. Or if you really want to spend your money, buy him six cans of beer. But of course, beer is not a present, so a week later they phone me again and ask, ‘And what shall we get Peter for Christmas?’, which drives my husband nuts.
So you leave home to do some holiday shopping. While you’re doing so, you have to listen to the ultimate Christmas classics. They are played in all the shops to make you get into a festive mood and make you spend more. And these songs are exactly what make me get out of the shop as soon as possible, because All I Want For Christmas makes me sick and please, I beg DJ’s in shops to remove Jackson 5’s Santa Claus Is Coming To Town from the track list, because the way the young Michael Jackson screams this song gets me a migraine and some shopping centres force me to listen to it several times per hour.
We’re pushed and buffeted by the crowd. Does nobody know how to get ahead in a civilized way in shops during the holidays? And queuing is a nightmare! Shopping carts are so packed with stuff… Man! Is everybody preparing for the siege of the city and is it just me who doesn’t know about it?
The next thing I hate is the compulsory Christmas menu: fish soup, stuffed cabbage, *beigli (*A walnut or poppy seed roll traditionally eaten in Hungary at Christmas.) If you don’t eat it, they ask what’s wrong with you. I hate fish soup! I hate freshwater in general. At the soup that has the head of a freshwater fish swimming in it absolutely freaks me out. Some people even cook the intestines of the fish in the soup. Shops are packed with fish before Christmas. Because you’ll cook fish soup no matter what. Or there’s also turkey. One year I wanted to try the turkey-cranberry sauce combo which is so popular in the Anglo-Saxon countries, to have some variety but I realised that it’s technically nothing but chicken with jam. But for example two years ago, on December 22nd, I wanted to buy pork tenderloin in one of the hypermarkets and the lady behind the counter said indignantly, “You don’t think I would order pork tenderloin before Christmas?”. Of course. It’s Christmas, eat turkey or stuffed cabbage. Why are you being so eccentric with your pork tenderloin? If your menu differs from the traditional one in any way or you want to try something new, you’ll either be a public enemy or thought to be an idiot. “This is not brown rice, just plain white but it’s weeviled!”, “Why do you have to eat salmon? Why isn’t carp good enough for you? That’s cheaper.”, “There isn’t enough paprika in the fish soup. Who did you cook it for?!”, and so on.
Beigli is the other sacred thing. It’s mandatory to bake. It can’t be cracked or dry, there must be a lot of filling in it and the like. There are countless recipes which promise the secret to the “perfect beigli”. And of course, everybody is nervous about getting it perfect. But no matter how hard you try, there’s still a crack on it! Holy sh*tballs! How am I supposed to serve it? I puttered with it for half a day, yet the freaking beigli is not PERFECT! And if you don’t eat beigli, something must be wrong with you. And of course, everybody loves beigli so much that we only eat it at Christmas.
Oh, the great Christmas gluttony! At this time, people lack moderation so much that even my diabetic relative stuffs herself with rice, potatoes and schnitzels, followed by some cake or beigli because you know, diabetes is on vacation during the holidays, so you won’t get sick if you gorge. There’s a person in my family who uses litres and litres of vegetable oil for Christmas cooking and there’s another one who eats until she starts to vomit – literally. The Christmas issues of magazines are loaded with advertisements of digestive aids because it’s Christmas and at this time of the year, one should really gorge.
Dinner is over, now it’s time to open the presents. We’re standing around the tree, listen to “Mennyből az angyal”* with tears in our eyes, (*meaning: “Angel from heaven” a traditional Hungarian Christmas song) we hug each other, fake tears are falling… There are presents that bring joy, while others cause resentment. The reasons can be the following: it’s not expensive enough – “You begrudge spending money on my present!” –, one doesn’t like it, it’s not good enough or something else. If you don’t like it, it’s time to show a fake smile or from more honest people, the expression of dislike which ruins the giver’s Christmas. Weddings, funerals or Christmas – all of them are good occasions to have a quarrel. Even the style of the Christmas tree ornaments can trigger an argument. One Christmas, I put a five-point star onto the tree and a relative of mine made a comment on how rude it was of me to use a symbol of authoritarian rule as decoration.
My anti-favourite thing about Christmas is visiting relatives. Nothing can be a better pastime than having to plan who to visit on which day of damn Christmas and trying to squeeze visiting all your relatives into 2-3 days. Even Christmas Eve is about packing our suitcases. Once we finish dinner, we open the presents quickly, then it’s time to get the suitcases and start packing. Instead of putting the kid to bed early, cuddle up on the sofa and watch a film, we have to go to bed early, because we have to get up early (around 5-6 o’clock) in the morning. I don’t even have time to enjoy the presents I got. I don’t even have time to enjoy having a Christmas tree! In the morning, we have to check or luggage once again to make sure nothing was left out. I can’t even talk to my husband because he’s so busy focusing on checking whether he has put all the damn presents into the trunk of our car. For three days, we rush from one relative to the other. It’s all a huge haste. It’s not even a family trip, but a guilt trip instead. Do we want to go at all? Where the boundary between wanting to go and having to go?
The consequences of Christmas stretch out to the New Year. At the beginning of January, discarded Christmas trees are piled up in front of blockhouses. Lying on bins or on the streets, without most of their most of their needles, marred by Christmas candy wrappers*, they are a pathetic sight. (*In Hungary, people hang chocolate-coated Christmas candy on Christmas trees, they eat the candy and leave the empty wrappers on the branches.)
Yes, I know, these trees are grown for especially this purpose but they’re living creatures anyway. We have an artificial Christmas tree, for which we get negative comments like plastic is harmful to the environment and an artificial tree isn’t even festive. Cutting down a tree every year only to throw it away after a week or two isn’t harmful? I can use an artificial one for up to 10-15 years if I take good care of it.
Before anyone would think that I’m totally against Christmas, let me clarify something: I like Christmas. I look forward to it every year. I prepare for it. However, what I don’t like is the way we have to celebrate it and what it has become: a celebration led by greed, compulsiveness/being forced to do things. Having a perfect beigli or the number of presents under the tree shouldn’t be the focal points of the holidays. The holiday season should be about intimacy and love and every year when I prepare for it, I hope to have such a Christmas.
I wish you all a peaceful, joyful and stress-free Christmas preparation.
(sources of the images: artmarketmonitor.com, kozteruletfelugyelet.hu, allposters.com, listal.com)