Essay | Chrissmash

You wouldn't know it from my pretentious attempts at being a curmudgeon, but Christmas is actually one of my favorite times of the year. The grain & I go the same way when it comes to this. Fans of the holiday season are often predictable, sheep-like, and fans of kitschy sweaters. But the season has a universal appeal to it, and that's a basic truth.

The first virtue of Christmas is the mood. Despite the rampant consumerism and materialism, there lies at its heart the inclination to do nice things just because. People let you into traffic with a smile, lend you some coins to complete your change or hold the door for you just cause they believe in this one baby born a long time ago.

"But Justin!" you say. "These are basic acts of kindness that should fill our lives regardless of the mandated birth date of a special baby!"

And to that, I would agree. But it's not the way things are. The human mind is an ugly, greedy thing of darkness and we have to take what we can get. While it would be great if the Christmas spirit was the default, having a couple weeks of positive inclinations is good 'nuff for the creatures that invented the Chia pet shaped like Barack Obama's head.

"Good point!" you then say. "How could I have let my cynicism dismiss this season of selflessness?"

Well, don't worry about it. It happens to the best of us.

The second virtue of Christmas is the music. I understand that it's a love-it-or-hate-it scenario. But If you hate it, it's because at one point you did like it, but it's been playing over the speakers where you work non-stop and it's driving you brain-aching crazy. But that doesn't change my theory: I believe that we are all born pre-disposed to like the melodies of Christmas songs. Same goes for Beatles music. We get out of the womb knowing the tune of "Hey Jude," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

From "Blue Christmas" to "Last Christmas," the culture of the holiday has produced so much great music, whether pop or classical or gospel. Christmas music is such a wide and diverse field of music that plenty of awesome musicians have taken stabs at old classics & crafting originals. Sufjan Stevens alone filled five entire volumes over the course of a few years.

The third virtue of the holiday is the decorations. Sure, putting them up is a tiresome pain and pulling them down is the last thing you want to do on December 26. But taking fancy in the decorations of others? This is the business. Walk a decent neighborhood and be shocked at how the outside is suddenly this new, interesting place. The world is vivid and worth looking at, just for this holiday season. Especially in the meticulously developed and cloned urban sprawl of California, some vibrancy in the aesthetics is sorely needed. Our world, otherwise, is drab and gray. Cement blocks are the recurring theme, track homes never end, and nothing gets a second look. But throw a giant, 10-foot Santa-head on your roof with glowing eyes and dancing reindeer? Shit, son. That be that Christmas spirit.

And if I lived anywhere other than the two-season state of California (Hot & Way Hot), I would probably like Christmas for the snow. I can count the times I've spent in snow on one hand, and although it's probably just the novelty of it in my life, but few weathers seem so special. Even in unbearable cold, the power of snow to shut down the world and invite everyone to play in its piles is magical.

It is truly not about the gifts for me at all. In fact, having my heart set on anything is not something I'm keen to do anymore. That stopped sometime in my childhood: I remember outright weeping in secret when I only got a gift card, not the pokemon something-or-other that I wanted so deeply, yet I was simultaneously ashamed for being so attached to some stupid piece of plastic. It was just this object that I wouldn't care about in a few years, but I could not help but be hurt when it wasn't there, and I hated that control it had over me. I hated the irrationality, and the ungratefulness, and the miserable fucking self-centered neediness. I knew there were more important things in life. I just wanted to feel that way, too.

Ever since that holiday, I haven't really asked for anything specific, usually plainly asking for nothing. Because if I didn't get what I wanted, Christmas was ruined. But if I did, my greediness rears its ugly, fat head.

So, Merry Christmas, those of you who subscribe to the celebration of the birth of a pretty cool baby in the Spring of a few thousand years ago. Merry Christmas to us all, and put on some "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman," cause that melody is badass.