I’ve always resented Christmas — because Christmas is a holiday that makes liars out of us all. Let’s not get into whether Jesus was born of a virgin. Suffice it to say, I struggled with this idea from a young age. Back in kindergarten, having no idea what a virgin was, I consulted Anne, my precocious neighbor and classmate at the Convent of the Visitation School. Anne showed me a biology book, which presented in very graphic detail the mechanics of intercourse. Anne explained that being a virgin meant you hadn’t had sex.
‘Mom, how did the Virgin Mary get pregnant with baby Jesus?’ I asked.
‘Oh, God did that,’ she explained dutifully. I was dubious, but I let it go. I didn’t want to annoy God, as I was already in trouble for asking ‘too many questions’ in Sunday school and telling the nuns I was Jewish.
Then there was the elaborate story about a fat guy who kept calling everyone ‘Ho’. He broke into our house with the intention of giving my siblings and me presents. I was supposed to believe reindeer knew how to fly? Around the world in one night? Giving presents to every single kid on Earth? And this Big Brother figure managed to keep a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice and know when we were sleeping and when we were awake? Come on.
There were big holes in this story and I was determined to get to the bottom of it; so one night, I snuck downstairs, hoping to catch my parents in their fabrication. And guess what — I did. I sat on the stairs and listened to them distribute the presents under the tree. ‘I knew it,’ I thought. But I got more than I’d bargained for because they were also fighting and at some point it became clear to me they were probably headed for divorce. They too were tired of the lies.
But for two more years they continued with their Santa propaganda, despite my protestations, and then they enlisted me in their deception of my siblings, ensnaring me in their web of lies. I had very little choice in the matter. It was lie — or ‘ruin Christmas for [my] siblings’. I’m Catholic. Even at age 11, I was extremely motivated by guilt and shame. Christmas is when I also learned that lying is OK in certain situations. I learned to feign the love of ugly sweaters, boring socks and fruitcake because ‘kids are starving in Africa, Bridget’. I didn’t tell the truth about what my drunk uncle who bought us lottery scratch-offs said about his mistress, or how when mall Santa sat me on his lap he did it in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. I told my dad I was ‘just happy to see him’ and not upset at all that we were eating McDonald’s in a dreary hotel room at the Mall of America. I learned it’s frowned upon to say things like eggnog is disgusting and that Christmas carols make me want to blow my brains out.
Lying is a feature of Christmas. We spend money we don’t have and gorge on sweets and spend time with family members we can only tolerate with copious amounts of alcohol or illicit narcotics. Christmas erases all the gains of the entire year and puts us back at zero. And we’re supposed to smile while we’re being mugged.
I resent the Christmas ‘cheer’ required despite people often behaving their worst in parking lots, grocery stores and retail checkout lines. All of it starts to feel like a post-apocalyptic Mad Max tinsel-covered nightmare. Yet if you dare express your dismay over the hostage situation the holidays have us all in you’ll be called a Grinch or a Scrooge…or a Quaker.
My advice: experience the thrill of stepping off the merry-go-round and spend Christmas alone. The relief that you’ll feel when you free yourself from the shackles of obligatory family gatherings is almost as exhilarating as not having to partake in small talk, or answer questions about the direction of your life over a cheese platter, or talk about what you’re doing or not doing, who you’re dating, why you’re still single, or say that you’re sorry to hear about their divorce.
The best Christmas I ever had was spent staring into the abyss. I took baths and read Harry Potter and organized years of paperwork while watching Elf. My father, so conditioned to spend the holidays surrounded by people, was worried I was going to kill myself but I’d never been happier. There was no running around between split families, no fake smiling, no traffic in Los Angeles. It was truly magical. In his inspired Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: ‘Embrace your solitude and love it. Endure the pain it causes, and try to sing out with it. For those near to you are distant…’
I prefer to spend Christmas alone because then the only person I’m lying to is myself (and my family, who think I’m spending the holidays with my new ‘boyfriend’). I realize I may sound cynical. But staring into the void of a holiday corrupted by capitalism and rejecting the pressure to partake is liberating. I recommend everyone to do it at least once in their life.
Move beyond the superficial and spend some time in quiet contemplation playing video games and eating pizza. Face yourself fearlessly. We tell lies to avoid the hard truths, like the fact that I’m a procrastinator; a misanthrope; and that Epstein didn’t kill himself.
This article is in The Spectator’s December 2019 US edition.