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Christmas Tree TrashA Norman Rockwell Christmas Becomes A Horror Show

Bah humbug at its best and truth at its most honest. Enjoy!

‘Twas the day after Christmas and folks were happy as could be. Another Christmas had come and gone and a lot of people were glad. Around midnight December 25 a collective sigh of relief swept from the East Coast to the West as bells tolled midnight. You could feel the country breathe easier as 10 trillion tons of stress evaporated.

If there’s a more stressful time than Christmas, a lot of people will tell you they’ve yet to meet it. The snowy, ho ho ho chestnuts roasting by an open fire is more like a woe is me being roasted by an acid-tongued relative. I doubt that many people these days envision Christmas as a Norman Rockwell painting unless they are among the most inexperienced people on planet Earth.

Only the most innocent Pollyanna will call me on the carpet for writing this column. I know of what I write. I wasn’t born last night nor I am not an ostrich with its head in the sand. Besides way too many people freely talk about how Christmas destroys their cheerfulness and peace.

Now I really don’t care if you stop reading right now or call me a liar. The fact is I’m not. People tell me horrible Christmas stories … furious people throwing food across the table at each other … men and women staggering in drunk cursing family members … people not showing up for the meal nor even bothering to say they aren’t coming. (So much for all the fine food people prepared.) An angry teen who didn’t get a car knocks over the tree … people revive tired arguments that never seem to be resolved. Physical fighting even takes place. Call it Christmas craziness. Like the flu every year it makes the rounds infecting many and laying them low.

The day after Christmas provides a good day to reflect on all the people you know: family, relatives, friends, and even acquaintances, those people we lightly touch as we pass through life. I was driving home the day after Christmas thinking about all the trouble folks go to come Christmas when I got a call as I made my way from I-20 onto I-26 West. A woman here in Columbia was to the point of tears. Her husband had lost it Christmas day prompting her friends to ask if he “was going crazy.” Most likely he was. The details aren’t worth sharing other than the fact his rage involved an uncooperative computer.

The woman told me that was it. She had reached the breaking point. She was moving out, leaving this husband who came unglued Christmas Day. It could have been worse as we now know about the guy who killed his family in Texas before turning the gun on himself.

You see way too many people tighten up come the holidays. They stress out Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Sadly, for whatever reason some people reserve Christmas Day to show their worst side. “Okay, let’s see …. hmmmm next Monday is Christmas. Time to dust off my evil twin and let people have it good!”

Bad behavior aside, many people tighten up and stress out come Christmas. As the days shorten and mistletoe goes up, a dark dread steals across the land. Apprehension grips people like a steel vice. People who are overweight fear the onslaught of fabulous food to be shoved before them. People with skinny wallets know an onslaught of buying is coming their way. The necessity of buying gifts sinks its teeth in them and refuses to let go. An infectious worry festers in the bite marks. Others catch the dread.

And this period of dread comes early. As soon as Halloween pumpkins grow mushy and are hurled into the garbage bin here comes the retail Christmas blitz. A flood of commercials, flyers, emails, and marketing messages fill the air. The message is clear: time to exhaust savings and/or whip out the VISA cards.

A recent attitude survey of more than 1,500 people revealed that Christmas comes second only to financial problems at the top of everyone’s worry list. How’s that for a blessed day? But wait. There’s more! Let’s jot down an alphabetical list of some of the things that ruin Christmas. We won’t go too far because we’ll all feel like jumping off a bridge so let’s just take it to the letter “E.”

Anger: Christmas brings out the hostility in some. Anxiety: some people wring their hands and fret over things of no consequence. Will the pet iguana survive all this company coming? What to do … what to do … Conflict: nothing like a Christmas Day to dredge up that old grudge against grandma because she gave your sister a prettier doll 30 years ago. Depression: something about the supposed happiest time of the year sinks many into an abyss of sadness.

Sticking with the Ds we come to Difficult People: A man told me he hates Christmas for one reason only. He has to be around people he would never associate with otherwise. Lots of truth to that. You’ve heard that expression “You can choose your friends but not your family.” Well there you go. A woman emailed about her Uncle Ray. “Uncle Ray winds up cooking his own goose. He complains that no one in the family wants to be there for him, but they can never measure up to his expectations. He winds up being alone more than he would be if he were nicer to people. We have such a big family he could have company every day if he were someone who made you feel better when you left his company, not worse.”

Expectations: Christmas ushers in a time when families have to deal with unreasonable demands, unrealistic expectations, and way too much negativity. No wonder so many people commit suicide around Christmas. There’s no worse pressure in the world than going into debt over gifts and hopping in the car to make a long stressful drive to holiday bedlam. Children get ripped away from their Santa Claus morning but that’s just the way it is today because families no longer cluster around the family farm.

A while back I wrote a column, “A Simple Rule To Live By,” that urged young folks not to move farther away than two hours from their home. In that column I said, “Families no longer live close by one another as a rule and on top of that life demands much more of people’s free time than ever. And so, my children’s lives, and perhaps yours too, are all the poorer.” Let’s add Christmas travels to the list making our children poorer.

A long drive is bad enough but I cannot fathom what it’s like to board an airplane and fly cross-country to see family at Christmas. I surely can’t fathom flying four hours just to be hurt and then have to make a depressing four-hour trip back to where I came from. But that’s the fate many suffer come Christmas.

And when the blessed day itself arrives other than the pre-meal blessing little or no mention of Christ is made. People seem to take Christ out of Christmas more than ever. I never was a fan of “Xmas” and I never will be. The real Christmas has degenerated into a day of travel, frayed nerves, sharp-tongued jabs, and a time to rehash just why Uncle Carl left his ex and her insane family.

But wait! There’s even more. Christmas is a time when people get caught up in gift giving, gift getting, cooking, and in general stress out like no other time of the year. People spend money they don’t have. They take long trips they have no time for and race the clock to fit in all the relatives for a Christmas visit. And then when Christmas is over they swap all those awful gifts they’d never buy. Defeated and depressed, they trudge to the mall seeing if they can trade the bag of bent nail puzzles for a gift card at least. And all this gets them what? A big pile of stress, hurt feeling, remorse, and a general sense of “Why do I subject myself to this torture year after year?”

I asked a friend what would she do if Christmas came twice a year. “I’d commit suicide,” she said. Another woman said, “I’d move to another country.”

I think that pretty much sums up how some people (certainly not the majority) feel about Christmas if they will be honest. How many among you cannot truthfully say you are glad to see December 25 in the rearview mirror?

We all want Christmas to be a Norman Rockwell painting. We all want happiness, balance, and an absence of stress in our lives. Far too often, that isn’t going to happen on Christmas Day. I’ve seen a lot of Christmases come and go and I’ve been around a lot of people who talk about their own Christmas traditions. Anxiety, stress, and guilt, well those pests all too often find a way to make themselves part of Christmas. Sad but true. So let’s bah humbug all we want come next Christmas.

We have a good eleven months before the Christmas machine heads this way crushing happiness and grinding people down only to spit them out leaving them bruised, battered, broke, and bewildered. Why oh why they’ll cry can’t I get lucky like Grandma? Surely a reindeer will run over me next year and put me out of my misery.

Photo: Licensed by from © Jim Jurica

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground.

He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine.
Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.”

Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Visit Tom's website at Email him at [email protected].

  1. Frank Povah

    Bah, humbug indeed, Tom; beautifully put.
    “…I wrote a column…that urged young folks not to move farther away than two hours from their home.”

    Like you, I also believe that the fragmentation of the clan structure has much to do with society’s ills, and to this I would add the well-meaning but misguided theory that children have the same rights as adults. Not all adults can cope with the rights that society has granted them, so why do we expect children to responsibly use those same rights?

  2. Darby Britto

    I can see you are going to have to spend a Christmas one year with my merry band of elves. The ONLY thing I hate about Christmas ( including the ones’s where I have spent eight hours of the day or night at a television station), is taking down the decorations and packing them away.

  3. I agree with you completely Tom.  It is so depressing to see people go into debt to buy junk that no one wants for people they don’t care about.  Every year Christmas comes like a train wreck you can’t stop.  This was a good Christmas for me.  After working 14 hours a day up through Dec. 23  I had an excuse to “not do Christmas.”  Turned it over to my husband and daughter.  They spent about 10 minutes putting up a Charlie Brown Chrismas tree, bought a ham and a few presents and that was that.  I didn’t miss any of it.  I am hearing so many stories of family meltdowns on Christmas day. I’m glad it’s over and we can get back to normal life. 

  4. Tom,
    Thanks so much for saying everything for me.  I’ve printed a copy for my Wife so that maybe, just maybe she will no longer think I am the only Christmas Grump on the planet.

  5. This really does sum up our Christmas, especially the cranky family members. Wow!

  6. Most years it’s just m husband, 3 kids and dog Christmas morning. We have a relaxing morning opening presents with Christmas music playing, then I make a mini-Christmas dinner since its just for 5. While I miss being close to family, the benefit of avoiding all of the stresses you so accurately described may be worth the distance!

  7. I want to thank all of you for your comments. I felt that this column had to be written. Christmas is such an ordeal for so many I felt someone has to just say what many were thinking. Darby, your merry band of elves sounds great. Perhaps I can join the band one Christmas! Thanks again to all of you. 

  8. Judy McCarthy

    True. And well said. But you forgot “D” for divorce. I’ve been practicing law for 26 years. Every year the law firm phone starts ringing Monday morning after Thanksgiving and continues ringing until February–people wanting appointments to discuss divorce. “Tis the season” indeed!

  9. Tom,

    Great piece on Christmas. Even retailers must dread watching Christmas creep in with the cold. They have to make their numbers in a tiny, seasonal window – right at the end of the year. Miss their numbers by a few per cent, and they get to go broke. Talk about stress! Oh well, we’ve brought it on ourselves. Somewhere along our meandering path we misplaced the real meaning.  Could it have begun about the time our greeting became Happy Holiday, instead of Merry Christmas?

  10. Don O'Briant

    This was the best Christmas ever. I ate dinner at the Waffle House along with a couple of dozen happy strangers.

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