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A Coug’s Meaning of Christmas

Cheers to the holidays.

I’ve been staring at this empty page for what feels like hours now. Most of the stuff I write for these HCA’s comes easy, I blow through it in an hour and I move on. This one feels different though, and I’m struggling to understand why.

When Emma first offered me this column, my first question was “what’s it about?”

“Anything,” she responded “just make it your own.”

This was not a helpful answer.

(Editors note: it was not meant to be. Muaha. -E)

I looked up other HCA’s and found a lot of truly excellent work, but it is not the type of stuff I usually write. I’m not the one with a comedic sensibility as a writer, and I want to try and avoid the more analytical sports stuff for a little bit because the whole point of this series is for me to stretch my legs.

So, I decided this week’s HCA was going to be about Christmas. I wrote a super sappy love letter to my family that I decided was a little too personal, so I scrapped it. I then wrote a silly little piece about all the “fake” Christmas movies like Die Hard, but I’m not funny enough to pull it off and I honestly hated writing it, so I scrapped that too. Then I spent about 45 minutes writing another long ramble about Pullman and its Christmas spirit, but that was basically the premise of my last couple HCA’s, so I scrapped that too.

You can see the issue here, right?

I’m so unconfident in most of what I write, and that is a bit of an issue when you have a weekly deadline. So, under the threat of a stern talking to from Emma, let’s try to write about Christmas in a way only I can.

Everyone has seen A Christmas Story right? A capitalistic nostalgia film about a kid who wants a BB-gun for Christmas, and his parents just trying their best to make it all work? There’s a great video by Folding Ideas about the underlying subtext of that film, how it got to be so ubiquitous, and why all the attempts to recapture it fail. You can watch it here, but the basic gist is that it’s one of the first examples of Christmas turning consumerism into a virtue, and the movies success is all to do with cynical marketing schemes that make it a network staple on the holidays.

The movie itself is honestly sorta bland in my opinion, and the best moments come from the narrations, which are directly taken from the book and actually narrated by the original author. The movie is also one of those Christmas products that feels absolutely inseparable from capitalism, and it helps perpetuate those ideas. In the end, Ralphie gets the BB gun and his parents’ financial struggles end up feeling mostly non-existent. The nostalgia Ralphie feels for that moment in his childhood is based mostly around things and products rather than the people around him. Granted, the character is nine, and nine year olds are famously materialistic.

The film is not bad. However, it’s interesting to view with the overall capitalistic takeover of Christmas that has been well in progress since the early 1950s and the invention of Coco-Cola’s Santa Claus.

What’s funny is that a lot of people complain about the capitalistic nature of A Christmas Story. Rarely do you hear someone go, “y’know what I love? That capital and product have replaced the general feel of family and unity that defines Christmas!”

Perhaps I could go on a rant here about the nature of capitalism and the way it self-perpetuates until it eats itself, but I’ll instead blame it on nostalgia. Capitalism has had its fingers in Christmas for so long that there is no one left to remember the time before it defined the holiday. A Christmas Story has played at least some part in that.

This nostalgia we almost all have for A Christmas Story is interesting, because you’d think the film is as classic and timeless as It’s a Wonderful Life, but it’s not. The film came out in 1983, where it then bombed and it didn’t get popular until the mid-to-late 80s when it became a syndicated, 24-hour program on Christmas Eve.

I feel like the example of this nostalgia, this faux tradition, is a representation of Christmas as a whole. Many of our holiday traditions aren’t long held, and are actually born on whims. They stick because we’re desperate for some tradition to tie our holidays together, and have it exist outside of the consumer-forward purchasing of things, and enjoying art made by the same system.

Of course, how traditions are formed doesn’t really matter. Traditions, fake or real or new or old, are all in service of the same general principle. They are meant to create memories of community and family. They are the things we hold onto.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this concept, and the role it plays in holidays, because mine are soon to change. Graduating college means starting an actual adult life instead of the soft launch of one that comes from still being in college. When I’m in Pullman, I know I’m only three hours from home, and I just head back to live with my parents for a week during the actual holiday period.

As I am about to leave college, I am increasingly aware of this being my last Christmas as a “child”. As old and adult as I feel now, I am under no illusions that I’m not still just a kid, and that my “childhood” is ending.

Christmas has always been a pretty joyous time for us! My mom’s love language is gift giving, so she goes a little crazy on the holidays and it’s always resulted in fun decorating, lots of presents, and some damn good food.

Since I met my girlfriend, we have started doing four Christmases, which is fitting since she says I talk and act just like Vince Vaughn. That has added to our traditions, which sadly means I can’t just sit in pajamas all day, but it also means I get to share the love with more people, so it evens out in the wash.

As much as I love aspects of Christmas, I won’t pretend it’s all great all the time. For one, I’m a horrible gift-giver because I don’t plan anything out and I shop solely based on vibes. I can also be a bit of a Grinch when it comes to outward holiday cheer. I’m not a caroler and there’s only a handful of Christmas movies I enjoy- implied, of course, by my previously described feelings about what I can only assume is a holiday favorite for some of you.

But I have no hesitations admitting that I have it really good, and I’m blessed to be surrounded by everyone I want to be with on Christmas. I know not everyone is that lucky- especially this year, with travel and weather being so tumultuous. I’ve seen firsthand the misery that can come from the holidays if you’re not surrounded by family, or your family is difficult for whatever reason.

There are also the poor, who are forced to grapple with struggles that are hard for many of us to imagine around the holidays. My girlfriend is an education major and she has told me stories about kids believing Santa himself hates them because he gave the rich kids nicer presents. Stories like that are a more complicated side to Christmas.

But, this season is supposed to be about family and community, and I think we lose that sometimes. Hell, I lose it plenty. I’ve had Christmases where I got so lost in self pity or I got so busy that I didn’t think of others in the way I should have.

So take some time this Christmas to hug someone. Text a friend who might be struggling and tell them you’re here and wish them happy holidays.

And I hope those struggling find some peace and joy, even though its hard. Especially to the Cougs I know dreading this day, we love you and we see you. Pop in a fake Christmas movie and try to enjoy yourself a little bit, damn those who say it has to be sappy to be considered properly Christmas. Humbug to them, I say.

Personally, I recommend Batman Returns.

Happy Holidays, everyone

And Go Fuckin Cougs.

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