One for the Angels
As those keenest to the Trump era are screeching about their right to force “Merry Christmas” down everybody’s throats, I think back to when I was a kid during the holidays.
Christmas was—and still is—one of many holidays marked by conventionalism and consumerism. There are timeless traditions underlain with goodwill, which we indulge as well as improvise, and there’s a lot of money to be made in the effort to externalize our endearment.
However, campy conservatives and fiscal fundamentalists have likewise economized the season. They conflate exclusivity with effigy somewhat ironically, in staking their supremacy to impose their idealism, and demoralize any dissent, real or imagined. Even under their assumption of a goodwill holiday, they manage to vindicate the nihilism of our species. More intent to keep the “Christ” in Christmas than to foster festivities, they argue their “right”’ to declare “Merry Christmas” and disdain alternatives, such as “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays,” more inclusive of the various other holidays that occur within the same span and whose goodwill and gratitude are irrelevant to Christianity.
In the wake of the current administration, amidst the Trump troglodytes and the White House built on white hoods, conservatives along with other intolerant idealists have sworn to “reclaim” the holidays. They’ve sworn to do this by maintaining “Merry Christmas” will not only supplant, but subordinate any alternatives, all in the name of Christianity and patriotism.
This is a rather curious initiative barring the context of colonialism and Christianity. The religion was not only imposed upon enslaved peoples, but weaponized as a means of cultural and literal genocide against islanders, Africans, and Indigenous peoples. The consolidation of a Christ whose manic and capricious zealots is understandably remiss when you think of that legacy (which is ironically still denied or debated by devil’s advocates). Neither is it appealing to one whose veins course the blood memory of these ancestral atrocities.
A white Jesus cannot be universalized as the poster boy for goodwill, let alone “Peace on Earth.” Neither can his saltine saints and mayo martyrs whom are celebrated, whereas the crimes committed by the people whom assumed “His image” have yet to be reckoned.
Of course, the religiosity of Christmas as a holiday has been somewhat lost in translation thanks to modernization and globalization. Prayers aren’t practiced as widely as broadcast specials looped in likeness. Classic or cartoon personae define the holidays as most know them. So do colour schemes, ornaments, pastries, dinners, and so forth.
But none of this is all that vexes me about Christmastime. The rueful religious fanatics and intolerant idiocracy are just part and parcel in life as I know it. Whenever I think of any holiday, including Christmas, I think of the magic it brings. For me, the ornaments of the occasion offer some reprieve from oppression. I believed they signified inclusivity where we avow and accept ourselves in goodwill. I believed that we cultivated sentiments and spaces in likeness.
However, I’ve grown to acknowledge otherwise.
Back in grade school, during the holidays, I remember the onlookers: the kids who didn’t celebrate Christmas or couldn’t afford to participate in Secret Santa. They would offset the class count when the rest of us were marched to the atrium for carols or candy runs. I remember how sorry I felt as they were alienated when they stood off or awkwardly amidst the rest of us. I remember the teachers with white skin and ivory insights, whom cast those who didn’t celebrate to the halls.
In other ways, I remember being amongst the anomalies.
My mother earned a modest living as a nurse who worked double shifts which spanned multiple assisted care facilities. We lived in a series of unguarded, but sanctimonious suburbs. Our neighbours were novel, embittered by and engrossed in each other; but somehow, only we were the ones to spur their suspicions. Perhaps, they noticed that my mother was reserved and resourceful, recycling everything she could: pocketing extra baggies from the fruit aisle that she could repurpose to package my lunch and other belongings, accessorizing in accordance to what she could scavenge from our attic and thrift stores, and crushing bananas into pastes for pancakes.
Each Christmas, she would erect the same foil tree she’d purchased when I was a baby. Likewise, she would unearth old ornaments and wrapping paper she’d preserved with newspapers within Styrofoam coolers. The carols that comprised her playlist were either reggae renditions from the early eighties or Motown classics.
When my mother’s shifts conflicted with caregiving, my father would look after me. He worked in the postal service and real estate, but was a makeshift mechanic and athlete with an affinity for arithmetic. He would rescue me in the night, when I would peer fearfully into the shadows from my scratchy blankets, and assure me there were no monsters. I would suspect the contrary despite my nightlight, and he’d eventually relent and stay with me until I fell asleep. He would heft me onto his shoulders to see the holiday parade slated before the snowfall, and take me sledding once we dug ourselves out of the Great White Worth.
We looked more alike, but that didn’t dispel any disbelief. People in our neighbourhoods looked as if we were out of place, even as we similarly scurried to savour the season. Our skin was like sandstone, an amalgamate of Indigeneity and Blackness. People, many old school, would refer to us as “mutts” in passing with a chuckle. Neither of us understood the “joke.”
Conversely, my father was also systematically excluded or benched when he played sports recreationally. One of the defining aspects of my parents’ sporadic relationship is how my mother disliked this. Particularly when he was targeted, then injured during games out of “rivalry” after being on the receiving end of racial slurs. None of which diminished during the holidays.
My little sister had been shuffled between babysitters by the time she’d reached kindergarten. I was only seven when she was born, legally too young to babysit—even though I’d tended to her more than the chalky and cherub housewives my mother employed to cart us to their homes after school, often alongside their children whom they proceeded to park in front of the TVs so they could bury themselves in Harlequins.
They would also gloss over magazines and get lost in phone calls that stretched into the evenings. Their eyes would shrink if anything was amiss. For some, I noticed their interactions with us weren’t unlike those with their own children and even husbands. If there was any conflict, they would dissuade dissent with cherry lies. And, they would bolt back to their bookshelves after they rummaged for treats or trinkets to mend whatever they could make of wounds.
Many had taken exception to my sister since she struggled with respiratory issues which required patience as well as supervision: concepts that they couldn’t emulate, let alone register amidst their incongruous intimacies. These white women had children I would grow up with in school, children many would imagine as more darling than they really were. Their daughters would become popular girls or hearty hobbyists with paraphernalia who declared their allegiance abroad or amidst apathetic cliques. Most of their sons would become deluged in their dens with video games. Some would become jocks who flexed their pecs on and off the field to dodge accountability.
All of them functioned through white fragility. They were emboldened by expensive heirlooms, gifts, and gravitas. Fellow whites would favour them. Tokens would vindicate the exceptionalism established by peers and provosts. These people would assume mantles of colorblindness and all-inclusive albeit ambiguous ideologies of ‘equality.’ They would play up the prospects of marginalized peoples only to balk against their realities or callouts.
Christmastime was an annual one-off to assume altruism. They could volunteer for carols, can or clothing drives, and soup kitchens. They could also call it a day at the end of their shift, the more conscientious ones could also muster some spare pocket change. Additionally, they could also cite this volunteer work on their résumés, college applications, and as a testament to quality character if they ever ran for student council—even though it was an open secret that they were insincere and inept to their stations, which is evidenced by their complacency to the inequalities they perpetuate.
I know many of whom currently assume similar stations in my former university’s notoriously lax student union. I’m sure my sister knows more than her share at her campus. She gradually became healthier over many holidays. She grew into her lungs, and we would grow estranged from that ivory ilk regardless of any holiday.
Maybe magic truly does exist at the heart of holidays. My eyes still burn sentimentally whenever I think back on those holiday seasons, particularly Christmastime because of all the song and dance. The funny thing is that I realize world hasn’t changed much since. The hashtag activism and social justice celebrities cultivated through this day’s social media are no exception to the discriminants and intolerance which define conservatism, capitalism, and white supremacy as we know it—which is evidenced in how earnestly the resurgent right, centrists, and idealistic liberals cling to the minute distinctions rather than respectively relish, reconsider, or restructure the disparities altogether.
Whatever magic we may find in the holidays will not abridge the choice chasms of privilege and positionality that we will not or simply cannot cross. One of these days, perhaps, I may find some crossing within my family; all of whom are defined by blood and bridges I am unable to yet cross or burn.
Fallen Matthews: " I'm a Black, Indigenous IDPhD student at Dalhousie University. My areas of concentration are film studies, psychoanalytic theory, and history in addition to feminist studies [namely theories and methodologies within content, discourse analysis]."