Forgive me if you will the cultural presumption that Christmas is on your agenda. I am further guessing that those for whom the religious experience of Christmas has all but vanished nonetheless continue to participate in the ritual of Christmas to some extent. The event has so insinuated itself into our society that it is no longer a precondition of its celebration to be either Christian or among the faithful. Christmas is for many people now submerged in the larger scheme of the “Season” or a “Winter Festival” and as such is merely a holiday whatever your practice. You can be assured that most of the country is shut down on Christmas morning. You can also count on a pervasive sentiment of good will and merriment frequently punctuated by gifts. What however isn’t quite so standard is what people will be doing on Christmas morning. It is no longer safe to assume that people will be in the family home much less gathered around the decorative tree. There are people who insist upon dismissing Christmas entirely and who make a point of insulating their children from what they consider the overwhelming vulgarity of Christmas. But even they must be doing something on Christmas morning.
While the retail giants are closed on Christmas Day there are invariably smaller convenience stores which are open. These stores must of course be manned by employees some of whom are there at a modest premium, others in hopes of profit from a “cornered” market (pardon the pun). As regular as it is to malign Ma Bell you can bet that someone is either on call or obliged to attend to a communications emergency. Likewise police, firefighters and paramedics are among the first responders on duty Christmas morning.
There will be those who battle their way through airports on Christmas morning (often for a reduced price) and will therefore deal with the airport and security staff. And don’t forget about the cab driver who got you to the airport. For those already at their destination the only thing white about their Christmas is the sand at the seashore. More and more people are opting for the perceived economy of spending their money on a southern vacation rather than on gifts for one another. This commercial justification nonetheless continues to offend the older members of the family who persist in the Norman Rockwell picture of Christmas which clearly never includes a turkey by the pool. The effrontery also fuels considerable guilt in the minds of the tanned vacationers (a culpability which they are remarkably able to withstand).
If indeed you are on holiday, cardboard cut-outs or dummies behind the netted curtains of your home are likely unnecessary since statistically even burglars take a vacation on Christmas Day.
As memorialized by Mrs. Prothero in Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” insurance claims skyrocket on Christmas Day and you may find yourself having to deal with a household fire or other loss which is often the product of alcohol and excessive occupation and related distractions. Many people will begin drinking at 9:00 a.m. on Christmas morning. The most common potations are orange juice and Champagne, Bloody Caesars or egg-nog.
Strikingly there is a spike in on-line divorce searches. Similarly on-line purchases enjoy an uplift including paradoxically luxury sex toys. Mobile internet traffic increases on Christmas morning as people check their work email accounts.
Hospital attendances are common on Christmas morning. Some are for the happy event of a birth but others result from typical accidents involve stabbings from scissors and knives used to open presents in a rush, and tripping over toys or electric cables for new gadgets.
For the traditionalists there is still a great deal of variation. Some open presents on Christmas Eve; others wouldn’t think of peeking before Christmas morning and even then only when everyone in the household has gathered in the living room to witness the industry and rapture. If you’ve deceived yourself to snap your fingers at the ceremony of gift-giving you may discover yourself hunting anywhere for an emporium at which to purchase something, anything for someone, anyone. This contrasts with those experienced gift-buyers who have accomplished their appointed task many weeks or months beforehand (likely a precaution taken to ensure fulfillment of the stacked social commitments in the days leading up to Christmas). Another division among traditionalists is when to go to church, some doing so on Christmas Eve, others on Christmas morning.
While it may be considered anomalous many in fact spend Christmas doing absolutely nothing with family or friends, maybe just going to a movie. This is particularly common among transplants from other regions and usually people who live in large urban centres. Among the less densely populated communities there is a good chance that anyone “alone” for Christmas will be invited to join a local family. Being alone for Christmas is still considered the ultimate deprivation and a sure-fire recipe for colossal human sadness, a sensation heightened by the dismay evoked when sharing your anticipated destiny. Don’t forget those in prison. The number of inmates climbs annually and there are always plans to build more prisons.
An evolving tradition (and one which offers a means of placating your burning generosity) is to help serve food to the poor (a sobering alternative to making cookies for Santa). Considering the overwhelming selfishness which lies just below the veneer of the Christmas festivities it is perhaps a healthful reminder of what Christmas is all about if there is to be anything other than pretence. There are also food banks and Christmas hampers to be stocked and distributed.
It is impossible to escape the enigmatic attraction of Christmas in spite of desensitized analysis and modern inclusive thinking. If the misanthropic Ebenezer Scrooge was converted to its blissful pathos it is hardly surprising that lesser persons should likewise succumb:
For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled. In the rich and heavy afternoon, the Uncles breathing like dolphins and the snow descending, I would sit among festoons and Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make a model man-o’-war, following the Instructions for Little Engineers, and produce what might be mistaken for a sea-going tramcar.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953)