I remember the exact moment I decided Christmas was the most horrid holiday ever conceived. I was 19 years old and attending college full time while working at a local department store. On this particular night, the day before Christmas Eve, I was running the cash register. It was nearing the end of my shift, and the long lines of customers waiting to purchase their selections was finally a more manageable size. My feet hurt after standing in high heels for eight hours, and I couldn’t wait to go home.
Two women near my cash register were sifting through a middle aisle display – a massive, waist-high cardboard box filled with prepackaged impulse gifts. The women were on opposite sides of the box, their children standing beside them. At almost the same moment, the women discovered a cabbage patch doll buried near the bottom of the box, likely hidden there by a shopper who had hoped to return to purchase it later. This was the year of the cabbage patch doll (I still have no idea why), and both women pulled at the doll which was still attached to a display box. At first, their struggle was silent, both pulling and tugging while trying to continue to hold the hand of the child beside them. But when neither were willing to back down, the tug of war turned into all-out war, with children forgotten and both hands now on the doll itself. Even when their children started to cry, these women didn’t stop pulling on the doll.
I called security as the altercation escalated. Everyone nearby stopped to watch. The women were now pulling with both hands, their feet planted against the side of the box and bodies torqued outward for better leverage. And as they pulled harder, they screamed obscenities at each other.
And then the doll ripped in half as stuffing flew high into the air. The children stopped crying, eyes wide and mouths agape as their heads turned upward to witness the disembowelment of the store’s last remaining cabbage patch doll. The women both fell backwards, landing with a thump on their hind ends, each holding their half of a now very deflated doll.
There was silence from the crowd that had gathered within the store, and the Christmas jingle playing on the store’s loudspeakers seemed uncomfortably loud. The silence was broken when the daughter of one of the women, maybe five years old and with tears streaming down her face, spoke up.
“I didn’t want it that bad, Momma. I don’t want anything that bad,” she said.
I don’t know what happened to the women or their children. Security came and escorted them all away, and I went back to ringing up the final purchases of the evening. But it was in that moment that I decided that Christmas brought out the worst in people. It made rational, reasonable women behave like toddlers as they succumbed to the pressure to make a miracle happen, to have that year’s coveted toy under their Christmas tree.
But over the years, I’ve realized that it wasn’t Christmas that brought out the worst in those two women. They brought it out in themselves. That’s who they chose to be in that moment, no matter what time of the year it was.
Christmas season isn’t just about gifts. It’s about finding a way to celebrate the end of another year, no matter what it held. It’s about cheerful music. (Except for maybe the song about the drummer boy. For the life of me, I have no idea how that one came to be, or how it has survived this long, but that’s just me.) It’s about beautifying the wintry world around us as glowing lights and luminarias transform entire neighborhoods. Christmas season allows us to connect with others and celebrate relationships (and create some pretty embarrassing memories if we forgot the rule about not drinking too much as the office party). Christmas is the season for being with family, whether we like them or wish we’d gotten in a different line when they were handing out families. Either way, we’re reminded of our roots and our place in this world. We’re given an excuse to put off the heavy cares of life, if only for a few days, to find the good in life and in each other.
The uglier side of this holiday will always be around, because it’s part of human nature – the wanting more and the burden of feeling compelled to give more. But it isn’t the holiday that’s horrid – it’s what we choose to see in it and do with it. I’m so inspired by those who find this season a good excuse to help out those in need, to donate a little bit extra to their local food bank or shelter, to visit a nursing home to sing a few songs, or to share a plate of cookies with a neighbor.
Christmas isn’t horrid at all. It really is whatever we decide it will be and whoever we decide we will be.