My daughter was ten the year she had to have a Zoomer dog for Christmas.
It’s an old story, one you’ve certainly heard or lived. The hot toy trend, the frenzy, the scrounging the internet, the eBay bidding war. Your child tells everyone who asks (or doesn’t) that she wants – needs – a Zoomer dog for Christmas.
Enter in my propriety formula for how to ruin Christmas,
Step 1: Get yourself some massive expectation.
Zoomer is a robotic dog. He’s rechargeable, wags his tail and, thanks to a mid-body swivel mechanism, plays dead by flipping onto his side. What more is there to know?
But Zoomer was nowhere to be found. The battery-operated dog whose LED eyes displayed stars when it “loved” you was backordered until spring. We couldn’t even find a price gouged Zoomer on the internet.
It didn’t matter what was under that tree. If it wasn’t Zoomer, it wasn’t going to be good.
You know what it’s like to spend all the energy and money to make Christmas special knowing there will be tears? (If you’re a parent, I’m sure you know.)
Christmas morning devastation.
Step 2: Try to make other people happy.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first, or last, Christmas this happened. Chasing objects to secure someone's joy is a very dicey game.
(Full disclosure, I remember experiencing this as a child in the 80s when all the Cabbage Patch dolls sold out. God did I want a yarn-headed doll with Xavier Roberts signature scrawled across it’s heinie. I still remember the desperation and the searing disappointment.)
I love Christmas. I really do. Mostly, I love the season – the lights, the gatherings, the music, the kindness. I love the extra specialness of everything, the sparkle, the cheer.
But can we talk for a minute about gift giving?
Step 3: Make it about the presents.
I know some people live for it. Ah, finding the perfect gift for someone you love. The eagerness of seeing them open it.
Maybe I’m just not a good gift giver. Because the pressure of getting the “right” gift - one that tells them just how much you love them! - has snuffed the fun right out of it for me.
It feels like being strapped into a chute and shuttled down the conveyor belt of capitalism. The stores with their post-Halloween Christmas displays. The commercials projecting idyllic Christmas mornings where the perfect gift translates to perfect moments, perfect joy.
The crushing pressure to get it right.
As if a present can give someone everything they need. Christmas morning heals all.
Step 4: Ignore your emotional baggage.
When I was a kid drowning in a dysfunctional family, Christmas morning was saddled with a dangerous and intoxicating hope. For the weeks, I would watch the presents grow under the tree, certain one of them would give me what I needed: redemption. I didn’t make this up on my own. I’d gorged on Christmas movies and commercials that recycled this promise over and over.
Christmas was a time of miracles, the ultimate mulligan. One I desperately counted on.
Imagine the agony when I opened a pair of socks.
Step 5: Buy into the cultural narrative
The easiest way to ruin Christmas is to walk the societal tightrope of expectation, completion and greed. Buy in to the capitalistic, privileged, racially imbalanced narratives of Christmas. The wealthy white family lounging in their mcmansion opening gifts that could feed a hungry family for a month. The stressed mother (who is thin and beautiful, and almost always white) who has saved Christmas by hunting down that one out-of-stock-must-have item. Phew!
(I could have really used her the year of Zoomer-gate.)
Christmas is a business. A for-profit industry that tells us the joy, cheer and goodwill of the season are only available by maxing out your credit cards, by spending “enough” so people feel loved.
In other words, money. Christmas itself is for sale. The image of it. The fire, the flannel, the smiles. The post-worthy feast, the light-trimmed garland, the stacks of glittery boxes.
How flawed is a Christmas model where the joy and wonder can implode like a house of cards by wasn’t isn’t under the tree? When did Christmas become so fragile, so damn wimpy?
Good news: my daughter survived without a Zoomer dog, and it wasn’t long before she had a real dog.
But two days ago, I was scouring the internet for a trendy sweatshirt on my daughter's list. Nearly the whole inventory was out of stock.
My heart sank. Here we go again.
But no. I get to decide how to do Christmas.
How to enjoy Christmas in one easy step: Figure out what feels joyful and just do that.