Cynical Christmas Hater Takes Up Holiday Hiking to Spite Commercialism
Let me preface this by saying: I do not actually hate Christmas, but I strongly disagree with many Christmas-related things. In 2014, I announced to my mother that I was no longer celebrating Christmas. I’m sure this was difficult for her to hear; she absolutely loved Christmas. Every year, the erection and decoration of the Christmas tree was a full day event. We had many times the number of ornaments that could possibly fit on the eight-foot faux fir, meaning we often hung more than one ornament from many of its branches, and left hundreds unused each year. My mom delighted in the unpacking and arranging of the Christmas Village each season, lighting each tiny shop and house and placing the ice skating figurines on their mirror pond, sprinkling the whole scene with sparkling snow bits. I am fond of these memories, but there were two main reasons for my departure from tradition that year, which I tried to explain as logically and gently as I could.
One: I had become something of a minimalist and the commercialization of the holiday was a bit too much for me to reconcile. How could I participate in a cultural tradition of obligatory shopping and purchasing and creation of junk consumer goods that could hardly be considered of benefit to the world as a whole? The idea that we all need more things, for the sake of showing our love for one another, is wholly unaligned with my ideals. And maybe I could be called idealistic, but I want a world in which we exhibit our care for one another authentically and without an arbitrary timeline.
Two: I am not a Christian. I do not celebrate the holy days of Jews or Muslims or Taoists; why should I celebrate Christian holy days? I am well aware that many of the traditions of the Christmas holiday as celebrated in our culture have roots from long before Christianity got hold of them, and perhaps in the future, with some research and thought, I can incorporate some traditions back into my practice, but it takes time to decide how to acknowledge the passing of time for oneself.
I was 24 and determined to answer the big questions: Who am I? What do I believe in? What do I do? What do I stand for? How do I live as Christine? This decision was part of a grander narrative, the very same one that led me to decide to hike the Appalachian Trail, the drive to set off on my own and decide how to be me. The drive to wrestle with everything I ever thought I knew and rebuild myself from the ground up.
I did not celebrate Christmas with my family that year; I actually did not even take the day off work. I spent the day running a register at the Village Store in Yosemite National Park, greeting customers like it was any other day and laughing with my best friend at the register across from mine. Three months later my mom died, and it wasn’t until Christmas 2015 that I realized the predicament I was in.
Since my mother’s death, I have struggled to find a ritual to honor her memory; I think of her often and she has impacted who am I and how I live my life in thousands of little ways. The contrasting ideas of celebrating Christmas in her honor and staying true to my beliefs about the holiday are complicated by the fact that I feel guilty about choosing not to spend her last Christmas with her, not knowing that it was in fact her last Christmas.
In 2015 and 2016 I spent the day doing nothing Christmas related and enjoying a day off work. When people hear you have no plans to see family or do anything for Christmas, they are often sympathetic. “Oh, that’s so sad, do you want to come to my *insert name of holiday event you don’t want to go to here*?” I have often resorted to blanket statements, like “I hate Christmas” or “I plan to spend the day scrooging around and pretending it’s not Christmas,” just to get people off my back. But the truth is, Christmas will never be what it once was to me; the magic of Christmas was completely wrapped in my mom’s enthusiasm and that is one torch I am not ready to carry alone.
Last year, I decided to hike in the Grand Canyon on Christmas Day. When my employees asked about my Christmas plans, I was jazzed to tell them I was going to the Grand Canyon for the first time! I drove the three hours from my home south of Sedona and I was nearly alone on the rim. It was a crisp, clear day, not cold, no snow, and I felt as if the sounds of the wind coming out of the canyon were speaking directly to me. The immensity and longevity of such a place cannot resist speaking the truths of the universe and reminding one of their own impermanence and the absolute indifference of the world to your tiny existence. The canyon does not care that it is Christmas Day, it does not care that I am a girl alone detached from the practices of the past, wandering this world without a clue as to how to proceed, it does not care that I have lost my mother and cannot quite seem to make sense of it all. The canyon just is and has been for thousands of years, and will likely continue to be for thousands more, without regard to the pain and suffering of those who seek enlightenment in its depths.
I hiked below the rim that day and vowed to return; I have still not made my way to the Colorado River but I will, because every time I stand on the rim of that magnificent canyon, I am reminded how small I am, and every time I venture into its depths, I feel a little bit bigger. As you make your way down, it is impossible to not feel as one with the walls around you, as if their expanse makes you larger yourself, extending your energetic pull for miles around.
This year, I spent Christmas with my dad. For the first time since my mother’s passing, I am not without family. I made chili and did nothing ceremonious or of consequence, but it was nice. I also made time to go for a short hike not far from home. To clear my head and get some fresh air; as it turns out the cure for all that ails you is sun on your face and the trail beneath your feet.
It was not a day of celebration or cataclysmic realization, it was just a day. A day spent with family without obligation or gift exchanging or false merriment.
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What a wonderful post. I really am glad how you stated about not celebrating holidays you don’t believe in. What I have thought for a long long time. But you said if for me to a tee-. Thanks so much for that. Totally 100% enjoyed rest of article. You write very well.
Going to go back and re-read all you have written.
Looking forward to your next posting.
Thanks so very much.
Leo ( Yermo)
Sorry for the loss of your mother. Good to see I’m not the only one that isn’t a fan of commercial Christmas, and more so this year after completing my AT hike, living the simplest of lives for 3 months and experiencing the extraordinary kindness of strangers. Great post! Happy Trails!
Too bad your childhood was full of false merriment. We always knew the reason for such merriment had to do with the birth of Jesus, our savior, and the gathering of family and friends, some bearing gifts, some not, to enjoy fellowship, food and love—commandments straight from God who, by the way, created the Grand Canyon, the sun, wind, and stands of trees you pass through each day on your hikes.
I agree with your freedom to choose whatever spiritual source you wish to name, or to name none. No doubt you won’t suffer at all from the realization that you could have made merry with your mother on her last Christmas.