Light the Gingerbread Cookie Yankee Candle, guzzle a Venti Peppermint Mocha Starbucks Latte, crank up Deck the Halls and for the love of all that is good, press play so I can watch Will Ferrell adorn yellow tights and frolic in all of his Elf glory- IT’S CHRISTMAS PEOPLE! Well it’s actually November 14, 2013 but just as newly elected New Jersey Governor is as good as the President elect, (shouts, “Christie 2016!”) it might as well be December 24th, complete with Maya Rudolph reading us a Best Buy bedtime story.
For quite some time I have unsuccessfully hid a deep dark secret of mine, but here I am to proclaim it to the Internet. My name is Susan B. Johnson and I do not like Christmas- oh the shame. As much as all of this obsessive holiday hoopla makes me want to scream, I am vowing to give it somewhat of a rest this holiday season. I will let my heart grow a size or two but definitely not three.
A few of my favorite Communication scholars will help me express how I plan for us all to live in Christmas harmony:
Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher and literary critic in the 1900s. His theory of Carnivalesque suggests that holidays such as Carnival, are isolated events in which the dominant culture allows for subversives to behave radically in a “safe environment.” People are given a few days a year to be boisterous, drunk, nude, over indulgent, and riotous, to ensure that for the rest of the year they act according to social rules and regulations. These few days a year are a release to keep people from feeling oppressed enough to incite an uprising. Bakhtin, however, saw a power that he believed the dominant culture neglected. He viewed holidays as catalysts for change. From these infrequent days of ignoring social norms and responsibilities, by acting out on the one day without consequences, he thought people might start to question why there are consequences at all and who they benefit. People might be able to see the social hierarchy more clearly by extending the holiday’s power into the rest of the year.
Antonio Gramsci, an Italian revolutionary thinker of the 1900s, founded the idea of incorporation, in which the dominant culture incorporates a counter-culture movement into order to strip it of its power. A common example of this is the grunge culture. Grunge encouraged its supporters to reject consumerism, to buy used clothes rather than buying new from multinational corporations. Therefore, worn, ripped, baggy, and faded became the trend. Fearing the counterculture’s power to affect sales, the same multinational corporations that grungies hated, welcomed grunge with open arms. They ripped and bleached and wore their new clothes to look used and sold the trend in a safe way. They made it easy for people to appear as though they joined the movement without making sacrifices that the movement depended upon, thus taking away the counterculture power.
I’ll make all of you Christmas lovers a deal- I will recognize Bakhtin’s theory that holidays, Christmas included, have power and therefore are beneficial to a progressing culture, if you recognize that, in Gramsci’s words, Christmas has been incorporated.
Christmas is powerful, I truly believe that. It spreads messages of peace, generosity, selflessness, and family. It asks all of us to slow down and reflect on what is important to us, asks us to be thankful for what we have, and to spread our wealth to those who have less than us. We put our professional aspirations on hold and focus on others, an indulgence that is dangerous to the dominant culture should it spread outside of the Christmas season.
Christmas has also been incorporated. We are encouraged to show our generosity, our selflessness, our love for our family through material gifts. We buy gifts and make care packages to send overseas to the less fortunate. In doing this, we buy gifts from a corporation, and ignore the possibility that this same corporation could be the ones exploiting our less-fortunate gift recipients for their cheap labor. Instead of questioning the system and seeking to transform it, we buy things. Incorporation provides a “safe” way to fulfill our desire to be compassionate. Instead of asking the dangerous question of why, for example, there are people in our communities who work full time and still cannot feed their families, we can buy them a box of instant mashed potatoes and some cranberry sauce and feel just as satisfied.
Now, if you want to enjoy material holiday pleasantries, like your house falsely smelling of freshly baked cookies or drinking sugary drinks, be my guest, I will not chastise you for it. But do me a solid in return, please? Add a moment of reflection in there too. Why do you like these things? Why do they mean so much to you? How do these small pleasures affect other people? Are you using them to ignore the bigger picture?
While you slurp down your Peppermint Mocha Latte and every latte after that, give the Colombian coffee farmer a second thought.
Do not allow your Christmas contribution to the food bank to be a justification to support Welfare cuts or hate of the inconvenience of healthcare reform.
Do not allow Christmas to be an excuse for the one time a year you make time for your family.
Do not compensate the lack of time you spend with your aging grandparents or brother who lives across the country with an espresso machine.
Do not calculate your love for your children based on the number of presents under the tree on Christmas morning.
Embrace the power of Christmas as a catalyst for change.
Even I admit, Christmas has power, but it’s not in the Santa Clauses or the metallic bows or 8 foot Douglas furs. It is in the chance for self reflection. Instead of trampling each other to get our sons the PS4 on Black Friday, why don’t we say, “I love you son, let’s spend time together.” Instead saying “Merry Christmas” when we work at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve, let’s say, “I will fight for you,” and let’s keep saying it into the New Year, the summer and back around to the start of the Christmas season again, November 14th.