Hey ho, hey ho…Christmas has come and gone already again, again again, again again again. But it is the 26th so we are still within the Christmassy mush of things: shops are shuttered, people are at home either stuffing their faces or lolling about, staring out of their windows disbelievingly; others, of course, are up in the mountains, getting thei ski on. ‘This the season of turpitude [so it seems to me], you’re literally expected to just lay back and enjoy delicacies from across the entire cultural spectrum. Indeed, not to be too cosmopolitan about it but Kwanzaa has kicked off; I might just have to cook-up something authentically African one of these days [wink-wink].
The most excruciating activity I’ve been engaged in is looking for presents and writing cards [both in paper and digital]. Going to the gym yesterday was a strange, unseasonal aberration, not something I could mentally slot into these days of all-out sloth.
So this is it once again and forever: the holiday season, the christmas season, the unrepentant repetition of the ritual cycle. The annually repeated promise that there will be no presents, that there will be no materiality, has once again been broken. The thought, perhaps even suspicion, of being gifted something and of being able to proffer nothing in return other than one’s upturned empty hands is horrifying enough to scare one into buying stuff. To have that stuff wrapped in gaudy, glitzy paper and ribbons. And then, heck, since you already have it ready-at-hand [in an obnoxiously non-Hegelian way], come X-Mas Eve to give it to that significant other. After all, it is only a token, a manifestation of your care/concern/regard for that person and not your inner life’s gist per se.
It is as much the token as the thought that counts. And, not to be forgotten, the effort that goes forth into acquiring the relevant and significant specific token. This is what sometimes makes coupon a smidgen suspect: a noticeable absence of consideration of the other’s possible and surmisable desires, an unwillingness to take the risk of buying one specific thing. One always has a year to ferret out the other’s conceivable material needs.
This year things went easily for me: I had bought many cards in untypical advance and I found all priority presents within an unhurried three-hour gallivant about town. I even sat down to write the cards in good time. Forbearance is really not my cup of joe so it was delicious to, for once, step out of my habitat of habits, i.e. potentially chaotic procrastination. To experience the 24th of December as a fret-free day is singular, even though I ended up traveling from one of LU to the other to deliver the cards and stuff personally, add the human touch, cut down on the shipping costs and delay.
For us in the family to desist from present-giving there will have to be, next year, some sort of collectively signed cease-gifting. I don’t know the Swiss Income taxonomy but I would estimate us [the family in most its branches] lower-middle to upper-middle middle class. Thereabouts. Placing myself for now in the lower-middle. There is no such thing as deprivation, distress or notable material hardship but there is, looming darkly, the not altogether impossible potential of sliding down the class ladder to a lower, more exacting rung. To deny this possibility, seeing what-all is going on in the countries around us, would be sheer financial myopathy. Facing this possibility there needs to be a token, a second token considering the first one above, not of care and empathy but of self-efficacy: ‘Look here, I can afford this little thing, this gift, I am not as yet on my way down’. One thus gets a chance to convince oneself: ‘I am still in good standing, I am not yet down in the wilderness of „each one for her/himself“’. And plus the gift is also, inevitably, an investment in good-will and the possibility of future reciprocity; this does not have to be a scheming, calculating, cynical consideration but a damn-nigh socio-genetic aspect of the immemorial rite of gift-giving. Anyways, I’m not trying to pull a Mauss here.
Is there anything different this year, this holiday season, this reflective time of the year? That that is precisely never what it is, reflective. In the German-speaking part of the world, on at the very least every other note one receives around Jesus’ B-day, the word ‘reflective’ or ‘contemplative’ is included like a brain-jerk no-brainer. Yet there is no season in which one [living in the materially flagrant north atlantic lands] is more assaulted by stuff: food, presents, the clothing needed to handle the temperatures, the sheer mass of people at the stores, the nameless stuff one lugs about throughout the streets, etc. It can well be just one of my personal shortcomings, but X-Mas to New Years for me has never been the time where I’ve managed to establish a particularly ‘contemplative’ mindset, other than blackly begrudging the plasma-powered passage of minutes, days, months….and eventually a life-time, I’m sure. Or considering at length which cookie I should grab next from the box and why I never muster the culinary energies to bake any of my own.
No snow show though, none. In early December, given how the white was coming down all over Switzerland, I expected the most white X-Mas in human memory, instead the improbable opposite is what happened: 15º celsius on the 24th. That is a meteorological textbook spring day, as nobody failed to point out, a novelty that has made otherwise idle, humdrum weather-chatter freshly appealing, akin to discussing/speculating/exaggerating in excited tones what golden global-politics-mana a dark-complected President might shower on this long-suffering planet of ours: „Incredible, you can just about run around in a T-Shirt, go have a swim, have a ball-game outdoors, go work on your tan, [fill in relevant spring cliche]“…“Yeah, yeah, you heard, that Ki-Duk mo’fo is shooting the second part of that movie, calls it ‘Spring, Summer, Fall… and Spring’“ [accompanied by a knowing, cinephile nudge of the elbow].
It is woefully too warm for this time of year but I cannot help enjoying it, finding pleasure in the very thing I know to be fundamentally fucked-up yet gliding immediately, as though across inexistent ice, to its superficial, gratifying aspects, like not having to do battle with sludge and snow-stumped darkness. The TV-weather-frogs too are salivating, anuran fun at the fly farm, having these days the unexpected opportunity to tell the viewers what they think they want to hear… and basking in the abstruse credit they seem to want to take for it. Informing you about this vernal weather is as good as being its very cause. Any mention of „climate change“ is evidently the equivalent of handing in a formal request for the sack, the ax, the heave-ho; what is really happening is „warm air masses moving up from the Sahara“, „a most unusual, triangular constellation of high pressure zones closing in from“, „a kindly gift, dear viewers, from the weather gods“, etc. No, nay, niet, many apologies to the informed ones; It won’t do, this truth-telling be the prerogative of Ex-Vice-Presidents, maverick German Social Democrats, C.A. Fechner, I. Togola and people of this hardy, far-sighted ilk.