Once upon a time, Christmas meant something. It was about being bombarded with advertisements for the “newest, coolest” stuff you neither needed nor wanted. It was about rushing out to buy that stuff and not having to worry that other shoppers might infect you. It was about giving in to immense seasonal pressure to blow all the money in your savings account without wondering if you should put some aside for a box of Covid-19 self-tests.
Nowadays, sadly, Christmas is all about public health, taking precautions, and anxiety. All the beauty and mystery of frenzied, last-minute shopping is gone. Today, this most sacred of holidays is dominated by discussions about vaccines, if it’s really that wise for all nine of us to crowd into Grandma’s house for a meal, and what sort of documentation we need to make the gathering legal. It used to be that people would stand in awe of the mountain of packaging, wrapping, and styrofoam their overconsumption had produced. Not anymore. People choose to discuss the pros and cons of a new Pfizer treatment rather than admire their garbage.
I remember when I was a girl, in the days before Christmas my mother would take me shopping with her. There were no rules about wearing masks then, of course, so I could see her normally serene and sensible face morph into that of a madwoman. She turned into a ravenous beast, stuffing our shopping cart with ever more cheap decorations, gifts for anyone she could think of, and every food item imaginable just because it was marked as “seasonal.” We’d do that four or five times, and when it was over, my mother’s credit card would be maxed out, and she’d be sitting like a queen on a throne of red and green crap that would end up in the garage within a week.
And my father was no better. All it took was a single advert for a video camera being “on sale” and he would lose his mind. He was like a brainwashed sleeper agent who, after hearing a nearly inaudible signal, would suddenly turn into a slobbering werewolf, fighting with other shoppers to grab a Sony KV-28SF5, the first television with a flat screen, howling at the moon when he scored a good deal on a fancy doll house for me even though I was already in my teens. One time he came back with an entire car full of mini basketballs. “On sale,” was all he could say before he collapsed on the driveway.
Christmas has lost all its meaning, and I find this very sad, especially now that I’ve got children of my own. My only hope is that when Covid becomes a distant memory, I’ll be able to take my kids out shopping with me, sans masks, sans sanitizer gel, sans fear of accidentally touching another person while we both reach into a bin of discounted Xbox games that our kids will never play but that we’ll buy nevertheless – because that’s the true spirit of the season.
Amanda Martins is a pet stylist who specializes in hamsters, gerbils, and other small rodents.