Television always presents Christmas as a time of merry-making and gift-giving, nothing more - Christmas Dinners introduction. Always, there is a sumptuous feast upon an elegant table: mouth-watering pastries (baked in such a way you cannot have just one), rich and hearty meat dishes (oozing with juiciness, just seeing it will clog your arteries), colorful candies (made with especially your sweet tooth in mind), assorted beverages (something for everyone, even the designated driver), and decadent desserts (goodbye starvation diet!). In a corner are the gifts wrapped up in glossy and colorful wrappers, each with a bow (red is most often used) and greeting card attached. The Christmas tree in the middle of all the festivities is decked in crystal balls, popcorn, figurine angels, with a solitary star on top. The fireplace is loaded with stockings from everyone, in hopes that Santa Claus has not forgotten them. Everyone is having a good time, these happy, rosy-cheeked people, all problems forgotten or solved.
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This is how Christmas is presented on TV. At the risk of being a Grinch, I wonder whether that Christmas scene has factual basis in real life. The Christmas scene on TV is so simplistic, so trite, and so formulaic; it fails to strike a chord in me. I am not pessimistic; what I find wrong with this is I just cannot reconcile this Christmas dinner being presented to us by media as something that normally happens, when in reality, I have yet to see it as such.
In TV, the whole family is complete: the hard-working father, the doting mother is serving dishes, the first-born home from college, the high school cheerleader daughter, the youngest assisting the mother, old aunts and uncles just flown in from across the state, the grandfathers and grandmothers basking in the glow of familial bonding. Yet, I know of no one who can gather their whole family together every single time during Christmas. A lot of my friends have divorced parents, and only a few have had amicable divorce. Those who parted less amicably will have a go at each other’s throats when they see each other, never mind if it is the season to be merry. Not everyone is in good terms with their relatives outside their nuclear family (or even within); some still have unresolved issues over lovers, inheritance, or even children’s toys.
The grandfathers and grandmothers are all either too sick to join the festivities, too senile to remember what the racket is all about, or buried too deep in the ground. TV representations of Christmas are trying to make it seem that Christmas can solve every single problem, every single conflict, every single issue, when it isn’t that simple. Christmas is just a day on the calendar, come to think of it. Other religions do not even celebrate Christmas. It isn’t a day when crows turn white, when world peace is finally achieved, when George W. Bush finally says something halfway intelligent, or when equality is finally attained.
The whole scene does not even take into account other issues faced by real people having Christmas in real life. While that TV family is having their dinner inside, other people are suffering in the cold, harsh winter in the real world, trying to stay close to the warmth of a bonfire inside a drum. Other people are living in perpetual fear of being deported, so fearful are they that they consent to low wages and long work hours. Others are working overtime for double pay, just so they can afford to have a special dinner for one night in a year, or at least decent dinners for the next two weeks. Still, others are dreaming of the time when they can have fantastic Christmas dinners every single night, just like those people shown on TV.
I understand if people down on their luck just want to be happy and splurge more than necessary for one night. Of course people would want to have one night when they can relax, enjoy, and not think of everyday matters. But I keep on wondering, has our existence reached that low, that we feel we will no longer be able to achieve that kind of life where nothing is inadequate or lacking, so we just have a special dinner once every year so we can at least experience it? Have we accepted this rut we are in, this rut of mediocrity and passivity, where we believe that this is as good as it gets? Can we not think of a better world where everyone can live better lives? Maybe not as luxurious as those Christmas dinners on TV, but consistent, decent meals every single day.
When I was a child, I had always thought Christmas was wonderful. There were bright lights everywhere, snow falling gently like powdered sugar on cookies my mother bakes, Christmas carols played all the time, making snow angels and snow forts with my cousins, lots of toys, hot cups of cocoa topped with whipped cream and sprinkles. It was a wonderful time to be a child, and I thought everyone had experienced Christmas the same way I did. I had thought that Christmas was as perfect for other people as seen on TV.
But I grew up. I discovered powdered sugar cookies and hot cups of cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles are not all great, because if you had too much, you become fat, and people make fun of you. My cousins and I pursued different interests, so we no longer had time for snow angels and snow forts. I also learned that not everyone had toys or delighted in Christmas carols or bright lights, because they were too busy trying to survive, having been born unto a life of violence, abuse and neglect. These aspects were not shown on TV.
As I have said, the problem with Christmas presented in TV is that it is too simplistic; one cannot over-emphasize its almost-juvenile presentation of Christmas. It ignores how Christmas is now being commercialized in reality. It ignores how Christmas has been reduced into a season where one is deeply entrenched in consumerist culture: buying gifts, food, Christmas décor. By buying these things, supposedly, one experiences a joyous holiday. Where does this leave the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the street urchins? What about them? Do they not also deserve Christmas? Christmas is supposedly for everyone, a time when everyone rejoices that a savior is born. This is why it is being celebrated, why it is a joyous celebration, why TV Christmases are so, well, happy. But this kind of thinking instills that someone is going to save us from our suffering. This impresses upon as a sense of complacency, since someone else is going to help those poor people anyway. It does not impart upon us a sense of urgency to help people who have so little. TV Christmases never show the pain or misery or desperation of these people; in fact, they never show these people on TV. Yet, Christmas was originally for everyone, because a savior, one who will save the forsaken, feed the hungry, and heal the wounded, has come to Earth.
In my experience, only the rich have Christmas. Those who cannot afford it just do not celebrate it. No sumptuous food, no creatively-wrapped gifts, no extraordinary Christmas tree, no decorated fireplace, no Santa Claus. Just haggard, hollow-eyed people, always on the lookout for the bill collector, the next paycheck, food on the table.
For sometime, I believed that TV represented reality truthfully. Coupled with my experience of Christmas, I readily accepted TV’s version of every family’s Christmas as truth. I know better now: TV’s representation (especially of Christmas) is too simplistic, making it not realistic. It does not include the less lovely elements of Christmas in America: unemployment, extravagant spending, homelessness.
I used to think I was lucky, to be able to experience the life I had, a charmed one. I know better now: it is not whether you feel you are lucky for coming into a comfortable life. It is what you are going to do so other people will someday be as “lucky” as you. It is using the advantages you have for the benefit of other people. It is working for a better future, one where Christmas dinners are as common in real life as in TV.