Why I’m Against Christmas Cheer

Taken at face value, who could argue against “Christmas cheer?” Everyone looks forward to the Holiday Season, so the lore goes. Christmas is a national reprieve from the mundanity of everyday life, a time to set aside our troubles, kick back, and revel in festivity.

When “cheer” is experienced genuinely, it can have great salutary effect. But when cheer is effectively enforced — by cultural and/or familial custom — it can do just the opposite. I don’t feel particularly compelled to adopt a cheerful demeanor simply because today happens to be the 25th day of December, and the expectation that I must sours my mood further. Ritualistic expressions of saccharine cheer are almost always pretty depressing, in fact, on Christmas or any other day.

In 2008, Christopher Hitchens mused on “the moral and aesthetic nightmare of Christmas”:

As in such dismal banana republics, the dreary, sinister thing is that the official propaganda is inescapable. You go to a train station or an airport, and the image and the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere. You go to a more private place, such as a doctor’s office or a store or a restaurant, and the identical tinny, maddening, repetitive ululations are to be heard. So, unless you are fortunate, are the same cheap and mass-produced images and pictures, from snowmen to cribs to reindeer. It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined “themes” have been programmed into the system.

I would argue that the yearly glut of manufactured holiday “cheer” actually fosters widespread alienation and detachment.

We all know people whose highest aspiration in life is to be entertained. They seek out pleasure in the form of trivial distractions — sports, sitcoms, gossip. That’s not to say that I have never sought out those pleasures, or that I believe they are always necessarily harmful. But I do think it’s important to recognize them as “low” pleasures. Fun, perhaps, but superficial and often mind-numbing. (I should make a distinction between playing sports, which can obviously be quite healthy, and plopping on the couch to watch sports on TV.)

To me, “Christmas cheer” is another manifestation of this rather base impulse — the need to constantly hop ourselves up on ephemeral happiness, which makes attaining lasting happiness more difficult. If you are able to derive genuine cheer from Christmas, that’s good. But I am very wary of the broader societal impact.

(image via Shutterstock)

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • Cecelia Baines

    I agree 100-percent. This “holiday” means absolutely nothing to me. Not bad, not good. It is a day. BUT, the constant bombardment and bullshit “cheer” makes me sick. This whole BS notion that we must be kind to our fellow humans, ‘cuz it’s Christmas is just asinine.

    And I HATE being told “Merry Christmas” by every programmed drone and LCD slack-jawed dumbass out there. How would they feel if I started wishing everyone “Happy Ramadan” during that season? Or Vishnu Loves You? My guess is most people would be offended or think I was a weirdo (okay, I am a weirdo). BUT when the stinking masses and programmed herd says “Merry Christmas” if I take offense I am waging war on Xmas.

    I do not say Bah Humbug, but that becomes the immediate reaction when I inform people I don’t celebrate this stupid holiday.

    So, to all Christmas followers, I wish you a hearty and sincere Go Fuck Yourself!

  • Achron Timeless

    My spouse and I have been wishing everyone who calls “Happy Tuesday!”

  • Hermann

    ” Christmas Cheer” is a top-notch pipe tobacco, so I´m all for it!


  • Daniel

    Absolutely sot on. This bullshit forced merriment causes so much anguish at this time of year and does so much damage to society in so many ways. How many people who’ve lost loved ones around Christmas suffer a heightened sense of loss because of this ‘special’ time? How many bereaved feel guilty because they can’t play the shallow game of forced happiness that seems to permeate US culture.
    Happiness is not something that you have a right to demand or expect,it’s a state of being that only comes when you truly feel comfortable with the life you have and the people who surround you – yes, even the irritating ones.
    Of course if you haven’t achieved this level of happiness and you still think that a 10 minute ‘happiness fix’ of buying yet another dress that looks like it went out of fashion in Gone With The Wind, buying yet another ornament for your non descript bungalow or getting yet another computer game is making you happy then you really don’t understand what happiness is about at all. All you have is an addiction that needs treating!

  • tkmlac

    Thank you for this. My husband and I both lost our grandmothers this year, and a beta fish after a long struggle with fin rot he had when he came from PetCo (will never shop there again). I took a job that pays more, but I regret because it’s so so so difficult that it’s not worth it. It’s been a rough year and I just don’t have anything left. Trying to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and pretend like it’s even remotely heartwarming is just tiresome. Okay. End rant.

  • Cecelia Baines

    Well said Daniel!

    Now, to be fair and honest, I like getting things and presents as much as the next girl, but I also HATE HATE HATE the Mutha-fuckin’ overly materialistic mindset in the US. Add in the Xmas factor and the gross consumption makes me puke! And look at the crap that is swallowed whole down the infinite gullet of the American shopper! It is POO-POO!

    It actually gives me a visceral reaction. I cannot stomach it.

    I have my loves – aviation, writing and my dog! And I could not be happier with THAT. Add in my absolute love of nature, the wilderness and all things wild and I am one happy camper (pun intended).

    There is simply no material gift that can compare to flying through the peaks of jagged mountains covered in snow, flying over a boreal lake with flocks of geese fishing, or seeing a grizzly walking over tundra in the early autumn colors. These are the things of intrinsic beauty and worth, not a bunch of cheap goods that will soon be forgotten or broken.

  • http://therovingrockhound.myopenid.com/ Rovin’ Rockhound

    Thank you. I hate Christmas. There’s so much pressure to look happy, so many questions that sounds probing and require a profound answer but are really asked as chit-chat, and so many freakin’ expectations. I just want to stay home, curl up with the dog, and read something just for fun.

  • Kengi

    I like Christmas because of the traditional zebra jousting in the courtyard.

  • jose

    That sounds grumpy and getoffmylawny, sorry. We could as well argue what’s the point to dancing, just making artificial movements that don’t serve locomotive purposes and it’s even more annoying because everybody is having such fun doing those illogical movements.

    I try to combat the consummerism but not the jolly mood.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i say to MT and the rest of you humbuggers what i say to the racists in AZ back when MLK day was being turned into a national holiday, and they refused to make it state law:

    who doesn’t like a day off?

    don’t want to shop? don’t. don’t want to worship baby jeebus? don’t go to church and don’t set up a nativity scene. hate stockings and kris kringle and all that consumerist, childish bullshit? turn off the TV and radio and read a book by a greek philosopher or native american history professor.

    but recognize that our society is positively backwards when it comes to vacation time. in civilized societies most workers are given long weeks of guaranteed, sometimes even paid, time off from work. if the reasons for it are wrong, it’s a GOOD thing to have at least a few days a year when society mostly shuts down, and we can congregate with our loved ones in peace and happiness. if your gatherings are miserable, well, find people you actually like to spend the time with instead!

    queer people, who are atheist at a higher level than the gen pop, figured this one out a loooong time ago. if you hate religion, use this time to mock it, like i did one year going to a gay club for the “santa’s leather disco party” night. half naked leather elves rock, yo. take advantage of the fact that many stores will stock stuff that you might now be able to buy at any other time of the year to grace your table. enjoy the fact that you may have the chance to slack off at work in the two weeks around xmas and new years, because your boss and coworkers aren’t working either. and if you’re all on your own, take this time to renew your atheist commitment to charity, and make some new friends, volunteering at a local charity and helping the less fortunate.

    religious holidays should not be sanctioned by the government, i agree. consumerism and false “happiness” are weak substitutes for the real thing. but nothing is making you, an aware and educated atheist, conform to what santa, i mean jeebus worshippers do.

    take back the season. throw a Festivus/Dark of the Year holiday party today!

  • Hanan

    >But I am very wary of the broader societal impact.

    I am not exactly sure what the broader societal impact here is, unless you are purposely looking in a microscope to FIND something that can iritate you….and I am a Jew. I mean, it’s a National Holiday. It’s meant to be a happy holiday. So how exactly are neighborhoods and larger communities supposed to celebrate it? By waiting for people to FEEL cheerful? Sometimes as societies we have our rituals. It’s these times that can come together as a greater society for a message of warm, happiness, cheer and peace. There is nothing wrong with that. If we wait for every person to FEEL it, we may never get anywhere. And seriously, to dislike the “manufactured” cheer of the holiday, you literally have to be some sort of contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian and nothing more. It’s to be a cynic for nothing more than being a cynic. And that really brings the worst in people. I mean, just look at Cecilia Baines disgusting comment.

    >This whole BS notion that we must be kind to our fellow humans, ‘cuz it’s Christmas is just asinine.

    Should we get rid of Mother’s day? Should we get rid of Memorial Day? Sure, we should honor our parents, remember our fallen and be kind to fellow humans all the time. But there is nothing asinine about marking our calendar with special times in order for us to better remember the important things in life. Sometimes, it’s these special times that bring the very best in people.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    “Poo-poo”? Seriously? Are you six?

  • http://truth-tables.com James Hotelling

    It’s like the man sings (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtZR3lJobjw):

    “On Christmas Day, you can’t get sore!
    Your fellow man, you MUST adore!
    (There’s time to rob him all the more
    the other three hundred and sixty four!)”

  • Drew M.

    …and this, dear Virginia, is why so many people assume we’re cranky and unhappy the rest of the year.

  • Matt Dillahunty

    Elitist garbage. Not feeling cheerful? That’s your right…no one is or could be forcing your mood. As for me, I guess I will just have to find a way to survive with the knowledge that someone considers things I like to be “low pleasure”. I think I’ll stick with low over no…and over tossing around my disdain from my elitist tower.

  • Cecelia Baines

    Pure canard and smoke screen.

    Nobody uses societal coercion and wishes everyone “Merry Mother’s Day” or forces scenes of the virgin mother down our collective gullet on Mother’s ay.

    And this “best in people” is bullshit. It is fake, forced and coerced. How is that good? And how does pointing it out make me a cynic? You have just proved my point muy little programmed freidn…..

  • Cecelia Baines

    Okay, fine. Feces. Shit. Crap. Brown Waste.

    Better? Heal your wounds? Bring your stem back from being wilted my lil’ delicate flower?

  • ReadsInTrees

    Agreed. So I happen to actually enjoy nostalgic Christmas music, and I enjoy digging out Christmas ornaments made in years past, and I enjoy having a day off where the whole family can gather to play a fierce game of Yankee Swap, and I enjoy finding or making a gift that I know I family member will appreciate (this year, I secretly taught myself how to knit, and made hats for my sisters, mom, mother-in-law, and my brother’s long term girlfriend who just lost her mother to breast cancer)…..I guess all of this enjoyment of the holiday means I’m just buying into the fake cheer surrounding this disgusting celebration of consumerism.

  • Guest

    Bah humbug?

  • Cecelia Baines

    Riiiiiggghhhhttt….when someone goes against the nrom or the grain, they become labeled “elitist”

    Two things:

    (1) How programmed are you that your default is to go to the “elitist” Ivory Tower bullshit?

    (2) When did being elitist become a BAD thing? Frankly, I prefer elitists to the mediocre and average slobs. I want people who strive to be better and achieve. Trying to use “elitist” as a pejorative is silly. Elite is what should be strived for and held in high regard, not the LCD – Lowest Common Denominator.

  • Cecelia Baines

    You said:

    “I guess all of this enjoyment of the holiday means I’m just buying into the fake cheer surrounding this disgusting celebration of consumerism.”

    FINALLY! SOmeone with some self-awareness. Yes, you are buying into it and good for you for recognizing it and pointing it out.

    Bravas and kudos all around.

  • Cecelia Baines

    Right. Let me paraphrase:

    “If only you had a personal relationship with Jesus, you would cherish and love”.

    But for the argument, you say:

    “If only you had a relationship with the season, you would feel love”.


    Survey SAYS……FAIL.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    sorry, you completely missed my point. it was about TIME OFF FROM WORK. most of us have to work to survive. sometimes, it’s good to have a break from that, and a break from a busy society in which people are doing things, working, driving, etc. a peaceful day at home with your loved ones (assuming you have any) is a good thing. reread what i wrote, i was pretty specific and didn’t mention a “relationship with the season,” whatever the hell that means.

  • Thackerie

    Excellent post! I like the way you think.

  • Jen P.

    The whole reason this holiday (these holidays?) are a time to encourage others to be happy is that we humans have noticed that others get depressed this time of year. It’s cold, skies are grey, food is scarce. People DIE from this season. So it’s not JUST a Christmas thing; it’s a civilization thing. We kick off the winter season with gifts to keep people warm, lights to brighten moods, and baked goods to nourish and tide people over. We play games and gather together because, let’s face it, trying to get through winter alone is depressing and difficult. I don’t see it as annoying perky people throwing Christmas in my face; I see it as a survival strategy.

  • ReadsInTrees

    Yep, I recognize that I’m buying into it….The first step is acceptance, right? Because I’m aware that it’s 90% commercial claptrap, I can avoid the largest pitfalls like Black Friday stampeding, buying musical neckties and Chia Pets, and showering my my niece and nephews a carload of plastic junk. I can stick to the other 10%: focusing on family time, good food, good music, and finding creative ways to ift give.

  • ReadsInTrees

    What’s the point of dancing? Excellent point. This can also be applied to music, art, or anything that doesn’t really serve to actually better our life situation. Some things we just DO because they are enjoyable. If you DON’Y enjoy Christmastime, or art, or dancing, or having cakes frosted with artificial but pleasing colors….then don’t partake in these things.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    Well, you’re still a twat, so, no, not really all that better. Grow up.

  • Cecelia Baines

    Yes….some rust-belt tramp tries to pick a fight with me….oh no, oh dear, say it isn’t so….Them thar Pennsytuckians shore iz a smarty-pants bunch…

  • Cecelia Baines

    Good for you. You are on the path to healing….

  • Cecelia Baines

    Jen, you need to check your facts. I grew up in Alaska – land of the long and dark winter nights and really really long summer days. Facts are, people in northern climates commit suicide in far greater numbers during the summer than the winter.

  • Cecelia Baines

    Oh yes, I forgot – winter is the season we would look FORWARD to because it really is a wonderful time in the north. We are always active (skiing, snowshoeing etc) and we actually have time to relax and have friends over, not to stave off depression, but because we have time after the hellish summer.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    Troll harder or get back under your bridge.

  • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey


  • http://profile.yahoo.com/I7KVNVBMERHZVGOYYMHSKDL6EY TracieH

    I was raised Church of Christ, and it was considered sinful and heretical in that fundamentalist Christian church to celebrate Christmas as a Christian tradition. Some of us, including my family, celebrated it secularly. But the most devout were lauded for skipping the sinful pagan rites all together and not buying into the lure of false religion and crass consumerism.

    My husband was raised Jehovah’s Witness–so there wasn’t even a choice in his home–no Christmas (or birthdays or anything like it) at all, religious, secular, or otherwise. Again, it is after all, we all know, a pagan day, and so a crime against mighty Jehovah to create forms of worship not authorized or sanctioned by Him in his holy scriptures or by His apostolic authorities.

    A number of other Christian Biblical Literalist denominations (and nondenominations) teach similarly that Christmas is not a Christian holiday and should not be celebrated, and should be denounced as heresy.

    I was very glad to be free of those people who tried to browbeat me into feeling guilty about wanting to participate in a fun festival that I should have been able to participate in without guilt and shame, judgment or fear. Of course I would now reject all of that from my prior Christian acquaintances. And I have found that I’m not any more willing to accept it from secular/atheist ones.

    Nobody has ever tried to force me to celebrate Christmas–as a Christian or as an atheist. Anyone rude enough to have tried to force me to celebrate a religious version would have gotten a mini-sermon from me, when I was still theist, on why the Bible denounces it as sin. But the most I *ever* got from my non-Church of Christ friends was respectful inquiry about “why doesn’t your church celebrate Christmas?” That’s as militant as anyone ever was with me–even as a child (and kids can be quite rude about “differences”). As a result of my upbringing and experiences, I have never tried to force celebrating this holiday on any other person, and was raised to respect those who abstained from celebrating it. As an atheist, I learned that there was no need to judge others who observed it religiously, because I doubted there was a god to piss off, anymore.

    I have many relatives on my husband’s side particularly, who cannot celebrate the holiday due to religious restrictions in the JW church. I don’t send them holiday cards. I don’t buy them gifts. I don’t wish them Merry/Happy anything–why would I disrespect them in that way?

    I plan to continue that holiday tradition, of letting people do as they wish and not trying to force them to participate or not in any festivals or rituals or greetings–perhaps one of the few positive things I was taught when I was raised Christian that I feel is worth keeping as an atheist.

  • amycas

    You must not know who Matt Dillahunty is.

  • Jen P.

    I live in Florida. I wish I could ski! Alas, no money. Well, you always hear that people commit suicide a lot around Christmas, but I would assume (you’re right, I haven’t really fact checked myself) it’s not the fault merely of Christmas, but of winter depression.