The ugly side of Father Christmas


The time of the year when we are supposedly at our happiest and kindest has just ended. Christmas trees, crowded stores, bearded old men dressed up in red suits, cheap signs announcing sales—it’s all gone now, giving turkeys and humans alike a moment of respite. Twelve months of respite to be precise, during which some of us can go back to being our not-quite-so-cheerful selves.

Now I am not trying to be cynical. I do enjoy the holidays. They provide many of us with the opportunity (some would argue obligation ) to spend time with friends and family. But the holidays do have a dizzying commercial spin to them, and as a part-time retail employee at the Eaton Centre (I wont say which store, for fear of more customers), I can attest that the holidays can get pretty ugly.

The days before and after Christmas—Boxing Day in particular—begin with hordes of galloping customers running back and forth, pushing one another, pestering my co-workers and me with loud questions ranging from what time it is to where such and such store can be found to where the ATM, bank, movie theatre, food court, info booth, or lost grandson is. As the days wear on, they become zombie-like, meandering along the bright halls with glazed eyes, hypnotized, shuffling tired feet, carrying heavy bags crammed full with everything the mall has to offer.
“You should be happy,” my boss remarked once when I spent fifteen minutes trying to find a restroom where the toilets weren’t clogged. “If people didn’t spend so much this time of the year, the recession would be a lot worse.”

He was right of course—things would get ugly indeed if people held on too tightly to their money. But can a balance not be struck? After all, what’s the point of having time off if we’re to spend it getting up at 5 a.m. so we can be among the first in a Future Shop lineup?

I have stood in line for hours myself. But I was trying to apply for permission to leave my home country permanently. My parents have stood in line for hours too. But they were lining up for food. I remember thinking, over six years ago when I learned my family and I would finally leave Cuba, that I’d never have to stand in long lineups again. Yet many people in Toronto choose to do it, not because they are hungry or because they need a visa, but because that sweet fifty-two-inch plasma is on sale.

Live and let live. That’s always been my motto. It shouldn’t bother me that most people choose to stand in line for hours when they could instead be travelling or having dinner with their family or catching up with friends or making love or playing in the snow. But it does, and much of this is because these people don’t even look happy while they’re doing it. And it makes me wonder whether we’re destined not to ever be happy with what we have, and to always crave for more, even when more is not truly necessary.

The most depressing part of it all was discovering that I am not immune to this sad epidemic. For example, I just found about something called the Sonos Multi-Room Music System. It allows you to listen to different songs in different rooms, with the music stored in your Mac or PC. Now if I could only find it on sale.