December 15th, 2006

Hail Santa

My Own Christmas Weirdness

Last year, to celebrate the coming Christmas season, I wrote down the stories of the weirdest things that I've done or that have ever happened to me at Christmas time: the "Big Brother Santa is Watching YOU" sign in my old bathroom, my Evil Santa Laugh, and how I learned that trophy wives are seriously into Santa Claus.

What I didn't mention at the time is that there's a bit of permanent weirdness inside of me about Christmas every year of my life. Everybody has at least one, I'm convinced. A holiday with that much emphasis, and with such high expectations, and all tied up with the deepest emotions of religion, family, and relationships is bound to generate at least one weird hangup per person. But here's mine: I'm unalterably convinced that Christmas is a fair competition, a fair test of something truly important, and that I suck at that competition despite my best efforts, and that it's fair to judge me rather more harshly than my friends do for my perennial failure in this contest.

To me, the custom of giving Christmas presents poses a true test of something important, namely, how much you care about the people in your life. And the test is not determined by how much you spend, by how generous you are. You are, or at least should be, judged by how well the gift suits the person. Because almost everybody that you're supposed to give a Christmas present to, almost everybody that you're likely to give a present to, is someone who has given you plenty of hints as to what would and wouldn't be a good gift for them -- if you care enough to notice, and if you care enough to remember. You should have a pretty good idea of what they wear and don't wear, and be able to guess fairly well on their size and preferred color scheme(s). You should have a pretty good idea of how they decorate their home, and what kinds of decorations they do and don't need or want more of. You should have spent enough time around them when they're playing with their toys to know what toys they like, and which ones of those toys they have. Surely you've seen their bookcases and their record collection; did you care so little about their tastes that you didn't skim it?

And I know that I suck at these things. One of the ways in which my mild autism shows up is that other people, even the ones closest to me, aren't really "real people" to me, not the same way I am. I have an inalterable (and entirely bogus) instinct that tells me that the only interesting details about my friends are the ones that relate to me. So while I might notice what clothes they own that I like, I'm completely guaranteed to ignore and forget any clothes they wear that I don't. (And I'm very bad at sizes for reasons related to my childhood near-blindness.) I'll notice the overlap between their library and music collection and mine, but almost certainly forget the rest of theirs because it's not interesting to me. Similarly, I notice the stuff in their homes that I think is cool, but seldom remember what else there is that they think is cool. For example, I don't wear jewelry at all, so jewelry is invisible to me. And I know that that makes me a bad person. I only come up with a truly appropriate gift maybe once every couple of years, by sheer random luck.

Worse, it's less excusable at Christmas. One excuse that could be applied to using the same standard for birthdays is that I know, on some level, that for the things that they're interested in or fond of that I'm not, they know a lot more than I do about how and where to shop for those things than I ever will. So the odds that I'll have seen something for sale that would be perfect for them, in the weeks before their birthday while I'm thinking of shopping for them, is pretty nearly zero. But at Christmas time people drop extra hints, and the catalogs and ads come fast and furious from every direction. That I don't take better advantage of those opportunities than I do strikes me as entirely fair evidence that I just don't care enough, which means that I suck.

I'm also a horrible procrastinator. I've pulled a miracle out of my hindquarters at the last conceivable femto-second enough times that I've come to take it for granted that I can do it. So I don't feel anywhere near enough urgency to go out and research people's tastes and where stuff like that is sold until it is far, far too late to be thoughtful and thorough. So I end up doing something like I did last year, where basically everybody on my list got the same emailed Amazon gift certificate. I'm not doing any better this year, either; the shipping deadlines for Amazon are coming up this Monday, and I haven't even started any serious shopping yet. Heck, I've only just a few days ago compiled my list of who I am shopping for. So I'll probably suck this year, too. And y'all don't hold me nearly accountable enough for this to make me change it.

Bonus extra weirdness: On an unrelated note, does everybody else have one of these, too? There's a ton of sad Christmas songs. "Blue Christmas." "I'll Be Home for Christmas." "Do They Know It's Christmas Time?" And most of them just either leave me cold or strike me as merely catchy tunes. But there's one particular, for no good reason that I know of, that makes me well up in tears every time I hear it: Kenny Rogers, "Kentucky Homemade Christmas," the story of a laid-off coal miner who's trying to hold onto his pride that even if he had to make the gifts himself, he's still delivering some kind of Christmas to his kids. In particular, it's the third verse that does it, and I will be damned if I know why: "Little Linda ain't no baby, hell she turns thirteen in April. She's been dreamin' 'bout that dolly in the window for half her life. She's old enough to realize that it ain't never comin'. I'd damn near rob a bank to get that doll and Billy's knife." Heck, I'm fighting back tears just copying and pasting it in. And the thing is, we were never that poor. Christmases were lavish when I was a kid. So I have no idea why that character's pain is something that hits me so hard.

And yet, oddly enough, it's on my MP3 player this time of year.