All I Want for Christmas is for it to be Over

The celebration that came to be known as Christmas has its roots in a well-known celestial event that precedes the very existence of human beings.  The modern Christmas may be known as the most fattening time of the year but for our ancestors food scarcity was a daily reality and the onset of winter was truly frightening.  It was this fundamental requirement that led to the discovery of agriculture and from that collective attempt to grow food civilization was born.  The specific date of the festival, chosen to coincide with the winter solstice, must have been a difficult time for those ancient villagers.  Its original purpose was to rejoice in the rebirth of the sun but it likely had a much deeper meaning.  The forerunner of Christmas was truly a celebration of hope.

Today hope is symbolized by another long-standing Christmas tradition, the gift-wrapped present.  As a kid you wish for some cool new toy like a slot car track or if you were more like me you hoped you didn’t get something boring and practical like a new desk.  The reality is that on Christmas morning you would wake up to find a fish tank or some other equally bizarre gift that you had never even considered.  Much of what makes Christmas special is the anticipation that precedes the actual exchange of gifts.  Hope isn’t simply optimism.  It is about possibility.

As I grew older I began to see Christmas a little differently.  Feelings of anticipation were replaced by apprehension, as each year something would happen to spoil the holiday.  My older sister would get the season started with a messy break up from a high school boyfriend who was either too cheap or too lazy to buy her a gift.  Next came the visit to the extended family, a real ordeal since we had relocated to another town.  There grew to be a completion among the in-laws with petty jealousies and implied slights manifesting themselves into open arguments.  It got so bad that one year that we had people abruptly leave and get a hotel. .  Regardless each December we would do it all again.  As my late grandmother would say “Let’s hope we have a better time next year.”

My Christmas holidays were so bad they became legendary.  When I was 20, unbeknownst to me, my housemates made a bet to see if my family could top the disaster of the previous year.  The guy who bet it would be worse won as that was the Christmas when my parents officially separated.   From that moment on the Christmas became much less important of an event in our lives.  Even my grandfather, the one who loved Christmas more than anything stopped putting up a tree.  His health declined and I distinctly remember one particularly awkward Christmas where everyone made a big deal over taking his photo like he was the last living dodo bird in the zoo.  Eventually I moved away and spent the Christmas of 1993 alone with little more than a clock radio for company.  The familiar holiday sound of a Gene Autry Christmas song playing on a 78 record had become just a memory.

For many people Christmas is the loneliest time of the year.  It is a tough time to be alone which is why activities that give the allusion of a group experience are so popular.  Movie theaters do particularly well with the Christmas season being second to only the summer for ticket sales.  The studios take advantage of this and nearly every year there is at least one dark comedy where Christmas is depicted in a less than appealing light.  One in particular really resonated with our family, a Denis Leary vehicle called The Ref.

The premise is simple; a small time crook on the run gets embroiled in a hostage situation with a severely dysfunctional family on Christmas Eve.   While it received generally favourable reviews, the results at the box office were mediocre and like most people, we saw it first on video.   At first glance the movie may seem rather unpleasant and cynical, much of it is fast-talking sarcastic rants by the criminal antagonist interspersed with unrelenting insults by the various family members.  However comedy itself is often described as tragedy plus distance and the passage of time has enabled our family to appreciate the absurdity of it all and find the underlining truth within the story.  Who hasn’t felt like a hostage at his or her own family Christmas gathering?  Who among us at one time or another really wanted to say some of the very things expressed by the characters in this film?  While it may never become a classic it has aged well and is better appreciated than it was at the time it was released.

The Ref also has a little known but interesting back-story, which says a lot about human nature.  The film was initially set to be released for the 1993 Christmas season however test audiences hated the original ending where the Denis Leary character surrendered to the police.  This forced the producers to shoot a new alternative ending in January in which the character was given a chance to get away.  This pushed the theatrical release back to March and was a big factor in the disappointing box office returns.  However I don’t see how the story could have worked any other way.  While it was a dark comedy it was also a Christmas movie and no matter how horrible a Christmas it was for those characters, at the end, the audience wanted to be left with a feeling of hope.

On a personal level this movie represented the rebirth of the Christmas holiday in our family.  Every year since its release our holiday season gets better and better.  My older sister has a great husband now who is the antithesis of cheap and lazy.  My younger sister is married too and between the three of us there are lots of new cousins to visit.  This year there will no doubt be oodles of gift-wrapped presents, plenty of sweet things to eat, we’ll watch The Ref again and we might even play charades.  I only hope that everyone is looking forward to hearing Gene Autry Christmas tunes again because that’s my responsibility now.


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