Merry Bloody Christmas

26th November 2020

There was a study at Michigan State University that measured students’ performance when placed under excess pressure. Naturally, they found that kids thrived when the test had medium to little significance, but when the stakes were high, they choked.

The study, of course, was a waste of time. If they wanted to explore the relationship between dysfunction and high-pressure, they merely had to observe a few families at Christmas.

The festive day, being at the end of the year, promises a certain reprieve. We can relax and, for once, simply enjoy each other's company. As a culture, we seem to hang on to this idea, especially mothers.

"But we fight 364 days a year. Why is the 25th going to be any different?" an unsuspecting child might say before getting chucked out of the car.

You can’t question the beautiful intention, but the execution is often tyrannical. “You will have a good time, okay?” This is often communicated through a mother’s fierce eyes as she hands you an itinerary for the day. “First we open presents. At 7:15, we have croissants at the beach and talk about how much we love each other. At 8, we glaze the ham.” And so on.

The expectation is maybe why Christmas often feels like you’re trying to make love with a gun to your head. We sit and smile in the unacknowledged tension out of fear of being shot.

On the other hand, as much as I wince at the expectations, I’m glad mothers are in control. The alternative is far direr.

If I, or my dad, say, was tasked with planning Christmas, my mum would go, “Merry Christmas! What have you got planned?" Dad and I would look at each other and say, “Is today Christmas?”

Mothers certainly have a wonderful ability to bring everyone together. Still, I wonder what would happen if we collectively surrendered such expectations. Like the Michigan students, we might thrive.

. . .


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