I am not Jingle. Crazy Aunt Purl is talking about an irritating woman, nicknamed “Jingle,” who not only really loves Christmas, but is ready for it, and “aggressively happy,” to boot. I worry about this a little because, hey, I love the holidays, and I am ready, and I am happy, too. Just not aggressively happy, I hope. And I don’t jingle when I walk. But this is the time of year when those of us who are happy and jolly are supposed to … oddly enough, if you think about it… avoid being too obviously happy because as we all know, it makes people feel worse to be surrounded by good cheer.
I mention Crazy Aunt Purl as an example just because she is one of my favorite knitting bloggers, and you should go read her poignant and amusing post, which isn’t even mostly about Jingle. I could have directed you to any number of other, less enjoyable expressions of this feeling, though. This feeling that one’s own sorrows are made worse by all the happy people around is widespread. The Grinch (in the book, not the Jim Carey movie, which was just a perversion of the book) hated Christmas because of all the singing and happy children playing. “Blue Christmas” services are held at some churches in order that people who are unhappy at Christmas won’t be burdened by the happiness of others.
And we cannot forget these immortal words: “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” (That’s Ebeneezer Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, for those of you who missed it.) Surely this was motivated not by abstract disapproval, but by some deeper and more personal reaction.
The central notion here is that seeing other people happy makes some people more unhappy than they were before. Now, since I find that other people’s happiness cheers me up when I am feeling a little out of sorts, I first had to think about the possible sources of this phenomenon. Here are some possibilities:
1. Schadenfreude. This is the feeling of enjoying others’ pain. One might imagine that a person who enjoys others’ misery might dislike seeing others happy. I can’t believe that this is the source of the problem for most sufferers. If it were, they could just look at other sufferers and enjoy their misery, exacerbated as it is by the sight of revelers.
2. “Misery loves company.” If I am being driven bonkers by my teenager, and so are you, we can commiserate together and feel that we are not alone in our trials. So someone who is unhappy might prefer to have others around who are also rather melancholy. I have a little trouble with this idea, too. If Scrooge and all his buds got together to cry “Bah! Humbug!” at one another, it would still seem pretty dismal, wouldn’t it?
3. Fear that happiness is a zero-sum game. That is, if Jingle is very happy, it must be that she grabbed all the available happiness, including yours. Even when we know that this is not logical, some of us feel this way. And if you have a little bit of this feeling, then at Christmas, when people go around being all excited and happy in public as it were, it might seem as though there are no wisps of happiness left for you at all.
4. “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” We often feel worse about our circumstances when we compare ourselves with others. During the holidays, we are perhaps even more than usual surrounded by images of happiness, and especially social happiness, so the imperfections of our own lives might stand out in bolder relief. We may be inclined to compare our imperfect families with the perfect ones we imagine our happy neighbors have, or our unattached selves with the apparently happy couples all around us. Or our unmailed packages and unfinished shopping with the relaxed folks who have finished their preparations.
Of course, it could also be partly Jingle’s fault. Being smug and looking down on people is not attractive or conducive to harmony. Nor is gloating. Those of us who noticed that Christmas was on the calendar and got ready have no business bragging about it. Neither, however, do those who didn’t get ready earlier have any business playing “Can you top this?” with their tales of unready woe. Except, of course, in “misery loves company” situations, as previously discussed.
My mother also taught me not to talk much about my own good fortune if I knew someone else was having a rough time. That is, if my little friend’s mom was in the hospital, she probably wouldn’t have a delicious dinner waiting at home, so I shouldn’t say anything about what my own mother was cooking (I would send over a casserole, myself, but my mother was never that kind of mom). If I had done well on a test, I shouldn’t exult about it if I didn’t know how my friends had done. This is courtesy.
But the complaints about excess holiday cheerfulness are not so specific. They seem to object to the happiness and cheerfulness of other people, not to their possible gloating or lording it over anyone. There is an expectation that we cheerful ones should moderate our jolliness in case someone else isn’t feeling jolly. We shouldn’t call out “Merry Chirstmas!” in case someone else isn’t planning on having Christmas, or at least not a merry one.
I can’t go along with that. This is the one time of year that we should be able to have unrestrained frolicsomeness.
Now, as to readiness, I am up at 3:00 a.m. for an excellent reason. I have been watching for the gift I had planned for #2 daughter to go on sale. It was hinted to me by a clerk in the store where I first went to buy it that this was the sort of thing that was likely to go on sale, and I have been watching the price go down — and up — and down again. It seems likely to go down into the two-digit range if I wait long enough. (there was a woman in the store a few weeks ago who advocated this approach for Christmas gifts, possibly influencing me to do this mad thing. “What if it gets sold out before it reaches that lowest point, though?” I asked her. “Then,” she said, “they weren’t meant to have it.”)
But at 2:00 this morning, when the cat woke me up, it seemed not merely likely but certain that if I waited any longer — like till 6:00 a.m., or maybe when the stores opened — the item would be sold out, or would never get here in time, or something. So I got up and came online and ordered the thing. So I now have four mail orders out there which I am hoping will all arrive before Christmas. And now I cannot get back to sleep.
So even those of us who have diligently prepared are perhaps having a little Christmas stress.
I have the day off today. I intend to clean house and shop and do my final fact-checking assignment and get my packages shipped before it really is too late. Since my husband is not working, I may be able to persuade him to join me in a little garlanding of the front porch. A nap is also in my plans, especially if I don’t manage to get back to sleep before time to get up, and a trip to the gym. My boys have been working on their handmade gifts, and I hope to hornswoggle them into joining me on some crafting for their grandparents. It ought to be fun.
But I will try not to be aggressively happy.
For today’s song, I offer you “Past Three o’Clock,” a 17th century tune recalling the waits of England. Not the queues, for which they are famous, but the waits. The words were written by George Radcliffe Woodward, a fellow who liked Medieval music, in the 1920s. You would think that, since this is a 20th century song, it would make sense. However, Woodward was a real fan of Medieval music, and must have like the mysteriousness of the carols of the middle ages, once they had gone through the muddling process of being sung for a few centuries by illiterate people. I love this song, myself. It has been recorded by Linda Ronstadt, but is rarely heard. Go out and sing it, I say!