It’s Christmas Day, 2021, in the late morning, and it’s quiet. I have somehow achieved the impossible: I pretty much almost completely bypassed Christmas. It’s not entirely my doing, however, as circumstances beyond my control have also made it less likely that I have to engage in and participate in Christmas. Even still, over the many years that I banged my head on the wall trying to meet expectations while ignoring my own wants and needs because others were also ignoring my wants and needs, I really liked the theory of Christmas.
There was a while where I thought I could be the one who made it all nice. I started shopping in September. I actually bought books to teach me how to wrap gifts. I would go to Papyrus and the Paper Source and spend way too much money on wrapping just to make gifts look pretty. I bought Christmas ornaments from all the places I visited, and I insisted on having a tree even though my then-husband didn’t give a shit. I spent hours trying to find gifts I thought people would want, and I was very hurt when I would fail (“I wanted a tri-fold wallet, not a bi-fold wallet”). I helped plan Christmas parties, I baked, I traveled, I sent Christmas cards to people who would never send one back. I did the Secret Santas, the White Elephants, the meals, the decorating, and the cleanup. I even made sure my cats had presents to open on Christmas.
And I was always disappointed with every holiday. All this work and no one gives a shit, or it’s never good enough, or it’s just one more box to tick because I’m afraid to find out what happens if I don’t tick that box, or in the end, nothing is going to be different the other 364 days a year and that this is all a facade intended to spread over the rest of the year.
Sure, I got gifts, but I never really got what I wanted because I was always taught that what I truly wanted had to be earned, and for me that was squeezing blood from a stone.
And then, after I got divorced, I slowly got to stop doing all of this. No more cards, no more decorations. Soon, no more gifts, no more meals, no more baking. The last time I did anything for Christmas was maybe two Christmases prior before the pandemic when I engaged in work-related holiday activities and an evening with some of Rick’s brothers, and then…he died a few months later during the pandemic, so the next Christmas was spent alone.
And it was pretty good.
And now here we are, a year later. I’m not going to go over my holiday memories of all my happy non-traditional Christmases. This year, I decided to only observe natural holidays, and I did. I had a nice quiet solstice this week, and it was on my own terms based on my own beliefs that nature is important and gods and empires are not. It wasn’t a lot of work, and it wasn’t disappointing. I got to do what I like for me, and honor those who love me.
I don’t remember when Christmas became work. I think it always has been work though, and I think it was instilled in me very early on that Christmas is a job you must do, no one wants to do it, and no one especially wants to have to do it for you, but it must be done because there are consequences if they’re not done.
Everything done for Christmas was out of begrudging obligation: cards, cookies, shopping, decorating, seeing the lights, seeing Santa, school events, church events. Apparently, it all had to be done, whether or not my mother wanted to do it, whether or not anyone else wanted her to do it, whether or not anyone cared.
And I think I picked up a lot of that.
I don’t actually think she wanted all the stuff either. I think she liked the control and the power, or at the least the sense of control and power that thinking you’re Atlas holding up Christmas can provide. And it’s not that we didn’t appreciate having all the things, it’s just that it all came with the guilt that we didn’t deserve it and that it clearly pained our mother to have to do it, and you don’t get to decide whether you like it or not.
The Christmas Pageant
The first Christmas job I had was when I was very young. When we were little, those of us engaged in Sunday School at church were automatically conscripted into the Christmas pageant, which was held at the evening vigil on Christmas Eve. We didn’t really do much of anything. There was a lottery to choose roles. I once was Gabriel, or Gabriel when he spoke to Joseph and told him Mary didn’t cheat on him, but rather, Yahweh cucked him and it’s a good thing, and also later on, some dudes want to kill you guys so fuck off to Egypt for a while. But I didn’t have any lines. I just stood there while someone read that passage from the Book of Matthew. And that’s what we all did: we just stood there, silent and frozen, as someone read passages from the Bible.
And it went on like this through The Nativity story, and then mass with more people in the church than ever any other time of the year because of the holiday visitor and the Chreasters, little children having to stand still and silent in front of 200 or so people for what seemed like eternity, whether you wanted to or not.
And even if there were always muffled grumbled about having to do this shit, no one dared say they didn’t want to do it. Frankly, I don’t think anyone actually knew that they didn’t have to do this. I genuinely thought as a Catholic child, it would be a sin to not have to do the stupid fucking pageant, despite the fact that God designed me to be unable to stand still or quiet in a stinky polyester altar boy robe with a tinsel “halo” scratching my head.
And there are far more egregious examples of how little regard the Catholic Church has for children, but I still wonder who the fucking idiot was who decided that it was a great idea to take children from the ages of 4-11 and make them stand in place, in silence in front of a bunch of adults, in church, crammed next to each other to fit on the sanctuary, or in the back. And when I was too old for the pageant, I was in the Christmas choir, which was fun but not really because of all the seriousness of it.
And then when I was too old for the choir, I was conscripted into teaching religious education, which I was technically, but not actually, free to choose not to do, which meant I was then roped into the Christmas stuff with kids who were five years younger.
But aside from the other holiday things we had to do for school, for church, I hated the pageant because that was one of my mother’s grand performances. In reality, it was supposed to be a fun thing for kids to do, but Christmas was an opportunity for drama and martyrdom in my house, and another excuse for my mother to remind us that we have no right to expect her to be a mother. The holiday season usually started with a stern warning from our father that my mother is too busy with Christmas, don’t need her, or there will be consequences. Frankly, this was no different than the threats to not need her due to other various things she was doing to avoid her actual responsibilities, so it was really like Black Friday for us, the beginning of the holiday season. I was used to it because my birthday is near Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving was usually another performance so I was let known that my birthday was a big inconvenience and I should just be grateful I’m getting anything, and if I don’t behave it will all be taken away. In fact, Christmas was always on the verge of being taken away from us for various reasons, usually because our childhoods were inconvenient — there was no external reward, no pats on the head for the private work of parenting, so that wasn’t really being done in our house or beyond the extent of what might raise suspicion if it wasn’t being done. The holidays were a lot of extra bitching and screaming and guilt-tripping, but also a lot more work because you can’t perform Christmas unless you have children, because then you’re just a weirdo.
And in reality, the Christmas pageant wasn’t a big deal. It was designed the way it was to make the easiest on the volunteers who were usually just housewives and mothers. It wasn’t the Grammys, but you couldn’t tell my mother that. But it was hours of work, as was the choir, as was teaching religion class. And we weren’t getting out of these things as teenagers: my older sister, identified as a boy back then, came of age to become an altar boy when she was 10. Back then, girls couldn’t do it, and when they could, I wasn’t allowed to do it for some reason, so I never did. But as we were driving home from church one day, my sister simply said “I don’t want to be an altar boy.”
My mother slammed on the brakes in the middle of North Street on Sunday, nearly getting us rear-ended. My parents turned around and screamed at him. How dare he. What an embarrassment to my mother who has suffered a lifelong delusion that she is both a religious leader and a pillar of our community. He obligation to God. What would people think? What would they think of her, my mother? How he could do this to us?
But the answer was simple: becoming an altar boy would force him to be around a bunch of boys who bullied him, and no one at church did anything about it, so what would happen if he’s in the sacristy with them? Not that my mother truly cared; she never did anything about it. In fact, I think she enjoyed the sense of martyrdom of her kids being picked on at church for arriving in the hand-me-downs of the other kids from church while my mother just kept pumping out babies and doing anything else but taking care of them or getting a paying job to help support them. Since Catholics have a poverty fetish, it was condoned. After all, she must be a good mother because she keeps giving birth and doing stuff in the church, right? This is the level of thinking that’s pretty common in a working class Catholic Church, and if you think someone is just straight up a nutjob at church, you just avoid them, gossip about them, and then let your kids repeat what you said to that person’s kids.
The pageant was not a big deal, but you wouldn’t know it if you lived in my home, and the more it was built up as something important, something holy, the scarier it was. It was a sin to not do it, for reasons I didn’t quite understand, but it was work God forced us to do because we’re Catholic, and we have all sorts of obligations to God that we don’t understand but we better do.
And it should have been fun, but it never was. Despite the physical discomfort and boredom, it shouldn’t have been emotionally agonizing, but it was.
And then after this pageant, it would be late at night before it was all cleaned up, and then we would go home and eat, and then we would wait, elementary school-aged children, for 9 or 10 o’clock at night to go to our paternal grandparents’ house. We thought we had to wait this long because of the pageant, but it turned that our grandparents insisted that we come this late, and my parents never seemed to be able to take the many, many hints my father’s family had given them. While we were doing the pageant, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were having Christmas dinner and opening up gifts from each other.
Late Nights at the Grandparent’s House
As children, we believed that we couldn’t visit our grandparents early because the church forced us to be in the pageant, whereas my cousins in Catholic school didn’t have to a do pageant because they were already doing the right thing by going to Catholic school. And we didn’t go to Catholic school because Catholic school cost money and cigarettes and diapers weren’t growing on trees.
But that apparently wasn’t the case.
But one night, we arrived too early to my grandparents’ house and they refused to open the door. They made us wait on the porch for some time. Through the window, we could see that people were hurrying upstairs with toys and other items – these were gifts that my cousins got from the relatives and my grandparents. Whereas we got our obligatory gift, my cousins were showered with many of them. Now, things started making sense, like why we were always forbidden from going upstairs at my grandparent’s house even when the downstairs bathroom was occupied and why my cousins were always angry that we were there (because they couldn’t go upstairs and couldn’t play with their new toys). I mean, I have never been allowed in most of the places in my paternal grandparent’s home. I was never allowed upstairs, I was never allowed in the backyard.
My grandparents died in the late naughts and the first time I ever saw the upstairs of their house or the backyard was in pictures of their house on real estate websites. Mind you, all our cousins were allowed free range of the house, but for some reason, not us. Our cousins got to decorate the tree, got to go shopping with my grandparents, got to spend quality time with them. Our Aunt Lenore, the youngest of my father’s seven siblings, was not allowed to bully them the way she was allowed to bully us. There was always a hope that we could somehow get our grandparents to like us the way they liked our cousins, but the older we got, the more realized it wasn’t going to happen, and the more we learned that we weren’t wanted, and the more we complained about having to go to their house for Christmas.
My mother would hear none of this. She enjoyed the martyrdom of her in-laws not liking her, and the martyrdom of her taking it out on her kids. A normal person would have stopped doing this, but she like the drama. It wasn’t until one year when we were teenagers and all had the flu and couldn’t go that my older said “well, at least we don’t have to go to grandma’s house this Christmas,” that she says it “dawned” on her that we didn’t want to go. It just so happened that she personally didn’t want to engage in the drama, so now it was okay not to go. And no one ever said anything. There was no “never hearing the end of it.” In fact, I imagine my father’s family was relieved.
It could be because they didn’t want my parents around, and by the time we were seven, eight years old, we were aware of this. It wasn’t just because my mother told us but insisted that we were forced to go or “we’d never hear the end of it,” which likely wasn’t true, because frankly, I think part of the problem with the reason everyone was so cranky was because it was 10 p.m. and they had been working all day. And then it’s 10 p.m, and 4 (the six) tired and wired children show up with their angry parents. But this was yet another job we had to do before Christmas, as we would be seven, eight years old and at this little house until 2 in the morning for some reason.
I still don’t know why they couldn’t just drop off gifts if they didn’t want us there. But what had transpired between my parents and my father’s family happened long before we were born, and there were bad actors on both sides, and what should have happened was that my parents should have stopped thrusting into this because it was quite clear from our interactions with our father’s family that we weren’t wanted.
For years, My aunts and uncles would misspell my name on everything – cards, gift tags, even ornaments they made. Each time, they would learn that my name wasn’t Marium or Merriam or Maryanne, and each year, they would repeat their mistakes. Somewhere in my parent’s collection of ornaments are a bunch of handmade ornaments with various spellings of my name. And each Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ home, I had to confirm that a gift was indeed for me because the name was misspelled and not for my grandmother who was named Marian, even though no one misspelled her name.
We would open gifts, and then we were usually banished to the television room to watch television until the wee hours while the adults sat in the front room talking for hours on end. Of course, we were children and very concerned that being at our grandparent’s house meant that Santa was going to skip over us because we weren’t sleeping. And when you have a young kid awake hours past their bedtime in a small house, there’s going to be mischief, and when there’s alcohol, there’s going to be an angry father, and someone is going to get hurt, and someone is going to cry.
But it would have been a tragedy if Santa didn’t come because instead of being in our beds, we were at our grandparents’ house where we weren’t wanted, and no one seemed to understand how real that was, and how scary it was that none of the adults seemed to understand how real that was for us. Out of anyone, at least Santa loved us, right?
And then home
And then we would go home, and then we’d go to bed, and then we would groggily wake up a few hours later to open gifts that mysteriously ended up under the tree. I wasn’t allowed to take naps as a kid or teenager (this was one of those rules my father made up and enforced just for me, specifically, because I had insomnia due to all the lights and noises in the house at night that I wasn’t allowed to turn off or block by closing my door), so sneaking some sleep after opening gifts was difficult. But strangely enough, Christmas Day itself was usually relatively calm. It may be because my father was too tired to get riled up by the trivial things that would rile him up, or because my mother was trying to make sure we didn’t have something to accidentally divulge to other people, or because the kids were all too tired to do anything, but it was calm. And we had dinner. And the tree would stay up through January basically.
And there were usually other dramas. We couldn’t afford gifts for everyone, so my mother usually made ornaments. Trouble was that she wasn’t really crafty and didn’t want to do it. I had to say though that they did improve over the years, and they got pretty good after a few years. They got really good when my her and my sister were making them together. Sometimes I got to help as a kid, but trying to help my mother was always a landmine, and by the time my younger sister was old enough to help, it turned into their thing and I wasn’t supposed to interject myself, and it wasn’t welcome when I did. My oldest-younger sister (the oldest of my younger sisters) had some sort of bond with my mother like that where they had shared interests and activities, and my older sister-then-identified-as-a-boy had some sort of tenuous male bond with my father, but I never had anything like that with either of my parents. My relationship to my father was being his scapegoat for everything he hated about women and especially the two women he hated most – his mother and his sister Beth, both of whom I have some resemblance. For my mother, I was a mini-adult, her counselor and peer who was always in trouble because I could never be enough of an adult or parent to her. My father was very overt in letting me know I wasn’t wanted; my mother was more manipulative, usually telling me I didn’t seem like I wanted to, or I was gaslighted into telling them that I could have joined them at any time, denying that when I tried, I was rejected.
So the togetherness part of Christmas was never really like that for me – it was being forced into labor or to be herded around others, but never really feeling included.
But there was always something empty about Christmas Day. The performance was over, the martyrdom was over, and all the discomfort of the holiday season was gone but it wasn’t replaced with joy but relief because the next grand performance wouldn’t likely be until Easter, so we had a few months.
Christmas in My Twenties, Thirties, Forties
Even though I didn’t have children, I was determined to have nice Christmases as an adult. Trouble was I was married to someone who didn’t give a flying fuck and didn’t care that I felt it was important. It annoyed him, but I think the only reason it annoyed him was because it was important to me. If I made a big deal out of something else, he would suddenly find a reason to diminish it and then explain to everyone he knew who stupid it was that it was important to me.
But I persisted, because it was important to me, and I wanted a nice Christmas despite him. The problem is that domestic violence coats everything like grease in a kitchen – you can clean the obvious places, but it’s still there in the corners, the tops of the shelves, the filter of the hood, even inside the cabinets. Just like the home I grew up in, you can’t just pretend things are okay and mimic what you think is normal and then through magick conjure up normal, as if Christmas season is a cargo cult for functional relationships to simply come to you.
But the difference was that I was different. I wasn’t my mother. I was efficient, I was observant, and I was good. I could bake, cook, shop, wrap, do the holiday stuff for the in-laws and work, and keep it all going without screaming at everyone.
I also actually enjoy doing all the stuff. In fact, if I had a reason to do all this stuff, because I was with someone who likes Christmas, or I had children, I’d do it. I know I’m a Sagittarius with Aries Moon. But I have the Part of Fortune in Cancer in the 4th house, and yes, it’s square Lilith, but Lilith is in Virgo. I like baking. I like making fudge, caramels, rum balls, cookies, cakes, pies, brownies, whatever. I will fill the house with sweets, and I will spend an entire wintry weekend doing it and will LOVE it. Just put on some jazzy Christmas music and I’m there.
I love wrapping gifts. I love finding the perfect thing and wrapping it. I love decorating a tree. I love candles. I love making things cozy. I love making things. Trouble is you can’t just become a matriarch without a matriarchy to let you do it.
And after a couple Christmases in Seoul, and then a couple back home, and then really giving up on it in Chicago, it’s actually been nice to simply stop doing it all together, because frankly, Christmas actually sucks, and most of the things I like about it is the illusion of what it’s supposed to be, but I can just get togetherness the rest of the year. When Rick was around, I was too poor to do anything, and too busy with work trying to get money to make ends meet to even go to the Christkindl market on the weekend. Christmas was just a few days off – if I was lucky, because I would often have projects due on the 26th – before it was back on the treadmill. And I was resentful – why was I stuck in this cycle of money- and time-hemorrhaging, and when can I escape?
And then I did. It was actually kind of awkward last Christmas, because I was getting texts from people saying things like “I wish Ricky could be with you,” but I was glad he wasn’t. He really ruined holidays, actually. And he wouldn’t help me with anything. I actually liked the Christmases I spent mostly alone, in Seoul, not doing traditional Christmas shit, and I was curious to see how that would be in Chicago. Third, living alone without the preying eyes of any person meant getting to reinvent my spirituality and connection to the culture, which meant no more Christian holidays. A Christmas in isolation meant that I got to figure out what’s important to me, what I like.
But now I have the time and money for Christmas again, but just not the interest. I don’t have decorations anymore. I don’t have ornaments. I have very few people I buy gifts for. I don’t cook a big meal for anyone. I don’t like to have massive piles of baked goods in my house that only I can eat because of the pandemic and all.
I’m not in contact with any of my aunts or uncles or cousins from my father’s side – even if they search for me on social media, they can’t succeed if they don’t know how to spell my name.
But I would have these things if I had someone to share this season with because I love all the pagan trappings of Christmas. But unlike the choices I’ve made in the past, I’m not going to force it. I learned from my matriarchal line that love is when you target a man and love-bomb him, that you create a family trap even when you think what you’re doing is loving and normal, that you find a man who doesn’t actually want you as you are and you somehow make him love you by ticking the boxes of “good wife” and turning a blind eye to all the selfish and cruel things he does. I don’t intend to give so-called men’s rights activists more misogynist fodder, but it’s hard to confront the destructive relationship patterns you were taught, and it’s hard to accept what you were taught as acceptable or permissible behavior from men. It’s especially tough because I’m an astrologer who counsels people and doesn’t want to appear as someone who is still trying to figure herself out, but I guess that’s just realistic, right? Do you want help from someone trying in earnest to get it together, or someone simply pretending she has it together and then surprise, same shit happens again?
Venus conjunct Pluto Christmas: why astrology won’t go away.
The air is more serious this year, I know. Venus retrograde is conjunct Pluto. Jupiter is at 29 Aquarius squaring the North Node at 29 Aquarius. The Moon is in Virgo. Last year was lighter, relatively speaking. Jupiter and Saturn had just entered Aquarius, and so it really hadn’t settled into the energy in all its possibilities (like January 6, 2021), Venus was in happy Sagittarius, the Moon was in chill Taurus conjunct Uranus, so new traditions and new ways of comforting ourselves was on the menu.
We’re getting tired of the pandemic. We’re getting tired of an increasingly isolated world, and we’re all getting tired of being told who we are by strangers. Maybe being an astrologer makes me narcissistic and stupid, but I know I didn’t predict 2020 incorrectly, and I know anyone who has ever worked with me couldn’t say I’ve ever told them that the universe does anything special for them — sometimes I think this sort of paternalistic misinformation is the very reason more of us turn toward the spiritual, because it’s here that we’re valid. Whereas I’m just a woman to the world, and if I speak, a shrew, but if I look behind the veil where gender doesn’t matter because it’s a thing people made up, and I look at a chart that doesn’t have any particular feelings for me or about me, I can actually see myself as a person, my essence. And I can see people for their essences. I’m not a great spiritual person who can magically do that – I’m not Jesus, I’m not Buddha. Most people aren’t. Most of the people who say they can are not being honest with themselves because it’s very, very hard to shed all this ongoing social conditioning if you live in and were raised in the world. I use tools to help me do that, but it’s an ongoing process. It’s not just a side gig or hobby, but a means to understand, connect with, and have compassion for people because I did not learn that growing up. It’s something I have to teach myself. I found the first clue in an astrology book at a Barnes and Noble in 2001, and the rest is history.
No, the universe doesn’t do anything special for you, but how it affects you, how it shapes you? You have ever right to wonder about that. And every right to redefine yourself outside of patriarchy and capitalism. I don’t consider that to be prejudiced, or narcissistic, or delusional. You’re more than what you produce and you’re more than what some guy says you are, some guy who is just as irrational about something else as you are irrational about astrology, likely, the serious overvaluing of his own uninformed opinions.
But that’s the trouble with trying to corral the occult, isn’t it? The more you try to decry but don’t actually know what you’re talking about, the more cover you give the occult. I don’t read daily horoscopes either and I used to write them because yes, they’re very inaccurate. But I’m sure if you asked a Catholic what novenas they pray for good luck on hooking up on Tinder, you would get the same blank stare from them that armchair intellectuals are getting from astrologers when they tell us their various reasons why astrology doesn’t work: you can’t argue the details with someone if you’re fundamentally wrong at a basic level, and you can’t expect someone to waste their time arguing the details when you don’t understand the fundamentals and refuse to acknowledge them.
And those who want to insult the rest of us by telling us how dumb they think we are don’t seem interested in addressing why astrology, or paganism, or magick for that matter, has been so popular with people who are not cis-gendered heterosexual white men (because the critics don’t know the history of astrology, that it was the esoteric knowledge held by mostly white men up until ten years ago):
This culture doesn’t work for the rest of us. The religions don’t work for the rest of us. We all know we are people who are more than our genders, our looks, our socio-economic background, the prejudices people have of our cultures, ethnicities, and races, and unlike religions, astrology isn’t concerned with any of this stuff. A person born is a specific event in time and space, full and complete, and it’s only other people who tell you otherwise, because look: every person born is a specific event in time and space, with the potential to be who they are, and the only thing that can stop them is other people, and yet, only some people are stopped for reasons that only exist in the imagination, not in objective reality.
And no one has answer to this question:
How is believing there are specific cosmic patterns have meaning for you narcissistic but the omniscient, single god creating an avatar of himself so he can sacrifice his entire being for you so you personally don’t go to Hell NOT narcissistic? How is believing you’re a member of a group of people specifically favored by a god somehow less narcissistic than believing in astrology? How is believing that everyone else in the world has to follow the rules of your god whether they believe in it or not – and whether you adhere to those rules or not – somehow not narcissistic, but believing that Mercury retrograde effects everyone IS narcissistic?
Because Christianity works for the cis-gendered hetero white men, even if they don’t believe – they won’t be backed into a corner unable to be a full being in the world because the religion and the culture it created specifically elevates them over the rest of us.
Again, I say this: no one has ever been slaughtered in the name of astrology.
[No, the zodiac killer wasn’t killing because of astrology; it was erroneously thought that he was using astrology symbols in his cyphers. And then he called himself that.]
But Christmas is supposed to be a day when you don’t have to bang your head on the wall. You gather with the folks close to you. And astrology is my community, and to you all I wish a good Christmas. It’s 44 degrees and sunny, and I love that the streets are deserted on Christmas Day. Guess I should gift myself some vitamin D and enjoy the fact that I don’t have to do anything today. Nothing at all.
It feels good. It feels real.
And maybe you can gift yourself a reading from The Grinch.