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Holiday Hyperreality

Holiday. Noun. Etymology: Old English. (hāligdæg (hāligholy” + dægday“).

Translation: an invocation of a spectrum of feelings and emotions into every soul that exists between October 31st—January 2nd.

Jump onto any social media site or leaf through a home décor magazine. Page after page, picture after picture, of polished perfection. Sparkling snowflakes and hanging from the ceiling and sprinkling the frozen ground outside. Elaborate centerpieces on the table surrounded by precision-carved ham or turkey with little cranberries. Heavily decorated trees with lights, balls, tinsel, and heirloom ornaments. Banisters wrapped in garland. Traditional songs of cheer that speak of winter, festive fun, and religion pulse through the speakers at the local department store. Movies and holiday specials being advertised on TV, invoking the warm feel-good feelings that accompany the time of the year. Groups of happy friends strolling down 5th Avenue in NYC carrying a dozen shopping bags from various outfitters, its contents soon to be wrapped with seasonal paper and complimentary ribbons and bows. Scents of fresh-baked cookies and hot chocolate wafting through the kitchen and into the halls. Glittering diamonds adorning the fingers of those lucky enough to receive a proposal during the “most wonderful time of the year”…

And so on. And so forth.

Not sure about the rest of you, but the knowledge of knowing that the above (and more) has already begun makes my stomach turn with dread and heightens my seasonal depression and apathy towards this airbrushed version of something that started out so simple and basic in meaning. This is our expected standard of holiday celebration for the 21st century. It doesn’t help that mainstream media enforces these hyperreal scenarios as a type of guilt trip that screams, “IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON, DO THESE 729 THINGS, AND IF YOU MISS ONE, YOU’RE SCREWED.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down…what’s this hyperreality thing?

I’m glad you asked…


 

Hyperreality is a concept developed by French scholar Jean Baudrillard. I had the pleasure of studying him in-depth in grad school. I won’t get too technical for the sake of getting my point across in this post, so the simple definition of hyperreality is thus:

The blending of reality and the simulation of reality to the point of not knowing where one ends and the other begins.

For example: You’re in Walt Disney World, and you’re walking down Main Street U.S.A., the quintessential happy place of the world. The smell of vanilla and baked goods waft through your nose as happy cast members greet you with smiles and cheerful music blares from the speakers. This utopia has remained virtually unchanged through the years and decades from its original development, and is designed to invoke a sense of fantasy and relaxation away from the chaos of the real world. This is an example of a simulation of reality, frozen in time, where one’s happiness is found within the corresponding interaction with the simulacrum (fancy speak for simulation) of reality.

Individuals may find themselves more engrossed and involved in the simulated reality than legitimate reality, knowing that the feelings and emotions that are produced by this interaction are better than what the “real world” can offer. Becoming obsessed with living the perfect holiday life (or pulling off a perfect Disney vacation) can be problematic if the individual is hell-bent on recreating those picture-perfect scenes, and stops at nothing to do so. A competitive nature can rub off on those around him/her, and the battle is on to see who can produce the brightest lawn decorations or the tallest tree.

Once the post-holiday season comes, that hyperreal environment is stripped away and reality is again presented.

When you look at these scenarios, you may ask yourself, “Why would anyone want to go through the trouble of maintaining unrealistic expectations?” Perhaps some just love the season and everything involved. Maybe others are saving face for their family members to disguise internal problems that may be occurring. Even then, some could be trying to show off to the neighbors that they have something bigger, better, and brighter than they all do.

I’m not sure about you, but I tend to vomit fire during this time of year.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that most of my breakups happen around this time of year and my holiday plans and ideas are dashed, or the astonishing amount of happiness that is thrust through various mediums makes my stomach turn, or if it’s even the Atheist vs. Christian “War on Christmas” making me irate, but I thoroughly despise existing during all of this. Hell, we can even speed past the spring holidays and go right to summer. I will happily hibernate for four to six months until spring comes.


 

Christina’s internal dialogue walking about the mall in December: 

Seriously, why is everyone so freaking happy…. There are other emotions out there to emote. Pick something else…..Oh, the little kids are asking Santa for presents. Wait until they find out he really doesn’t exist. Hang on, you’re four years old and you’re asking for an iPhone 6? Yeah, no…. Why is this store so bright and glittery? I like glitter and bows and shiny things….Is that song playing AGAIN?! “Last Chriiistmasss, I gave you my heart, and the very next day, you gave it away–” *barfs in nearest trash can*… Oh hey, Starbucks! I will gladly take a venti Peppermint Mocha and drown my sorrows in its deliciousness…Especially as I pass the jewelry store and see five couples shopping for rings…Mmmm, candy cane smells…Ewww, super pungent pine smells…Yes, you’re jingling your little bell at me, but I refuse to donate to a charity that degrades atheists…


 

As you can tell by the above dialogue, I’m not a holiday person by any means. I’m resentful, bitter, and not really pleasant to be around.  The hype surrounding the end-of-the-year months extinguished for me well over a decade ago. I often have flashbacks of growing up and being hauled away to the extended relatives’ houses to share in food and supposed fellowship (which included a lot of screaming and fighting). There may have been a little fun in there somewhere, but those rare happy memories have been tarnished with the countless conflicts and misery. I do remember one year (I was 15 or 16) that I was at my grandparent’s house in a constant puddle of tears and listening to everyone berate me for “ruining the holidays for everyone” because I couldn’t stop crying out of sheer frustration that I was in a place I didn’t want to be in.

Moody, emo teenager = I wanted to be left alone, especially when surrounded by too many people in close quarters. How else was I supposed to convey that I didn’t want to be around so many people and force myself to be happy when I wasn’t legitimately feeling it? You can only say it so many times before you break down and tell everyone to essentially go screw themselves.

The expectations surrounding the “perfect holiday season” should honestly be taken with a grain of salt. Nothing is ever perfect (remember the Griswolds overcooking the turkey?), and nor should it be. You don’t have to force yourself to be happy, or even attend anything that you don’t want to. To curb this hyperrealistic atmosphere, I try to stay off my social media feeds and keep TV to a minimum. I also don’t venture into public unless I absolutely have to (see internal dialogue above). While it really stinks not receiving gifts or being invited to holiday parties by friends (I’m pretty sure I fall off my friends’ radars during the season; it’s okay. I’m used to being forgotten. I’ve accepted it.), I’m glad I don’t have to run myself into the ground and exhaust myself trying to maintain a perfect image for four or five weeks. Some may be all gung-ho about the magical fantasy that encompasses the season and wish to do every last thing imaginable at the expense of their sanity and bank accounts. Subconsciously, and quite honestly, I would love to partake in the holiday hyperreality and hype up the fantasy at least once in my life. But until that happens, I am quite content watching the action from indoors with my show of choice and some cookies.


 

Do you subject yourself to the holiday hyperreality, or do you hate them all with a fiery passion? Feel free to vent; this entire post was a big vent session…

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One thought on “Holiday Hyperreality

  1. The holiday period experience ranges among families, cultures, religions, governments, geography and decade. The combinations of these variables make the experience different each time we are in this holiday period. I find that the holiday period one year is vastly different than the holiday period in the next year, and so on and so forth. The difference happen because the variables are different from year to year. It would be interesting if we could keep the variables the same to see if we would have the same experience year after year. But that is truly impossible in this ever changing world that we live in. Sometimes we get this image of “The Holiday” that we perceive as “not real” or “unattainable” because it’s what the current culture delivers to you in the place that you currently live in. What’s so interesting, is that other regions have a vastly different image that is displayed, and/or a different approach to the holiday period……whether that approach is positive or negative. What is constant is that there are milestones in the this period which are termed as “holidays” and certain groups/governments/entities choose to recognize these milestone and do things to observe them. What I love about traveling is that I get to see many perspectives, especially on how other people handle the holiday period experience. It’s mindblowing to see that there are so many differences in the holiday period experience throughout the world. Awesome blog post Christina 🙂 #kenthumbsup

    Liked by 1 person

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