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The guilt of skipping Christmas
On the surface, Christmas is pure joy, but Christmas can also be pressure all wrapped up with a neat bow. If I hadn’t noticed how it puts pressure on people before, I certainly did after reading Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, our Sunday Arts Section (SAS) Book Club choice for December.
The book is about one couple’s decision to ditch the holiday and go on a Caribbean cruise after their daughter flies to South America for her Peace Corps job.
Soon readers discover just how difficult it is to sidestep all the Christmas trappings. With unbelievable wit, grace and grit, Grisham paints Christmas in a whole new light, twisting and turning the plot in much the same way we wrap lights around the Christmas tree. Grisham manages to treat the bubbly season with all the respect it deserves and still manages to rip apart the holiday with the fury of an overly excited child attacking his Christmas presents.
Especially telling is an early chapter where our hero, Luther, faces the pressure his neighbours put on him to decorate the outside of his house simply because the neighbourhood always does it. They don’t care about real snowmen. They want that fake, plastic Frosty the Snowman up on Luther’s roof.
Luther tries not to cave to the pressure and even resents his neighbour’s efforts to make him feel like he’s letting the neighbourhood down because he has opted for a Caribbean cruise rather than a traditional Christmas. Luther’s neighbours don’t buy into individual choice at Christmas, which brings up the question of how we get sucked into that uncomfortable position of being responsible for other people’s happiness during the holiday.
Another telling chapter deals with Christmas cards. Grisham makes readers realise just how much baggage is wrapped up in a card. People send them to create some bridge over the space distance creates. Often times Christmas cards become an unspoken apology for not staying in touch for the entire year.
Still, Luther’s wife Nora is into her Christmas cards. Much thought goes into her final decision about them in their plan to cancel Christmas.
There’s no shortage of guilt trips from friends who feign disappointment at Nora and Luther’s plans. Grisham makes readers realise just how selfish people are during the holidays because, for the most part, all everyone is thinking about are the presents and party that will be missing if Luther and Nora go away for Christmas.
Talking points for Skipping Christmas
1. In Skipping Christmas, Luther gets ragged about everything from not getting a Christmas tree or decorating a house with lights, to attending Christmas parties or buying gifts no one wants. When it comes to giving up Christmas, what would you find most difficult to give up?
2. Do cards have any meaning in this day of instant messaging? Do people look forward to them?
3. Where would be the ideal place to go if you were cancelling Christmas?
4. Does Christmas require that we put our own needs aside and just try to please other people?
5. Would it be possible to skip Christmas without a guilty conscience?
• Join us next week for the grand finale of Skipping Christmas.
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