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A Special Gift

The Author Speaks: Christmas—America’s Most Chaotic, Expensive, Anxiety-Ridden and Occasionally Joyful Event

Interview with Hank Stuever, author of Tinsel: The Search for America’s Christmas Present.

Q. Speaking of manufactured Christmas products, one phrase is repeated over and over in the book: “Fake is OK here.” Is it?

A. I think it is. For Americans to really submit to Christmas, you have to get into the artifice of it. If you want to have the perfectly decorated suburban house, you probably don’t have a real tree or real greenery; it’s easier to have pre-lit greenery and trees. You may have those little porcelain snow towns that depict worlds that never existed, like Dickensian villages and Bedford Falls. At Christmas, you have to submit to a series of myths.

Q. Myths?

A. You have this idea that we’re all going to be happy on Dec. 25, that we’re all going to be together, the family drunk is going to be sober, that old sorts of resentments and difficult relationships in families are going to be set aside for the day, that the world is going to be at peace. So if you’re really going to fall in love with Christmas, you have to fall in love with the biggest shadow game we got going—that the world for one day is all wonderful and all hopeful.

Q. Why do we put ourselves through it all?

A. We’re making the moments of our lives. That’s why we so obsessively photograph and videotape Christmas. Like Tammie, we’re all hoping for what she calls the “total moment,” when everything comes together in a big way. And some people go to extremes to find that.

Q. What do we really need from this holiday underneath the decorations and the presents and the shopping lists and angst?

A. We hope that somewhere in all of the family BS is a reminder that we’re loved. There’s a strong desire to connect with humans and know that we’re not alone. For Christians, it’s the story of a savior coming to tell us we’re loved. But everyone at Christmas needs a reminder that there’s love.

Carol Kaufmann is a contributing editor for the AARP Bulletin.

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