Romance, Sex, and Christmas

I don’t get why Christmas is seen as romantic.  an ornament on an evergreen tree

Alright, allow me to clarify: I do get why Christmas is seen as “romantic” in the classical sense of “an idealized version of reality,” what with the sparkling trees and the spirit of generosity and chestnuts roasting on an open fire and all that.  I even associate the idea of Christmas with the idea of snow, even though I’ve never experienced snow during Christmastime once in my life (I live in Texas, so this is to be expected).

What I don’t get is why Christmas is seen as romantic, in the sense of kisses and dates and amatonormativity.  And by “seen as”, I’m referring to everything from the romantic-sexual Christmas songs on the radio (from the uncomfortable “Santa, Baby” to the even more uncomfortable “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”) to all the Christmas romcoms that exist for some unholy reason.

Admittedly, the mistletoe thing may have a big part in it.  But according to my cursory research, the symbolism of mistletoe used to be more broad as well.

The Christmas holiday is not all that ideologically important to me, I should note, so this isn’t much of a bother besides the heterosexuals throwing their stuff in my face yet again.  I just find it kind of mystifying.

Why not Easter, for example?  I hardly ever hear of people romanticizing/sexualizing Easter, even though it’s traditions are ripe with potential.  It has pagan origins as a fertility festival, for Pete’s sake.  Rabbits and flowers and eggs as its symbols?  What do you think all that is about?

Easter hasn’t made as much of an imprint on the American imagination, however.  Granted, out of the two, Christmas is the holiday that’s easier to monetize (“celebrating the giving of gifts” vs. “celebrating new life”).  But does it necessarily follow that what’s easier to market becomes that which is given more cultural precedence becomes that which becomes more romanticized and sexualized?

You might also argue that it’s because Christmas is in the winter (in this hemisphere), and cold weather inspires people to huddle together and share warmth.  In the context of a culture in which personal touch is heavily coded as sexual and/or romantic, the entire idea of winter itself could be romanti-sexualized.  But we equally sexualize the summer when it’s expected for people to show more skin and wear less clothing, for similar reasons.  So why isn’t the Fourth of July, a summer holiday in America that encourages spending, given a similar treatment?

The romantic discourse swirling around Christmas may be intuitive on some levels, but it remains strange to me, not only because its current rendition is so far removed from the shabby Mediterranean birthday story it’s supposedly based on, but because I and so many others associate Christmastime with family time, for better or for worse.  That doesn’t mesh naturally with dating and romance, from my point of view.

You could say I’m overthinking it, but it remains pretty dang weird.

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14 responses to “Romance, Sex, and Christmas

  • onlyfragments

    Hmm… could it be partly BECAUSE of the focus on gift-giving and materialization? I mean, I know even when I didn’t want to date, it was still awkward being the only one in my family who didn’t have a significant other who bought me oodles of expensive gifts on Christmas. And now that I have a girlfriend, I use Christmas as an excuse to buy her a bunch of stuff she basically has to accept and can’t be all humble about. So I could see how giving gifts might make the holiday have a more romantic focus than, say, Easter or the Fourth of July.

    • Coyote

      I suppose, but that’s not romance-specific, and most of the gift-giving in my family takes place across different familial relationship types, so I don’t think of it as being particularly that way in the manner of, say, St. Valentine’s Day.

  • Klaraa

    The most amatonormative and romantic-in-that-sense Thing about Christmas, that I can think of, is that Christmas is a time of Family Gatherings, and therefor a once-a-year-Chance to assess a relationship for committedness: Are you going together, or each attending your own family gathering alone, which might be fine except it is read as not committed. Do you love the Significant other enough to miss your own family’s gathering to be with theirs?, or, are you ready to ask/demand/require they Abandon their own Family gathering for yours.

    Also, what says “you have yet to contribute to the pool of sons-in-law” better than a Family gathering…

    • Coyote

      Hm. That’s an interesting theory, but I can’t recall that ever being the plot of any Christmas story aside from The Santa Clause, which featured a conflict involving a boy with divorced parents.

      Also, I should point out that Thanksgiving is a family gathering, too, and that’s not regarded quite the same.

  • Sara K.

    I recall reading something about how consummerism and amantonormativy are intertwined (the word ‘amantonormativity’ wasn’t used but I think that’s what they were talking about), that commercialization encourages romance because romantic relationships (at least in our culture) encourage selfishness and pursuing your desires and throwing out rational thought in a way that, say, caring for elders in the family does not. This is good for businesses which sell things that people don’t need.

    Thus, I suspect that commercialization – and the focus on gifts – and getting what you want through other people – might explain it. July 4th isn’t really suited for promoting individual selfishness.

  • abonnace

    I’ve been wondering the same. Especially after hearing the song, “All I Want for Christmas is You” way too many times lately! X_X.
    We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving so I can’t compare, but Christmas does seem to be about spending time with family and those you love. As well as the gift giving aspect. It’s perhaps seen as a more intimate holiday than the others? In the sense that its close family and special people in your life who you make the effort to celebrate with and/or buy gifts for. And I’ve noticed that because its a gift giving type holiday there’s also an emphasis on children and families with children. So maybe there’s that romantic ideal of being being a family and having children. So being partnered could be seen as desirable as it could lead to that family unit inclusiveness????

    I enjoy Christmas myself, but the romantic specific themes have been bugging me this year.

  • Oddity Specs

    I don’t get it either. My best guess is that perhaps Christmas is ‘romanticized’ because Christmas is associated with spending time with the most important relationships in one’s life and many/most people consider their romantic relationships the most important. Maybe? No other holiday I can think of (at least in the U.S.) has that concentration (I’m leaving out Valentine’s day because that is explicitly linked to romance in our culture); Thanksgiving is the closest, but the concentration tends to be on relating to one’s family at large.

  • Cath

    I have to agree with similar comments already made here — Christmas is frequently about love and family, which are not inherently romantic but are often coded as such. The idea of emotional intimacy usually immediately leads people to romance, doesn’t it?

  • Aislynn

    It would be a Christmas miracle if it snowed in Austin at Christmas

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