The Christmas trance seems to start earlier every year. It’s not something that I feel rise up in me naturally, but I see it around me, and I’m always surprised at how early it starts. Starbucks changes over to their Christmas Blend around mid-November and I start drinking Americanos. And the music…it’s like shifting into another dimension.
Little sparkling lights appear everywhere. Big and little snowflakes, icicles, wreaths, and straight lines of little electric lights show up and every once in a while you see one of those houses, done up like the Griswolds. From my rooftop I can see into a condo where a big tree pulses slowly in red and blue like some conical spaceship. Oh, the trees. The trees are everywhere too.
Red hats on people in stores, candy canes by the bowlful or giant and plastic on the walls, an abundance of gingerbread, cotton wadded up against displays to look like snow, and MallSantas, it’s definitely the only time of year all these things come out at the same time.
Christmas is a mindset. Many people don’t celebrate Christmas, but in North America, at least, it’s inescapable. The communal brain of culture is used to getting into this mode once per year and it seems to slide right into it just like falling asleep. It starts vaguely with a few hints here and there, then it builds, then suddenly you’re right in it.
Plus…the music. The shift in music is dramatic, coming on all cheery and dreamy, talking about how wonderful things are, painting pictures of Christmas we feel like we vaguely remember from way back when. But when? As kids, or parents of new kids? I always loved Christmas as a kid but I wonder how much of that is accurate memory and how much of it is nostalgia implanted by the Christmas trance, with it’s Christmas music repeating and repeating and repeating like a mantra. Sim-ply haaav-ing a wonderful Christmas time.
It takes me a while to get into the Christmas trance. The “Spirit of Christmas” has certainly changed for me since I was a little kid. I enjoy taking off work to spend time with family, like eating big meals and drinking good beers with my brothers, like watching kids unwrap presents, and do generally find it a very comfortable mindset once I get into it, but like most trances, it’s a lot harder to get into than to stay in.
A fairly new addition to the North American Index of Trances is the Ikea trance. You need new furniture for your place, or some dishes, or some framed art for your wall, but you’re not sure exactly what you want, so you take a little trip.
Now you’re shuffling through the door of a huge Ikea with a group of people. You’re up an escalator, have your cart, and you cruise inside. You’re looking around at bathroom furniture and there are these people, standing there in this space set up like a real room in a house, like a set from a movie, and they’re having a conversation. Maybe they’re nodding in agreement or talking about the prices, or they’re arguing or having a conversation about what they had in mind for the bathroom. But as far as your own sense perception is concerned, they might as well be arguing about failed birth control in their bathroom at home.
If you’re in Toronto, like me, maybe a monkey walks by.
It’s tough to navigate all these little clusters of people and the displays, so you can’t move very fast at all. In fact, you notice that the same people have made it to living room. There are some new people chatting idly in front of a television set (which is not a real television set) and they might as well be acting out a scene from Blossom. In the next room you find the birth-control-couple sitting on a bed – probably to test its firmness – but there they are, facing away from each other on the bed like the end of some emotional blowout. Now you’re eating cheap meatballs across from a guy who looks like Jeremy Piven. Is this weird to everybody else?
As I watch these scenes unfold when I’m in Ikea, which is not often, these ridiculous narratives develop and I feel slowed down, like I’m moving through molasses. These fake rooms and strange little environments make me feel like I’m in the movie Cube or walking through The Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Fortunately, with the internet and some forethought I can avoid the showroom and go straight for the warehouse.
Both trances can cost you a lot of money, and in both you stand to gain new stuff. Although I like a Swedish meatball now and then, my judgment on the better trance has to go to Christmas. It just feels better once you’re inside. The travel arrangements, the shopping, dealing with crowds and so forth is the recipe for calling down the Spirit of Christmas. Once you’re over the hump it’s all good.
I’ve tried to find a good definition of the word trance, but I haven’t been satisfied. Here is a selection from various sources:
1. a sleeplike state (as of deep hypnosis) usually characterized by partly suspended animation with diminished or absent sensory and motor activity
2. stupor, daze
3. a state of profound abstraction or absorption
4. an ecstasy; a state in which the soul seems to have passed out of the body, or to be rapt into visions
These definitions describe completely different states of mind. So how do we know when we’re in a trance? To the person experiencing it, one mindset is as real and valid as another. If I’m reading, that’s a certain kind of mindset. If I’m into a movie, that’s another, if I’m talking to someone, that’s it’s own kind of trance, and when I’m working I’m in a certain mindset. We shift mindsets all the time to suit our psychological needs. The only way I can really define one trance is by it’s contrast with the mindset that came before and the mindset that came after. Saying “I’m alert” doesn’t indicate anything absolute; it only describes that I’m more alert than I am at other times, which isn’t saying much.