‘Tis the season. The crush to sell-sell-sell for Thanksgiving starts the swirl of marketing that’s a buzz kill for many, if not most of us.

I look at the Starbucks cup on Nov. 1 and I cringe.

The essence of our humanity is distorted when it’s objectified in order to market product. The new Starbucks cup is simply lame. It only gets worse for many of us. It’s a boring cliche to moan about the WalMartization commodifying the Holidays, but assumptive pandering to our base instincts to sell this year’s Pet Rock is depressing.

Perhaps it’s because our tender parts are grotesqued by our cash’n’carry culture to suck love out of our wallet – and for me that means the transparent milking of my love for my kids. Given the vagaries of my own childhood, my love and devotion to our boys is my Prime Directive. This season, that core purpose is in conflict with a huge macro-economic distortion that simulates emotional intensity in the holidays – with kids in the center of that manipulation..

Children become the fish-eye, gauze-fudged heart grab of hype. Children are the final focus of this 3 month Death March of Marketing called “The Holiday Season” because we, the adults, will do almost anything for them. The quickest way to a truly Black Black Friday is through familial love because your children are always your children.

Our culture has grown to almost worship children, Hell, I pretty much worship babies every day. Their unending freshness, charming insufficiencies and absolute vulnerability are compelling beyond explanation.

They would not be here unless we made them. Unless our parents made us. Without the Prime Directive of humans – to protect and advance our children – we lose part of our meaning. That central, focal imperative is sometimes either too daunting to accept or just not present in some of us – there are often childless adults.

Now the optional offspring-based family unit makes the sweep of sentimentality orchestrated to guilt gifts from any and every relative to any and every other relation extents “family” to the cloying objectifications all our Starbucks spend endless effort to co-opt into sales.

Especially when dealing with children: but the Prime Directive is no longer universal, I do not think it ever was – just everyone was expected to have children, until the last generation.

Some parents cannot fulfill the Prime Directive. While biology sometimes prevents conception, the care to fully protect and promote and yes, love, children is just not possible for some. Children are seen for what they impose, not what they give. I know this because my parents probably should not have had kids, and really lived for the first 10 years of their marriage child-free by choice. I am pretty sure they viewed their late-in-life kids as simple extensions of themselves: and since no one is fully confident, any potential for incapacity, faulty execution, misplaced priorities was not simply “growing up”, it was culpable. For my parents their children’s natural lack of perfection was a screaming beacon of failure for them, and a pain trigger for us at the Holidays.

So Christmas became a stress fest of yelling, guilt and regret. Those craters are still there for me – and I assume many others. Despite the fact that the actual day of Christmas has zero historic reality beyond its solstice/pagan ritual location on the calendar, the same innocent love we have for every baby, and that baby for us is the essence of what Jesus silently offers 24/7/365.

Most days that love is just too easy for me to accept – I earned no part of it, let alone deserve it. We are made to feel that any and everyone deserves gifts this season, but I find it hard to accept anything from anyone, let alone the love of, and for, Who gave us everything. I know, and have always known, God is there, every day. I may never really know why: perhaps this incoherent but fundamental love is how our kids perceive us. But I, and every child of a dysfunctional home experience the qualified, intermittent and incoherent emotions of an unhappy family – especially at Christmas.

So when the huge transparently cynical hype machine groans up to optimize our buying potential in the holiday season I am left without the historic sentimentality of growing up in a loving family.

While the pretense and “fake news” that the Baby Jesus was born in early winter (versus spring) the Grace of God is why we had children. Aping the presumed meaning of a Christmas Culture is a way to assume we can make meaning by simulating it. Having children in our lives, their complete vulnerability and acceptance is most loudly present every Christmas when the Prime Directive of parental devotion is most publicly expressed.

That Prime Directive was not there for my siblings. They never had children of their own. I hope the love of God was there for them growing up, but the pain they had in childhood never left them – or me. It’s in the Christmas Season that our culture provides a platform to hear about what Jesus brings. The love that’s already here, in and around us, because, well, he made us and everything else. Not complex or transactional, just the reality of Grace.

That love is the healer of so much damage and fear in my life that the season’s hypocrisies are mockably trivial. I hope that love overcomes the inundation we all face this Holiday time, but the inevitable discord and disappointments crescendo to match the hype and expectations. That Groundhog Day Rinse-and-Repeat of the season may be depressingly shallow, but the most elemental love in birth is not – it is found in my life every day, even the older I get.