That’s me in the shepherd costume on thr far right, by the way. What is it about the holidays that brings out the performer in everyone? It always seems to be the more traditional modes of performing, too. Christmas concerts rarely get more contemporary than Sinatra. For whatever reason, churches and schools are always pulling out all the stops for their Winter production. The amount of work that goes on is quite amazing. Recently, I was helping decorate 100 Lava cakes for the Christmas concert at my wife’s school. You may have heard the carols before and the children onstage might not all be yours, but experiencing your own community when they put on a show is a precious thing. Remember how important you are as an audience member.
For all the spending that goes on every Christmas, there seems to be a flurry of editorials dedicated to making you feel bad about said spending. You’re harming the Earth! You’re creating consumer debt! Don’t you know that there’s more to life than material things? It’s the same song and dance year in and year out. Don’t get me wrong, I see their point. There’s more to gift giving than spending a lot of money. We have to do all we can for the environment, because if Copenhagen’s any indication, our government is simply not interested. Still, there’s something missing from the “Buy Nothing” philosophy of Christmas.
The money generated from Christmas essentially pays most retailer salaries for the fiscal year. What would happen to them if Christmas never came? Is it a good thing for those people to be out of work? And how about that Chinese plastic crap they sell? The Chinese don’t need that money. All they’d do is spend it on education, labor laws, and environmental regulations.
There is no one philosophy that explains everything. Our society is so interconnected that it takes variety of perspectives to figure out what to do. It’s complicated, but if we listen to the people that are affected by our actions, we can come up with actions that will result in some real change.
It’s funny how Christmas changes as you become an adult. After you leave home, you inevitably curb that personal freedom a bit every December to head back home for Christmas. When you start to work, you find staff Christmas parties are an integral part of any office culture. Once you find that special significant other, you find that your trips home and staff parties to attend double. All of a sudden, you are on a Christmas grand tour.
Traffic and inclement weather are only the start of your worries. You haven’t met with these people outside of work since last year’s Christmas party. If it’s your significant other’s staff party you may not have seen these people before at all. Seeing family can be even more awkward. How has everyone been this year? Will they like the gifts you brought? Will the apple pan dowdy you made pan out at dessert?
The Christmas grand tour is a whirlwind of preparation, travel, and society. You can drive yourself crazy making sure things are just so. But when you turn that doorknob, and smell a Christmas Tree or taste a Christmas dish, you know you are not in a place of scrutiny or judgment. Christmas is not a competition, but a common interest that at least once a year gathers all: friends, family, and co-workers alike.
What do stories like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, It’s a Wonderful life, and A Christmas Carol have in common? Now, I’m not talking about snow, Santa, and the Baby Jesus. That’s just trimmings on the tree, so to speak. If you were to take a critical survey of Christmas movies, poems, and literature, you might notice a few thematic trends. The protagonists all make a transition from a place of despair and doubt to a place of hope and belief.
Some people balk at this, claiming that these stories teach you that leaving behind your logical faculties is the key to happiness. While it’s true that these tropes have produced some truly awful Christmas specials, it addresses an issue that everyone (in the Northern hemisphere at least) has to deal with every December. The days are getting shorter and colder. The trees are black and bare. Those of us with central heat argue that there’s no reason for us to fear not making it through the winter in our modern society. Yet for reasons we cannot explain, we feel depressed. The negative thoughts and questions of our lives seem more present in the dark of winter. Are we good people? Are we living up to our potential? Do we really deserve all that we have? These thoughts begin to influence our decisions. At some point it’s not enough to know logically that winter will pass, that hope is real and just around the corner. We adorn our houses with the light that we so miss from brighter seasons. We give each other gifts so that we can symbolize in something physical. Some people even do daft things like erecting trees in their houses.
So if you’re concerned that you are celebrating a Holiday that is based on mere Christian/Pagan/Saturnalian traditions, or on things that aren’t real, ask yourself this. Is happiness you feel from Christmas real? If your answer is yes, then you understand that the celebration itself is its own reward. As long as we have the long, dark winter months, we will have Christmas.
When most people think of Christmas Shopping, the word “Scrum” comes to mind. The malls become choked with sweaty bodies all dashing in every direction to reach store shelves picked clean of taste or value. And how the heck are you supposed to buy for adult loved ones? Let’s face it, if they want something they usually have a job that gives them money to buy said thing whenever they want it. You can try to mitigate that using lists, but the people writing them feel greedy and the people reading them feel daunted when their shopping budget just got spontaneously high-balled. When the inevitable Visa hangover comes in the mail you think to yourself, Why did I just do this? Why do any of us do this? Are we so under the spell of corporations and money-making enterprises of all sorts that we prostrate ourselves, year in, year out, on the altar of mass consumption? Boy, those corporations sure have us licked. I once saw a corporation eat a live puppy once. True story.
Or so I used to think. My wife, Sara, loves giving gifts and shopping for gifts. However, she laments that her shopping stamina is not up to par with her mother, who can go 8 hours without so much as an Orange Julius break. To Sara, when you give a gift, you are not just placing filthy lucre at the foot of a torch-lit shrine to Sam Walton. A gift is a symbol of how well you know a person. It is, in effect, your relationship in effigy. Finding the perfect gift is kind of like a game. You try to pick out the person’s hopes and desires from observations you’ve made of them over the past year. The search isn’t always fruitful. Sara will still ask her quarry if nothing comes up. But if you’ve got that kind of information about your loved ones, be it a snippet of conversation, or a glance of a magazine open on a coffee table, wouldn’t you act on it? Even if navigating the retail landscape is confusing, you get a little peek into their world, their experience. That, my friends, is a gift that all the realities of modern manufacture and consumerism cannot cheapen.