Wednesday, December 23

“Aren't we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa.” Matt Groening, The Simpsons

Somewhere along the line over the last ten years or so I seem to have picked up a reputation for being a Scrooge. I happen to not agree with this characterization, but I understand where it comes from. You see, I don’t believe in Christmas any more in the same way that I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, peace on earth, or Martians. And at the same time I do believe in it the way I believe in all of those things.

When I was growing up, I was taught that Christmas was the time when we celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus and also that it was a family holiday, marked by the extravagant exchanging of expensive, colorfully wrapped gifts, supplemented by the delivery of even more presents by a big white European guy in a red suit who somehow managed to squeeze his corpulent body down our six-inch chimney pipe. I wasn’t sure what these had to do with each other, but okay, for a good twenty-five or –six years I bought into a varying amounts of our family’s version of the myth.

Especially as an only child, I had a pretty damned good thing going, after all. I rebelled against my parents having too many friends over, partly because my mom went into paroxysms of anxiety over having everything just right, which seemed to me to be at odds with the whole quiet reflection and family themes, but also because it interfered with my whole ‘new toy’ time. So yeah not completely happy, but only children get spoiled, let me tell ya.

I don’t recall a time when I actually believed in the Santa myth. My parents recognized early that I had a propensity for sniffing out the BS, so they rarely tried to pull any wool over their eyes that they didn’t already have pulled over their own. Like the Jesus thing. I think it was the sincerity of their beliefs that led to my acceptance in such a wholehearted way.

There are very few scholars out there who would suggest that a historical Jesus would have been born on the 25th of December, or anywhere near Christmas time, considering that the Romans conducted their censuses in mid- to late-spring. I’d figured that one out by the time I was twenty-five or so, a late realization that I attribute to the level of indoctrination my upbringing subjected me to. It was even later that I started to put the pieces together and realized that Christianity as it is propounded by the major sects is simply a rehash of even older theological mythologies, names and dates changed to protect the sanctity of the new institution that Constantine and what would become the Catholic sect were putting together.

And then there’s the whole consumerism nature of the holiday. I am fair and consistent in disliking almost all of the major Western Culture holidays for this aspect, and have been for years. We propagate holiday seasons that include major material purchase requirements all throughout the year, making the purchasing more and more a requisite to properly celebrating the season, even going so far as to suggest that not spending loads of money on gifts and decorations is somehow unpatriotic considering that, if we abstain, we are potentially doing irreparable harm to the economy. Especially in dire times like these. Even when I was getting tons of cool shit as an only child this struck me as somehow empty and contrary.

Perhaps my least sensible and paradoxically largest peeve is the competition to see who can make their house look gaudiest. Oh my god, what a waste that is. A few lights, something tasteful, doesn’t press my buttons, but anything involving inflatable Santas and an energy-sucking over-abundance of multi-colored lights makes me shake my head.

I was also struck early on by the hypocrisy of the seasonal message; that for this brief window of time, each year, we would unite in celebrating the birth of the Christian god to the exclusion of every other religion, then drop the sentiment as soon as New Year passed (am I being too generous by giving the season a whole week of influence) and go back screwing each other over for money, money, money. Assuming, of course, that you ignore the whole concept of  seasonal consumerism as a de facto screwing process in and of itself.

So, yeah, I can see why I get the Scrooge label.

There are things that I always have and do like about the season though:

- I like that it brings families and friends together, reminding us of the ties that bind us.
- I like that people think a bit more about things like those less fortunate than themselves and peace on earth.
- I like that we try to take an extra day or two off from our busy work lives to visit and rest.
- I like that we often spend a day or two outside around this time of year, enjoying the snow, breathing in a lung or two of crisp winter air.
- I like that it inspires us to be reverent for a moment or an evening, regardless of the reason or religion or context; just to be reverent and thankful.

These are good things, worthy things to enjoy about this time of year. I wish that we could carry them with us all year long, mind you, but if we can only manage them for special occasions… well, I’m a pragmatic idealist after all, so I’ll be thankful for what I can be thankful for.

If I’m preaching to the converted, then enjoy the season in the way only you can – as an extension of a mindset you’ve carried with you all year long; grateful and generous. If not, try something new. Take the best parts of this season with you throughout the next year. Practice reverence and generosity, empathy and integrity through all the seasons. Recognize that the most precious gift you can give to anyone is yourself, your best self.

Buy less, see more, consume less, but be more generous with your most valuable commodity – your self. Consider it a Christmas present from you to everyone that loves you, including you.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Boisterous Bodhi, Rippin’ Rammadan, Festive Festivus, Kickin' Kwanzaa, Super Solstice, Happy Holidays… whichever one works for you, enjoy, be safe, love and be loved.