Christmas is a Social Construct

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Quick. Name as many things as you can that you think have to do with Christmas:

The Christmas tree
Jesus
Santa Claus
Presents
Fruitcake
Snow
Rudolph
Candy canes
Christmas music
Frosty the Snowman
Cookies
Turkey
Decorations…

And the list goes on.

For those who like a traditional American idea of what Christmas is all about… I think that’s great and that people ought to spend this time of year in the way that means the most to them. My way of thinking about Christmastime, however, is progressively changing as the years go by, and I find that that is okay as well.

I, like some other bloggers I’ve noticed, have become disenchanted with this type of celebration in recent years, though I think there’s some parts of it worth keeping: family time – check. Time off of work to spend more time with family, spend in contemplative reflection, or get done what I wish to – check. A family feast – check. What I’m taking issue with (at least personally) is how consumeristic advertisers and other people have made Christmas. I’m talking about how I still feel the consistent weight of pressure to purchase and exchange presents at Christmas time… in an ongoing recession era, without an independent stream of income. Really, friends… do you think I really want this expectation placed on me?

And do you think I want gifts in return? Not interested in the slightest, thank you. I have all I need; family, food on the table, and a roof over my head. You see, if you give me a gift, then I feel like I have to give you one in return, or else I feel like a “taker”. If I give you a gift, though expecting none in return, you will still feel obligated to give me a gift. And the cycle goes on.

My grandmother, a very wise and practical lady, made the decision a few years ago that, at our yearly Christmas Eve family gathering, we would not be exchanging presents. To this day, none of my relatives seem to miss getting gifts. I know I don’t. We are happy just to nibble at a finger food buffet, sit around, and spend time with one another.

Every year before the gathering, my grandmother asks me, “Now you know we’re not exchanging gifts for Christmas, right?”

I am always more than happy to assure her that this is totally fine with me and always preferable. After all, Christmas isn’t really about “things”. Don’t let the fat man in the red suit (a modern-day Bacchus) fool you.

You might well counter what I’m saying by patronizingly reminding me that the emphasis at Christmastime is not on “getting things” so much as it is about “giving”. Thank you for pointing out the error of my ways. But before you dismiss me as a “Scrooge”, let me also remind you that “Christmas” is an attitude of the heart and should be practiced all year around. Like myself and most of my family and friends, I can imagine that people don’t need an over-abundance of possessions that they probably won’t use but they may need help with their electric bill every now and then. Perhaps about $30 to purchase a decent pair of pants to replace the worn-out ones. I don’t have much myself, but I would gladly give some of my bread (whether monetary or literal) to a family who truly is in need. If you have a decent job and can afford to wear Manolo Blahniks, then forgive me if my money doesn’t stretch far enough to buy you a Christmas present (and please don’t buy me a gift either. You will only embarrass me).

What about the thought that Christmas is also about Jesus Christ and his birth? You can bet I still believe in this. Did you know, however, that Jesus wasn’t actually born around Christmas-as-we-commonly-know-it? Many Bible scholars have made educated guesses that Jesus was born around the summertime.

Honestly… Christmas time hasn’t done anything to raise my spiritual awareness. I already know – all year long – that Christ came as God in human form to show us the Father, die for the sins on mankind, and rise again and share His eternal life with those who believe in Him (not trying to proselytize anyone who disagrees with me; I respect your right to disagree). I either believe in these things year-round or I don’t really believe them at all. A certain time of year is not going to make me magically more contemplative about the mysteries of the incarnation if I’m not already inclined to be so. And presents aren’t going to help me to become more contemplative, either. They might even be a distraction against the true meaning of Christmas. Go figure.

“Christmas is for the children”, one might add. Yeah. Maybe you’re right. What a grinch I am. I just love seeing advertisers step the toy commercials several notches and frazzled parents go into credit card debt to make sure they buy their children enough Christmas presents so that they won’t pout that they only got ten presents more than other older family members this year. I love seeing consumeristic greed encouraged amongst the young. I love seeing them hurriedly rip through each present, toss it aside as though it was nothing, just to frenetically get to the next gift. Yeah.

Fellow bloggers, I’m sorry if I’m being a downer this year. I probably seem really cynical to you. I hope, however, that I am helping you more than hurting you. If you like your unique (or “normal”) way of celebrating Christmas and it works for you and your family, then think of my post as no more than my personal feelings about this holiday (and really, that’s all it is). For those, however, who feel the way I do… perhaps you can sensitively share your feelings with other family members and request a different way of celebrating Christmas. You never know unless you ask and may even find that your relatives and friends are actually relieved to forego the obligatory gift exchange. Perhaps you can explain to your children that next year’s Christmas will be more about giving than receiving, as you give your child[ren] one gift to donate to a needy child and one to keep (just a suggestion). Empathy can often be easily learned by the young, and children are often made happier by being able to help others.

Happy New Year.

photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL) via photopin cc

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