Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Don't Hate Christmas, I Hate "Christmas Time"

It started in mid-October, a couple of weeks before Halloween: retailers in our neck of the woods started putting up "cheery" wreaths with red bows, accompanied by bells, and Santas. And my heart sank, and an involuntary scowl came across my face: it had started already--one of my least favorite times of year--Christmas Time.

Well I've had it with this. I don't hate Christmas, but by God I've had it up to here with Christmas time.

Allow me to explain.

No one really knows the true birth date of Yeshua ben-Yosef, and the date of 25 December didn't really get chosen as Jesus's birthday until the 4th century AD. Its selection was done (according to some researchers) to supersede the pagan solstice celebrations and perhaps to co-opt the commemoration of Mithra's birthday. But for whatever reason, the date of 25 December was chosen by Christians to mark Jesus's birth, and although it is almost certainly not the true date, it is the one on which they have settled. Therefore, 25 December is a sacred date on the Christian religious calendar.

Yes, the Christian calendar.

I am not a Christian; my wife is a very devout one. But we do share a similar dismay at the ugly, grasping, vulgar, greed driven flood of advertising that washes over us this time of year. Speaking for myself, I have come to hate Christmas retail commercials, with their happy little jingles and the spokespeople merrily suggesting you buy this power tool or that car or this perfume or these clothes. A sacred religious holiday has been taken over by hucksters and grifters who don't give a damn about Christmas's religious significance; they just want your money, and as much of it as they can persuade you to squander. It has become downright offensive to me, as if grasping hands were reaching out of the TV to get me to max out my VISA for the sake of their monetary gain, and to hell with anything else. (It's a great reason to shut off the television, I'll say that.)

Similarly, I hate secular "Christmas" music burbling out at me in every retail store. I don't mind religious Christmas music, because it is, for the most part, quite beautiful, but I am sick to death of tacky, ugly, banal "holiday" music like Jingle Bell Rock and Here Comes Santa Claus. After a half century of being bombarded with this crap, it has become a sort of audio torment. Enough, already!

For most adults, especially in economically tough times like this, Christmas is one of the toughest, most stressful times of the year, when already hard-pressed household budgets are strained even more. The bulk of this burden seems to fall on women, who have been made to feel guilty by countless magazine articles and TV shows if they don't provide their families with the "perfect" Christmas. Time and tempers grow short, and the effort to be "happy" and "merry" often simply results in misery.

During this "holiday season" people are forced to fight their way through crowds of other tired, stressed-out shoppers, spending money they don't have on things they wish they didn't have to buy. And are you trying to eat sensibly? Are you kidding? During this "traditional" orgy of junk food and overeating? The hangover in January is therefore twofold: credit card bills and extra pounds, part of what makes the post-Christmas period so dismal.

Is this what Christmas really should be about?

Some friendly suggestions:

1. Christmas presents should be for children only, tapering off gradually over the years until a person reaches adulthood. Yes, for young children, Christmas is magical. When my first granddaughter was 4, she saw that the cookies and milk she had left out for Santa had been consumed, along with the carrots for the reindeer, and, wide-eyed, she saw the big bunch of presents Santa had left by the tree. Seeing her astonished, joyful face was one of the high points of my life, an amazing moment, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. But as the years go on, and belief in Santa evaporates, Christmas simply becomes a time to accumulate a "haul" of gifts, and older children often become somewhat jaded by the whole thing. And while spouses might want to exchange small, symbolic presents, it seems wasteful (and strange) to me to indulge in spending money to express one's love. In my view, adults would use their money more wisely giving it to:

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital


Your local food bank

The U.S. Marines Toys for Tots Foundation

or any other worthy charity you can think of. Help your church or your community organization organize food baskets for the poor. And warm clothing and toys for poor families with children strike me as being much more in the spirit of Christmas than buying a Lexus.

2. Start letting retail stores know that you're getting tired of seeing Christmas displays in mid-October.

3. Start letting advertisers know that their obnoxious "holiday" commercials are driving you away from them.

4. Stop trying to have a "perfect" Christmas that makes you exhausted and miserable, and rather enjoy a "less than perfect" celebration with family and friends. Martha Stewart and her ilk have tried to tell you that if your holiday decorating and food aren't "perfect", then you've failed. Screw that nonsense.

5. Remember that a lot of Christians are becoming increasingly appalled by the commercialized orgy that surrounds Christmas. While I don't subscribe to the idiotic "War on Christmas" garbage that Fox "News" puts out, it might not hurt to be sensitive to those for whom this holiday has deep meaning. (For the record, my beloved sister is a retired Methodist minister who is still close to her heathen, apostate brother, and my wife celebrates Christmas with great reverence.)

I remember a time when I still believed. It was Christmas Eve service, one that had started with the inspiring, chill-giving Angels We Have Heard on High, led by our choir as they walked in procession down the aisle. The service was punctuated by the beautiful Gospel story from Luke and countless sacred hymns, and ended with each person lighting candles in our darkened church while the congregation sang Silent Night. The feeling of closeness and kinship and love for all people I felt at that moment was overwhelming. That service struck me as more meaningful than any useless Christmas party or unneeded gift ever could be.

I no longer embrace faith, but I still embrace Christmas as a symbol of charity and remembrance of our fellow humans. I'd like to see Christmas time once again be something sacred and special, instead of a significant period of GDP growth. I still love Christmas.

Now if only we could get rid of "Christmas Time"!


Zach said...

Joe, I'm on board with this idea. I've become sickened by the materialism that this society has come to embrace and encourage. This attitude especially bothers me when exhibited by Christians. We spend so much money this time of year that is so unnecessary that it utterly defeats the purpose of the holiday, to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

My understanding of how the holiday came to exist as it does (on December 25) was to evangelize to pagans who celebrated the winter equinox, but I haven't done much research on it, so I could be wrong.

Your ideas for giving money to organizations instead of people are dead on. Christians should not be concerned with getting gifts (although giving of gifts is ok, but I don't think in the context of what Christmas has become)and it only feeds this disgusting materialist society we live in.

I want you to know that I pray for you frequently and that your opinion of our faith is not influenced by those who claim it as their own but only sully the name of Christ. You are a great man with a great heart and I think what you said here speaks more volumes to how Christians ought to act around this time than most sermons I've heard.

Lance Ehlers said...

My favorite Christmas retail memory: in 1992, I was working in a strip mall record store. The two big Christmas albums that year were the John Tesh Christmas album and the Yanni Christmas album. We could not keep either of them on the shelves. We'd get a shipment, and they'd sell out within an hour.

I was stocking shelves, and this total goomba guido comes rolling up in his Camaro. The radio is blasting. It's cold, but the windows are down. He leaves the car and the radio running, enters the store, stops just inside the doorway, puts his hands on hips and assumes and aggressive stance. He's looking around with a scowl. Without looking at me, he says, "Yeah, uh, hey, you got that, uh, that fuckin'...ZANNI album?"

"No, Sir. Sorry. Sold out this morning."

"FUCK!" And he storms out. Wheels pealing in the parking lot.

Christmas Hampers said...

I love Christmas season. Christmas is the gentlest, loveliest festival of the revolving year — and yet, for all that, when it speaks, its voice has strong authority.

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