Sunday, November 29, 2009

What is the point of Christmas?

I don't celebrate Ramadan but I am told that the feast and the festivities after the fast is wonderful. It is a time for friends and family to exchange gifts, spend time together and enjoy the end of a period of fasting. In Muslim countries, this marking of the end of Ramadan is an event, heralded in the shops, on the street corners and a real tradition. It is part of the culture. I don't celebrate Ramadan because it is linked with Islam and I do not practice that faith. My Scottish friends don't make a big thing out of Christmas, for them New Years is the thing to be celebrated and gifts exchanged! Another year where you have not been wiped out or slaughtered by other murderous highland clansmen is to be celebrated!

Today I walked past my neighbours home and on their lawn they had one of those hot air operated Santa Claus figures. At Hallowe'en they had a hot air and fan operated biker, with an eye patch sitting astride a hog motorcycle, and now there was Santa, deflated and lying face down in the mud. Christmas for many people is rather like that hollow Santa. While they may get involved with the parties, the festivities, the trees, and tell their children fables about fat men who climb down chimneys, when the presents are unwrapped, like the deflated Santa Claus there is nothing left, just empty wrappers and a tree and decorations to put away.

The shops are busy and the stores are blaring Christmas ditties, people worry about what to make for dinner, what to buy. There is the inevitable short lived guilt about the homeless in the city and we put a few dollars in the Salvation Army kettle, or donate a turkey to the Mission. There are the lights, the cards, and above all the cultural pressure to be happy.

I cannot see the point of a non Christian or a non practicing Christian of celebrating Christmas. It is just a pain! For them, Christmas is truly a deflated Santa Claus. It is an empty holiday. While there is comfort in spending time with the family etc, apart from understanding its deeper meaning which is rooted in the birth of Jesus, it is meaningless, even as a cultural festivity.

The reason I dont celebrate the end of Ramadan, or the Indian festival of lights, or Hannukah is simply because I am not a part of those faith traditions. To celebrate a religious festival, or one that has its meaning derived from and an integral part of a faith tradition like Christmas without either having a deep appreciation of those faith based traditions or to practice the faith is pointless.

No wonder Christmas for many people is such a depressing time! Unless they are Christian, they try in vain to find meaning under the colourful wrappers and lights or in trying to get the family together for a hallmark dinner. In the end, these things, like the hollow Santa, are in themselves empty. Thus, rather than celebrating the season, they are left with the cognitive dissonance of wanting to be happy and celebrate and find meaning and at the same time, be aware that it is all a sham. It is trying to separate what they experience from what they think the season should be, that many people find so distressing.

There are those who will say that there are two Christmas celebrations, one religious and one secular. The secular one, with Happy Holidays, and Rudolf and all of that are simply creations of our merchants and card makers, coupled with some sentiments from poetry and glossy memories of past times. When we think of Christmas trees, we imagine the scene from the Nutcracker, when the tree is revealed to the children, a splendid huge thing with lights and of course presents underneath. Children today do not experience the wow factor from looking at an evergreen with a few lights on it. They have X boxes, nintendo and are used to surround sound entertainment. In this age of amusement the Christmas tree has a poor showing.

The idea of gift exchange, is from the Biblical story and the tradition of boxing day came from 19th century England, where wealthy children would put their unwanted toys in their boxes out on the curbs on December 26th for the poorer children. It was the ultimate boxing day sale...things marked down 100%. When we think of gift exchanges, we often think of stories like the Waltons, or other families where gifts were simple and small and from the heart. Simple and small is again a thing of the past. In many of the households I am aware of, the presents for the children and adults could fill a small room. Like the description of the gifts in a Child's Christmas in Wales, most of the presents are the useless presents!

If you remove all aspects of Christianity from Christmas you are left with: Santa Claus...a figure who only appears once a year and is not half as exciting as a handsome prince, a superhero or an X man, Rudolf and the Reindeers? Many drivers find deer a downright hazard on the roads, the Christmas tree, a messy needle dropping affair, cluttered with cracked and faded memories, parties, these can happen any time, family gatherings? There is nothing unique or wondrous about any of these things.

I don't celebrate Ramadan, Kwanza, Hannukah..etc. because I am not part of those faith traditions and because they would be merely good dinners or parties if they were stripped of their faith meanings. Likewise when people try to celebrate the Christian holiday of Christmas without an appreciation or understanding of the Christian faith, there is nothing left, merely some good dinners, an few parties and a needle shedding evergreen in your livingroom. Even the fat man stuck in the chimney would not be so jolly with this!

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