Monday, December 19, 2011

Why celebrate Christmas at all?

While I’m being such a Grinch, and banging on about how Christmas doesn’t have a meaning for me beyond being with family (I’m not a Northern Hemisphere pagan, not a Christian, not into Santa, and don’t like creating lots of waste), I have to ask myself why we celebrate Christmas at all? It’s a serious question.

Part of my answer is that, here in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas is tied up with the end of year celebrations, because of the school year. The two become merged, to an extent. We celebrate the completions, the achievements of the year. I imagine it would be easier if the two events were separate, as in the Northern Hemisphere where the school year goes from September until August. Celebrating Christmas is a mid year break rather than end of year break. (And I’ve always wondered about why JK Rowling included Christmas in her Harry Potter stories. Why did they celebrate Christmas in the wizarding world?) I think that if we lived in the Northern Hemisphere we could celebrate as pagans, and enjoy the festivities during the cold and dark of winter. But it also means we could think about end of school year celebrations without thinking about Christmas.

The rest of the answer is simply to get along with people. When a celebration is meaningful to people in a real way (I’m discounting Santa here), you don’t want to be critical about what they do. It is a matter of respect, and live and let live. For many people who aren’t pagan or Christian, Christmas has always been a time of being with family. It’s kind of shorthand for a family gathering. The members of the family acknowledge each other, and the year that’s been. We go along with it because we like spending time with family at the end of the year, when it is a holiday (everything is closed) and we can relax, and we don’t question it too much so as not upset family members. To do anything else would be surly and offensive.

Of course, for people who aren’t with family at Christmas, and find their own thing to do with friends, or who watch movies or go to the beach or serve breakfast at a homeless shelter, I think that’s fine. I wouldn’t want to push the ‘Christmas is about family’ message onto anyone else. I’m just saying this is the way I can justify participating in celebrations.

We talk about peer pressure in regards to children and teenagers, but what about peer pressure on adults who are just trying to fit in, whether they are migrants trying to assimilate or people just trying to placate family members. So, I admit it, I celebrate Christmas because of peer pressure. Not to the extent of buying candy canes and single use table settings, but to the extent of having a tree and exchanging gifts.

Considering it is women who do most of the work to make Christmas celebrations happen, I wonder what would happen if women cut back a little. Would men care enough about celebrating Christmas (I mean the food and gifts and making social arrangements part, not the religious part) to step up and fill the gap, or would the whole season tone down a notch or ten, because most men don't really care enough to bother doing it themselves. Hmmm. Could be the way to go. Women really do run themselves ragged over preparing for Christmas. I'm sure it isn't all necessary. It might be worth checking that other people really care about and appreciate the work women do for Christmas. (I'm not talking about myself here, because I don't do very much.) But I think it is worth suggesting that, if we find most women are organising Christmas celebrations merely because they think they are expected to, then we need to think about whether that is a good enough reason.

What would happen if women went on strike next Christmas?

Surely, the celebrations around December 25th have been through a lot of changes over the centuries, and can handle one or two more?

What else could we do but make it about family?

PS. I need to balance this now with Stephanie Dowrick's tips for Christmas calm.


Alex said...

I have to agree with you. All I see is people frantically rushing here there and everywhere, buying things for people who probably don't need or want it! My sisters and I have given up buying each other presents - most of the time we can afford to buy what we want ourselves. We have also become less spoiling of our teenagers. We try to get them something that they will use long term - computers for school and Uni, or something they are interested in as a hobby - cameras or keyboard etc. Something that they will get a lot of use out of. We also tend to buy books! They are always a big hit in our family. I know the gifts sound expensive (ie a laptop)but that is all they get and sometimes it also means that their birthday and Christmas present in one in the same. We are going away on holiday with all my family this year, so we not doing any presents at all - the children are getting a set amount of spending money as their gift and the holiday is part of the gift as well. Being together, alive and well is the biggest gift this year.

sister outlaws said...

Christmas - consumerism - excess = ? what's left? Family, yes, a holiday, hooray (otherwise the daily grind would never stop!)and what about the other sentiments? Good will to all men, peace and joy - we could make these things more real. Christmas could be about charity.

Motherhugger said...
Alain de Botton on being an atheist at Christmas. Interesting that he doesn't have a xmas tree because half the world celebrates xmas in summer.