Having a bit of a chat with some of the erudite crew I spend time with regarding the significance of Christmas, and wound up with one of those discussions where no real consensus is reached, and come to think of it, the only thing gained from being involved is a glimpse into the philosophical weave of the other people participating. Other than drinking half a bottle of whisky, that is.
The discussion was centered around Christmas, and the significance attached to it for the highly representative sample population we had there. I won't attempt to recreate the whole discussion, because the only interesting bits were the ones where I was talking, but the best synopsis I can provide is the “cost/benefit analysis” that I finished up with (hey come on, there was whisky involved – you were expecting a more holistic & thorough piece of writing ?). So this is more or less where we (I) arrived – it's not intended to be an attack on the way that anyone else celebrates Christmas, or their beliefs about this time of year, but more a look at what I get out of it and how that lines up with the themes of the moment:
1) “Christmas is the celebration of the birthday of Jesus” – there's no scientific documentary proof of the birth of Jesus, and it's far more likely that this birthday celebration is more in line with the Queen's Birthday holiday (i.e. a celebration OF the occasion rather than ON it, held when most convenient). Given that the date occurs so close to the Winter Solstice – a date which many pagans would have already been celebrating anyway – it seems very much a selection based on convenience rather than due to any actual significance. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia around this time (by feasting and giving gifts.. and drinking, singing and public nudity – so not much has changed), and the vikings held a celebration in honour of Odin, father of the gods, and coincidentally a bloke traditionally pictured with a big white beard.
2) “Christmas is a time to be with your loved ones and the people important to you” – this seems quite true of many people, however personally I spend the entire year going out of my way to enjoy time with the people I care about. Maybe tradition or shyness dictate that you need an excuse to do so, however I love spending time with my friends, and therefore my entire life is more or less geared around doing that. I guess Christmas cards are an extension of that – I can see their functional purpose as a way of dropping a note to people you don't often see to let them know that you haven't forgotten them, however the perverse twist is that because you find yourself with so many to write, you don't end up with any time to think of something personal to write, and wind up posting out 80-100 bits of colourful folded cardboard with “Dear [name]”, a pre-printed platitude, and “Love from [yourname]” which, whilst nice in concept, I regard as being a little bit of a waste of resources and time. In fact, I'd much prefer to just phone everyone and say hello – it costs about the same, but it's personal !
3) The exchanging of gifts – again, an exercise in showing that you're thinking about someone, and in our consumer-driven world is now more of a windfall for retailers. The trouble with it is you're being expected to show thoughtfulness on-demand, and it's quite hard to come up with ideas under pressure. Personally I find myself randomly sending presents to people all year round anyway. Like, if I see something I know somebody would really like, I'll send them one ! Admittedly if I don't attach some kind of indicator that it's from me then it can be a little bemusing (sorry about those Star Wars DVDs Eldo – a “from Jason” note would have probably saved you, EzyDVD and your bank a load of time & worry).
On the topic of buying gifts, surely it hasn't escaped people's attention that the shops absolutely fill up over Christmas, leading to lengthy delays, items being out of stock, and a general feeling of panic and impatience. Hardly seems worth the stress. Thank the flying spaghetti monster for Amazon!
4) Work Christmas parties – I'll admit that it can be a good idea to have a focal point with which to inspire an otherwise “financially careful” employer to splash out and reward its employees. Not that in today's culturally accepting times this is always embraced by companies – there's always the risk of a harrassment complaint, or workplace injury – and with sensitivity to the beliefs and needs of others there seem to be more and more outclauses (no pun intended) for businesses in this civilised age. Our company no longer holds Christmas parties, but instead calls them Winter Parties… I didn't go along however, as permanent staff were issued with 3 drink vouchers each, and contractors with none, and the rest of the festive cheer had to be self-funded. A friend's Christmas Party invite was the most joyless bit of text I have ever read, effectively threatening the employees to have fun or there wouldn't be a future one.
5) Festive decorations – as kitsch as I find it all, I quite enjoy seeing a place like London going from dingy grey to red, green & gold for a little bit. However again, our super-sensitive co-humans seem hellbent on making everyone's lives miserable with the outlawing of Christmas trees due to being insensitive to non-Christian beliefs (interestingly, tree worship seems to be more of a pagan thing based on my understanding of it), Christmas music being branded as torture (admittedly, I could jumpt either way on that one), and a multitude of other opportunities for our favourite invention of enlightenment – political correctness – to make us question just how rational we all are.
Come on, the whole thing's stupid, so why pick the eyes out of certain aspects of it ? We celebrate the birth of a man from Israel by dressing a fat man in a red suit (doubly hilarious in Australia), erecting a fir or pine tree inside our homes (not sure if these grow in Israel, but I guess there's a loose carpentry connection), consuming turkey (a bird that comes from America), singing slow dirges which nobody claims to enjoy, celebrating each others company by going to office parties that employers are reluctantly holding, sending folded nametags to each other, and complaining about the shops being too crowded.
I love the human race – you just never know what they're gonna come up with next.
So in summary, I dig Christmas, but for primarily the same reasons as I enjoy the rest of the year. And with that, I hope everyone had a good one.