What Christmas Means to Me

[fr] Une réflexion sur ce que Noël représente pour moi -- en réaction aux "anti-Noëls" qui rejettent un peu le tout en bloc pour contrer les excès consuméristes des fêtes de fin d'année...

Each Christmas season, I feel the urge to write a blog post about what Christmas means to me. I haven’t done it yet (I actually had to go and check my archives for these last years to make sure, because I thought I had).

I’m sure that like me, you’ve stumbled upon your share of articles online decrying Christmas excesses. In reaction to out-of-control consumerism, some stop giving presents, others do away with Christmas altogether. And then you have those who argue that as atheists or practitioners of another religion, they “don’t do Christmas, because they’re not Christian”.

I’m aware I might be missing part of the point here because most of this anti-Christmas sentiment seems to come from the US, and is as such a reaction to Christmas-in-the-US, when all I know is Christmas-in-Switzerland.

Nevertheless, I want to bear witness that it is possible enjoy Christmas, with gifts and without excesses, whatever religious dimension you give — or don’t give — to this pagan-christian-consumerist celebration.

I guess it helps that as a child, I experienced Christmas as an exciting family gathering, where I got to see my uncles and aunts and cousins all together once a year. That usually meant between a dozen and eighteen people in the house for whoever was organizing. I guess it was more stressful for the parent generation than for us kids, but in any case I think it was never so bad as to make the atmosphere sour.

I’m an atheist, but I have nothing against religion in general. And though Christmas has roots in Christian (and pagan!) tradition, to me it has become a secular celebration — though I find it is not unhealthy to use the occasion to reflect upon values such as sharing, love, hope and peace. We of the West live in a mainly Christian culture, and Christmas is part of that. I’d be curious to know if Christians in India refuse to celebrate Diwali, for example.

Of course, secularization can translate into rampant overdone commercialization, which I think is a shame. But it’s upto each of us to draw the lines, and I find it sad when this has to be done by rejecting the celebration altogether: I’ve never been a fan of throwing away the baby with the bath water.

I like Christmas. Even though my family has fragmented with the years, it’s an occasion to spend an evening around a nice meal with the people I love and exchange gifts with them. What is wrong with that?

A nice meal doesn’t have to equate with waste and over-indulging (let’s stop at indulging, shall we?) and gifts do not have to be terribly elaborate or horrendously expensive to make somebody happy.

I think exchanging presents is a nice gesture. This year, we had a laugh at my dad’s because some of us ended up trading tea tins or bath products. The result of the equation is not that important (who cares if you give somebody tea and they give you tea too?!) but the act of giving.

We should not completely disregard the worldly pleasures of simple physical gifts because we would rather wish for lofty immaterial gifts for mankind. Of course we would rather have world peace. But I’m so happy about the book you gave me.

This year, in addition to my family Christmas celebrations, I had a “Christmas with friends” for the first time. Half a dozen of us gathered at Nicole‘s place, I prepared daal, guacamole and salad, and we had a lovely evening preparing food, chatting and eating.

For me, this is what Christmas is about.

So, maybe I don’t get it, but a lot of the fuss around Christmas excesses seems pretty easy to solve: scale things down a bit if you’ve been going overboard. Focus on having a nice time with those who are dear to you. Release some of your internal pressure to live up to expectations (real or imagined) you’re not comfortable with.

It sounds too simple. I must be missing something. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas celebrations — or absence thereof if that was your choice.

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3 Responses to What Christmas Means to Me

  1. mlle-cassis says:

    Totally on your side on the whole thing! I like Christmas, I like feeling the spirit of it all over the place from as early as possible (well, let’s say from the beginning of the Avent period), and I also like to try & keep it as simple as possible. Not that I’m doing “nothing” on this occasion (on the contrary, I like to cook, AND prepare gifts, AND wrap, AND get dressed, and and and), but I aim at the idea that all I do is for the pleasure only and not because of some over-heavy external pressure. So yes, I “have to” prepare 25 gifts for my big family gathering on the 24, but I choose to “only” gift presents to the some special people I feel inspired for and to cook biscuits for everyone else. And to enjoy the time shared with the people around me. And to leave at the door as soon as I leave the party all the small inevitable hassles inherent to the thing. And tant que j’y suis, de grosses bises et tous mes voeux pour la fin de celle-ci et le début de la nouvelle année!

  2. mlle-cassis: j’aimerais “liker” ton commentaire :-)

  3. Pingback: “Happy Holidays” and Christmas boycotts: Here We Go Again | Climb to the Stars

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