"Happy Holidays" and Christmas boycotts: Here We Go Again [en]

[fr] Joyeux Noël!

It’s the time of the year again. Christmas. I like Christmas. I’m not Christian. And like each year, the stuff that annoys me is the “let’s boycott Christmas” movement and the American “Happy Holidays” stuff.

Here’s a post I wrote two years ago which pretty much sums it up and is still valid today.

I think making a point of saying “Happy Holidays” instead of simply “Merry Christmas” only emphasizes the religious/believing dimension of Christmas, in a sort of weird Streisand effect: “ew, it’s a Christian celebration, I’m not Christian, I’m not going anywhere near it.” To me this kind of attitude actually smells of fear. What on earth is wrong with considering Christmas a secular celebration of love and peace for those who do not believe (in Christianity), a celebration which has its historical roots in the dominant religious tradition of Europe and America, and that we keep around even when it’s emptied of its religious dimension? (Er… like Thanksgiving, for example?)

And even if it wasn’t, what is wrong with wishing somebody with a different faith of yours a good celebration of something that’s important to them? I have no problem wishing Muslims a Happy Eid, or Hindus a Happy Diwali — or Christians a Merry Christmas. Why would I seize the occasion to point out that I believe that what they believe is not true? I don’t see the point.

But again, my argument is that Christmas has long since ceased to be a religious celebration (except for the more religious Christians out there) and is now mainly a family/commercial thing.

Which brings us to my second pet peeve: people who throw out the baby with the bathwater and reject all of Christmas and all of the gift-giving because of the excesses involved. Of course, present inflation sucks. But there are ways to reject present inflation without throwing out Christmas. You can decide to have less presents. You can put a price cap. You can decide to have only presents that have cost time rather than money. You can have a present lottery with one present given and received per person. There are options.

What irks me the most with the (mostly) American “Happy Holidays” is that I don’t believe that Thanksgiving gets the same treatment. Hullo? Thanksgiving! The pilgrims! Giving thanks to… who, already? I sometimes see the very same people who turn their noses snobbishly up on Christmas joyfully feast on turkey at Thanksgiving. Why the double-standard?

So Merry Christmas everybody. Whatever you believe.

Bagha: One Year, Coming Up [en]

[fr] Bientôt un an sans Bagha. Retour de tristesse.

In a couple of weeks, it’ll be one whole year since Bagha died. I’m feeling sad these days. Memories of my last weeks with him. Life with my old cat, wanting to make the most of my time with him, but not knowing how short it was going to be.

I realized how close we were getting to a full year when eclau turned three early November. Eclau’s second birthday led to the first Jelly there, and the photos I took that day are some of the last ones I have of Bagha.

I did take some photos after that, actually, but hadn’t put them online. Here’s the last photo I have of Bagha, just two weeks before his death. I was actually playing about with my new camera, and imagined I had all the time in the world to shoot great photos of Bagha with it.

Bagha tucked in 1010095.jpg

You haven’t seen many “dead cat” posts here lately, because mostly, I think I’m done going through the worst of my grief. Time does heal. So do tears and pain, actually. That was a new idea for me — that feeling pain was part of the healing process. Writing about what I was going through helped, too.

This summer, I realized I was slowly starting to be ready for another cat. Or cats, actually — I want two. During my latest trip to India, I got to hang out with a couple of Indian cats (Ebony and Cookie), and remembered how much I missed feline presence. I miss having a cat. I want to have a cat or cats. The timing isn’t good though, because with six weeks in India coming up, I’m going to wait until my return (this is something I’ve had planned for a long time now: cats after India).

So anyway, not so much to write about. I’ve been settling well in my catless life.

But right now, it’s coming back. I’m leaving for LeWeb tomorrow — it was my last trip away before Bagha died. Christmas is coming up. My friends and I were cooking Christmas biscuits when Bagha had his heart attack. My last interaction with him, before the attack, was to invite him over to lap up a broken egg from under the table. Then he went back to my room to resume his nap on the bed.

I miss him more now than I have these last months.

Christmas was a blur. Bagha died on the 19th, and I was beside myself with grief during those days where I’m usually winding down for the end-of-year celebrations, preparing presents, looking forward to spending some time with my family. Christmas approaching, and my departure for India just after that — they remind me of how horribly sad I was at that time.

I wish I could go back a year and have my last weeks with Bagha again.

These days, like last year at the same time of the year, I feel I have pretty much managed to get back on my feet and regain some balance (some days better than other) after what has been a pretty difficult year. When I lift my head up these days and breathe this new air, I remember that last time I felt like this, and the air was cold and the nights were dark, Bagha was here with me.

I miss him.

What Christmas Means to Me [en]

[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.

Christmas [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions au sujet de Noël -- des grandes fêtes de mon enfance avec tous les cousins jusqu'aux fêtes plus intimes des familles fragmentées d'aujourd'hui.

Pour une fois, je ne suis pas stressée par les cadeaux de Noël. Je m'y suis prise "à l'avance" (dès jeudi au lieu de tout le 24), et j'ai même pris plaisir à choisir du joli paper d'emballage.

Les publications frénétiques sur ce blog ne reprendront sans doute pas avant la fin des fêtes de Noël.

Joyeux Noël à tous. Prenez le temps d'être avec ceux qui vous sont chers.

As a kid, I used to like Christmas. It was a chance to get together with all my cousins, uncles and aunts, eat nice food, light the Christmas tree and distribute presents. I like to think we are a family which didn’t go overboard with presents. A CD, a book, a nice vase, a jumper, or a couple of beautiful candles — sometimes bigger presents from parents to children, obviously, but overall, I’m pretty proud of us, looking back.

As I grew older and the “next generation” of kids started arriving (and we became proper adults), the annual Christmas gathering broke up into smaller parts. I don’t see my cousins at Christmas any more. We all celebrate in our smaller, nuclear families.

Then there are break-ups, divorces, and more fragmentation.

My brother and I get two Christmas parties nowadays. One with my dad and “his” side of the family, and a similar one with my stepmum. Four-five people, smaller than the gatherings of my childhood, but cosy. Sometimes, these small family gatherings seem a better site for tensions between individuals to surface — but maybe this has more to do with me being an adult now than the size of the group. As a child, one isn’t always aware of all that is going on in the “grown-up world”.

So, overall, I like Christmas — even if over the last years there have been some parties which have not turned out as fun as we hoped.

The one thing I don’t like is shopping for Christmas presents.

I don’t like the commercial overload one is subjected to in the shops. I don’t like the fact that there are too many people. And I don’t like the fact that usually, I leave Christmas shopping until the last minute, and have to find/buy my presents in a rush on the 24th before going to the party in the evening.

This year, things are different.

I decided to start early. “Early”, for me, means that I went Christmas shopping two days ago, on Thursday. I bought a couple of presents. I went again yesterday. Bought another few presents. And today: a few more.

The result of all this is that I had a nice time walking around town, looking at things in shops (which is something I like doing!), bumping into friends (because particularly around Christmas, Lausanne is a little village), choosing presents, and even buying pretty wrapping paper and cards.

Even my sprained big toe last night at judo hasn’t managed to make me feel stressed about these pre-Christmas times.

There isn’t much blogging here these days as you’ve noticed, as I’m spending a fair amount of time away from the computer — but no fear: I still have a pile of posts to write “asap”, ideas, and energy to keep things going. Might just have to wait until after Christmas, though.

Merry Christmas everyone. Enjoy your time with those you hold dear. Remember it’s about love.