Christmas the very word conjures up images of Currier and Ives paintings of horse-drawn sleighs, holly and pine boughs festooned with ribbons, countless carols, and myriads of Nativity scenes, chock-a-block with angels, animals, and adoring shepherds.
And presents- piles and piles of gifts, beautifully wrapped and piled under the heavily decorated and brilliantly lit tree. Gifts fought for and won in pitched battles in overcrowded, noisy shopping malls, wrestled through throngs of cranky people seeking their own piles of gifts.
I suppose it would be easy to lay the blame for this incredible bloating of a simple midwinter feast into a three-month long orgy of gift-grabbing one-upmanship at the feet of the ones who started it- the Three Wise Men, but that would be wrong. The Three Wise Men were mages who saw the portent for the birth of the Christ in the stars, and took two years to make their way from their far away lands to present the toddler child with the magically and spiritually significant gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
No, it isnt their fault- they were doing what was spiritually and culturally correct at the time- recognizing a young king. (Of course, the current king, Herod, didnt care for this, and subsequently had every first born male under the age of three killed.) But the example of the Wise Men in bringing gifts became the norm rather than the exception.
It might be noted that in some countries, and in older times, only small children received gifts at this time, or on January 6th. These gifts were simple things- like fruit or clothes or a single toy. The main focus of the holiday was merrymaking, which in certain ages got out of hand and became riots. Christmas was actually banned in this country in revolutionary times because of this very problem- bands of drunken youths harassing people and setting things on fire and destroying property. The quaint carol, "We wish you a Merry Christmas" obliquely refers to this holiday bullying with its demand for the householder to bring us some figgy pudding/ we wont go until we get some.
But here we are in the early days of the 21st Century. This simple winter holiday has morphed into a beast of titanic proportions, drooling icicles, fat in its bright red Santa Suit, icy eyes gleaming as it eyes your bank account. It is sleeping now, but will stir to life sooner than you think. As I write this, it is late June, the time I call the calm before the storm. Not even the craft shops have any Christmas stock in their stores yet, but one clerk at a popular hobby store assured me that the boxes were arriving even as we spoke. You know its July when the Independence Day decorations share shelf space with pine boughs and reindeer. And as the summer blazes into autumn, the Halloween ornaments get slowly eclipsed by the Yuletide stuff, slowly advancing over aisles and shelves like some sort of tinsel-covered velveteen glacier.
Its jingly, artificially cheery shadow looms just over the horizon- waiting to pounce upon you with screaming carols and entreaties to Buy More Stuff- and measure your love and friendship in things instead of time and attention. The time frame we call Christmas has slowly expanded to the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas to engulf November, and even October. Halloween holds its own-barely, but as soon as the page is turned to November, the gloves come off, and the yowling come-ons begin. Thanksgiving has become a big dinner to plot the next days shopping. Black Friday, so named because retailers whose sales are in the red for the year quickly get back into the black, has become the frenzied gift grab to end all. Not even December 26th draws as many people as does the Friday after Thanksgiving.
This day has become so synonymous with the Great Christmas Free-for-all that one group of people have declared it "Buy Nothing Day". They post signs, try to put ads on TV and radio (which are usually rejected), picket shopping malls (where they usually get run off or arrested) encouraging people to stay away from the stores, and perhaps examine their motives for shopping. People seem to get angry when their greed and lack of intelligence is shown to them, so the general corporate and consumer reaction to Buy Nothing Day is negative.
But not for everyone. A small, but growing number of people who are tired of the blatant commercialism of the holiday, are making themselves heard. Some, who are religious, seek to return the focus of the holiday to its Christian (and Pagan) origins. Others, just sick of having it shoved into their faces, are opting out entirely, refusing to buy gifts, decorate their homes, shop in the stores, or go to the artificially cheery gatherings sponsored by their offices. They turn their homes into bunkers of sanity, where no tinsel dare show its face, and seek to return the holiday to its intimate origins as a quiet observation of midwinter to be shared with close family and friends.
If gifts are exchanged, they are usually simple, inexpensive, preferably handmade tokens of friendship and affection- not showy expensive items. There is none of what I call guerilla gift giving- that sort of manipulative tactic of deliberately giving an expensive and/or inappropriate gift to a receiver who may be unable to reciprocate, thus fomenting guilt and obligation in the receiver. An example of this would be an in-law giving someone they dislike an expensive angora sweater, knowing full well that the recipient is allergic to angora and does not wear sweaters because they live in Florida. The receiver is stuck with a gift that cannot be used, but also with an obligation to reciprocate in its cost. This sort of childish manipulative behavior is a growing problem in many families- with disagreements about the number, cost, and recipients of gifts causing major rifts. The instigation and enforcement of a no gifts policy is even offensive to some, whose greedy grabbiness makes them create actual registries of gifts desired for themselves or their children. Dare to say no to this, and youll face the screaming wrath of the latter day Adult Toddler, whose numbers are steadily growing as the spoiled children of overindulgent parents become adults themselves.
So, how do we slay this bloated, red velvet wearing, slavering beast? How can we regain control of our wallets, our sanity, and our lives around this time? I see several ways, depending upon how tired you are of the whole thing:
Total Cold Turkey: Absolutely no lights, decorations, shopping or gifts given or accepted. Hole up in your home for the six-week frenzy between Thanksgiving and New Years. Only go into shops to get necessities or food. An extreme approach, but necessary for some.
Midwinter Solstice: This is a way to regain the original holiday buried in all the Christian and Roman hoopla. December 23 is usually the day of the Solstice, marked by a quiet contemplation that was once the mainstay of winter.
Yule: This is what I celebrate. Minimal midwinter style (greenery) decorations and simple, individual gifts for those closest to you, warm camaraderie and good food and music. No Santa, Nativities, or Commercial Christmas trappings. (Christ was most likely born in the spring or fall, depending upon when the lambing season in that part of the world was. If shepherds watched their flocks by night, that meant they were there to keep predators away from newly born lambs. Otherwise, shepherds dont have a night shift.)
I think that the best part about not buying into the holiday hoopla is that your bank statement will reflect your abstinence from the nonsense. While your colleagues work extra hours, take out a second mortgage or get a second job to pay off the expensive (and often now broken) stuff they bought their brood for Christmas, you can swan along with the (admit it!) smug assurance that you did the right thing by not feeding the Christmas beast.
And that is really what it is all about. By participating in the commercial buying frenzy of the holiday season, we simply encourage the Christmas beast to grow even bigger and greedier. If we taper off in our participation, we regain control of the holiday, starve the beast, and reclaim the wonderful warmth, companionship, and quiet appreciation of this unique time of year.
We wish you would bury Christmas
We wish we could bury Christmas
We wish we could marry Christmas
With a solvent New Year!
Bury Christmas, and have a truly Happy New Year!
ã 2001 by Sunfell