A Curmudgeonly Christmas
I love Christmas. For me it signifies a time when I get to visit with those I love and haven’t seen in a while, a time when we can forget our troubles, if only for a day, and celebrate the fact that we are all alive and together. It has nothing to do with a God, or lack thereof, and I only call it Christmas for lack of a better name. It has nothing to do with the pagan roots of the winter or summer solstice either, although most celebrations around this time of year can thank the annual cycle of days for their existence. Santa, reindeer and one-horse-open-sleighs are alien to me, especially since I live in Australia, where beaches, sunburn and the occasional possum would be more fitting.
Like Tim Minchin’s song “White Wine In The Sun”, we sit around on Christmas day with loved ones, family and friends, and feast together, celebrating that we’ve yet again made it through another rotation of the great hot star in the sky, and think back to what we were doing and did on Christmases past. We talk of our plans and aspirations for the coming year, we joke about our failures, and we do this all together.
If, however, you were to look at Christmas from a purely objective stance, one ignorant of the personal and familial joys of the celebration, it would look like a consumerist orgy of spending. One only need look at the 3 centimetre high pile of junk-mail, catalogues and pamphlets that are stuffed into out mail-boxes every day to see this. The message is clear; you must spend your money. The stores and shops buzz with an almost palpable panic, people trying to remember all the things they “must do” to make their celebration special. The manufacturers create things you “need”, and you willingly consume them. You buy, and buy, and buy. Some even go so far as to go into debt to be able to afford this celebration, and pay for it later, becoming a good time on loan from the banks. We feel we must spend, regardless of whether we have the means to do so.
It’s not like this is a new thing. It would be naive to think that the consumerism of the Christmas season has only arisen in the past couple of years. This has been going on for centuries. But for us, now, the end of the year is a panicked rush to get everything finished, to meet the arbitrary deadlines, to get that report in before the world closes down for the holidays.
It is difficult to see the purported “good will to all mankind” when frantically moving from store to store looking for that one perfect gift, while children are wailing to their mothers about wanting ice-cream, while people bustle and shove each-other out of the way to get that bargain buy. The roads become congested, the drivers become irate, and the zombie-like throngs descend on the cities and shopping centres, with George Michael supplying the soundtrack in a story of broken hearts and lost love. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming, and sometimes it’s easier to just go along with the flow.
I know this kind of commentary is unwelcome around Christmas time. Some would see it as a cynical and curmudgeonly attitude to have, but all things being in perspective, I find these feelings rising every year, without fail, and with an increasing intensity each time. I don’t like to feel this way, and I’m sure these feelings will subside once the frantic preparations are over and we’re doing the dishes after the Christmas feast. Yet I think it is important for me to feel this way; the perspective allows me to be aware of what the season has become, and not simply a complacent consumer of unneeded goods.
This year we are playing host to around 20 people on Christmas day. Our job on that day is to supply an over-abundance of food and drink, while we leave the weather to the weather-gods to do as they please. The atheist host of their meal, me, and they for the most part also atheist, means Jesus won’t be in attendance at our meal. No mangers, no donkeys, no wise men, no angels. Just us, and when it comes down to it, that’s all that matters anyhow. We will show our good-will towards each-other, share in the love of family, celebrate our lives and share stories of our dreams.
So happy curmudgeonly arbitrary end-of-year celebration to you. Don’t forget, among the contagious madness of the season, what really matters. Celebrate whatever it is that makes you happy, and try not to succumb to the mindless mass-media’s depictions of what they want your celebrations to be.