Trying to keep it real
I love Christmas time. I love the decorations, the music, the food, the feelings, the specialness of it all. Which is why it’s a bit surprising to me that I’m questioning a lot of what I see during the festive season.
For example: we were putting our Christmas tree on the weekend, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to move past thoughts of “How totally absurd is it that, once a year, we cut down perfectly good trees, bedeck them with ribbons and baubles, make them a focal point of our lives for a few short weeks, then strip them of their finery and toss them out to the curb. Surely there must be better uses of our time…” This led me to thinking, yet again – has Christmas become irrelevant? I want the answer to be no.
We as a society have managed to make the purpose behind it all quite irrelevant, though. And it’s obvious how this time of year can make one more sad than at any other time of the year. I loathe commercials that appeal to our strong sense of greed. “I want that”, says one. “All the little ones on your list will be expecting you to go overboard this Christmas,” taunts another. These commercials disgust me. I yell at the radio every time I hear one that tells me to go out an buy more, spend more. Or worse, tells me that I should treat myself at this time of year (to a BMW or a Honda, no less). Selfishness + Greed = Grinch.
I know someone who one year decided that, because of financial restraints in his life, he would not be buying gifts for anyone that year. In doing so, he certainly didnt fall victim to the shopping frenzy that overtakes normally sane humans at this time, and I recall him saying that he felt remarkably stress free for having given it all up. I admired him at the time, and envied him too.
Having children who are growing up in this stuff-crazed world, I am keenly aware that I am the one teaching them what Christmas time is all about. I still ask for lists of desires (yes, that’s me fostering their greed), and I still have to remind them that they would like certain items, that they don’t get to want anything. I make sure that when of the above-mentioned vile commercials come on and they are within earshot, they hear me rant about how disgusting it is that a commercial so petty and thoughtless is put on the radio. I go to great lengths to ensure that traditions are upheld, and I try very hard to make sure that they see through all the crap that bombards them daily. I think I’m having success in teaching them that there is so much more joy in giving. We spend long hours talking about things that other people might like – and they’re not always things, they’re often activities or actions. We’ve managed to get quite worked up on Christmas morning waiting for someone to get to the gift that was so carefully prepared, and we delight in the long explanations afterward of just how such an amazing gift was thought of and created in the first place.
But look at me. I’m not talking about whether I think Christmas is relevant or not – I’m talking about what I think I’m doing in my little world to make sure it doesn’t become irrelevant, to me or to my children. I have no right to boast about my small part – I’ve still spent too much money buying things for them that they can use, and will enjoy, but do they really need? In this era of climate change awareness and a conscientiousness of all the “stuff” that covers our Earth, it’s very hard to justify buying any thing at all.
I adore the notion of having a time of the year set aside for focussing on family and friends. I cannot imagine a world that doesn’t have Christmas time. But here in North America, we’ve messed it up. When we lived in Switzerland, every year I marvelled at how Christmas time there was unscathed by the hype and tackiness that smirches the face of Christmas here. A calmness, a peace pervades the atmosphere during Advent. On December 6 families get together and trade small tokens of love and appreciation (St. Nicholas Day). December 24/25 are solemn affairs – not devoid of festivity or fun, but respectful and dignified. They go to church, they walk in the mountains, they get together with loved ones to enjoy a meal. It strikes me that this is more the way Christmas should be celebrated. We’ve lost the calm dignity that should envelope this time of year.
What can we do to restore what Christmas is meant to be? I don’t think I can answer that question. I only know what I can do in my household, and I can only hope that those messages I send sink into my girls, so that they, too, can carry with them an idea of what the true sentiment behind Christmas is. Maybe someday the pendulum will swing back the other way, and we’ll exhaust our need for stuff and such, and find the peace that this time of year promises.
To all of you, may the joy and peace of the season settle in your heart, not for just the holiday season, but for the entire year through.