Me and ThemIllustration by Libby Levi

I played the Christmas game when my children were little. I was not reckless with the sense of wonder that collects around Santa Claus and the Baby Jesus and, alas, morphs the two together. I bought presents. Some years I even decorated a tree. Though some years I could let their father do this — a rare plus of raising children in two households. As he is an Episcopal priest, they would also go to church with him, leaving me to stew in my Scrooge-friendly juices.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy giving gifts. I think ritual is essential to human flourishing and to family life. We need more of it. I have a deep reverence for the incarnational heart of Christianity. I even still recognize faint glimmers of these impulses in the trappings of Christmas as we know it now, 21st-century style. But I think this season has more overwhelmingly become a distortion of them — a distortion of us as a culture, as humans, as families. And I for one am done.

Why do I dislike Christmas now? Let me count the ways.

I don’t like — don’t approve, refuse to throw myself into — the spirit of obligatory gift-giving. In my lifetime, this has become existentially linked to a commercial orgy that has now even co-opted the ritual angle. We have Good Friday and Maundy Thursday; we have Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Unlike Good Friday and Maundy Thursday, however (though like “fiscal cliff”) these terms are repeated and reported by the most serious of journalists. Like all mantras of ritual, they work on us from the inside. They are an economic event by which we measure a certain kind of cultural health.

This form of cultural health is not health at all. It is overwhelmingly an exercise in excess and trivia.

When I was growing up, even in a financially comfortable family, we waited all year for the new bicycle, the new Barbie, the new book. Christmas was a reward for a kind of patience. It was, in some sense, an exercise in delayed gratification. Those gifts were even presumed to be a reward for a year of goodness — a proposition, to be sure, that always had its fluff factor.

But we who are fortunate to have money to spend on Christmas presents inhabit a world now where the new bicycle — in modern-day translation: the new phone, the new video game, the latest greatest shoes — are purchased on demand throughout the year. I routinely wake up to find that my teenaged son has left my laptop desktop open to the “checkout” page, usually of a sports clothing website, where he has graciously filled in all the fields but my credit card number. I don’t always buy what he wants, but I cave in more than I’m happy to admit. That’s January through November.

Then there is the religious distortion of Christmas. Good Christians out there who do this with dignity, I don’t mean you. In most of the churches I’ve attended as an adult, Christmas is dressed up as a children’s holiday. A play. Not really for grown ups, not really about us. Make no mistake, I’ve teared up at that re-enactment of the manger scene many times myself, especially when my own children were sheep. It does not begin to do justice to the message of God become human.

When I became a mother for the first time, I was studying at Yale Divinity School, learning vocabulary like “Christology” — all the ways Christians have pondered the complex notion of Christ as both fully divine and fully human for the past two thousand years. So it was with incredulity and not a little annoyance that I found myself, in a state of severe sleep deprivation, singing “Away in a Manger” where “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” Please.

More recently, there is also the maddeningly superficial way we’ve thrown other holidays into the mix, subsuming them all into general cultural buzz. The December that the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was full-blown, my daughter traipsed through the house playing with her imaginary friends and singing “Oh Monica! Oh Monica!” to the tune of “Oh Hanukkah!”

Here’s what I take seriously. There is something audacious and mysterious and reality-affirming in the assertion that has stayed alive for two thousand years that God took on eyes and ears and hands and feet, hunger and tears and laughter and the flu, joy and pain and gratitude and our terrible, redemptive human need for each other. It’s not provable, but it’s profoundly humanizing and concretely and spiritually exacting. And it’s no less rational — no more crazy — than economic and political myths to which we routinely deliver over our fates in this culture, to our individual and collective detriment.

So here’s what I’m thinking about this Christmas. Recently I followed up on a promise I’ve been making myself for years: to wash and sort and give away all the good clothing my kids have outgrown as they’ve left childhood behind. It’s embarrassing that I never took the time to do this all along. In the course of digging around for where to donate, I stumbled on the site of a charity that works with homeless teenagers. It turns out that they’re not asking in the first instance for all these Levis and good-as-new, cool t-shirts. They’re asking for donations of socks and coats. They’re asking for newly purchased underwear, noting that most of us take for granted our ever-renewable supplies of clean underwear that fits.

I’m not going to buy any presents this year. We will go shopping as a family for these homeless teenagers, and I’ll try to be honest about the equivalent I would spend on my own children on the commercial holy days if I believed in them. I report this in some hope of feeding a little rebellion I sense many of us are quietly tending. But I also make it public to be sure I follow through.

As I said, we need each other. And that impulse, surely, is deep in the original heart even of the most secular things like Santa Claus and surrounding your home with lights: examining what we are to each other and experiencing that, sometimes when we do this, something transcendent happens.

Share Your Reflection

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Reflections

Thanks, Krista. Well said. My adults children a few years ago started a name drawing instead of everyone giving everyone else a gift. Many of us now give to a charity in the name of the persons name we pick. At our chruch we also have a yearly drive to give new socks and underwear to local charities.

well said. I'm with you 100%. In fact, I feel less alone now in my thoughts and beliefs. I haven't celebrated Christmas for several years yet, each year, struggle to some degree with it. Your piece affirms my chosen path.

Also… thank you Krista, your PEACE affirms us.

You've put into words something I've felt for years. Thanks, Krista!

Thank you, Krista, for your calm and reassuring voice, in the midst of commercial chaos. Peace, Wells+

Krista, I am a Presbyterian minister and I have refused to play the Christmas game for years. It is not easy, as you know. But it is freeing. Kudos for you in being so public: and I pray continued courage as you receive the name calling that will surely come. God bless you.

It's long amused me that shopkeepers of every religion can come together in the holiday season and sing in their own language, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. The credit card companies say, amen.

Krista,

I listen to your show regularly and find your ideas thoughtful and compelling. Thank you for this gift.

While I happily will give of my time - volunteering to help someone with a house project or simply spending time together - I disdain material gifts except under two circumstances: 1) the gift satisfies a need, not a want; or 2) it is given in such a way that it's a surprise - not connected to a commercial holiday, birthday or other event when a gift is obligatory. It feels more sincere, more real when I do it because I care, not because I "have to."

Would you mind posting a link to the charity you uncovered for homeless teenagers? I know other such charities are a just a Google search away, but it never hurts complement a "call to action" with a method to take such action right then and there.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Craig, I'm checking this out with Krista and will get back to you shortly! Thanks for the good question.

Susan Leem's picture

Hi Craig, Krista gave me the info on that charity she mentioned above. It's called YouthLink and it's based in Minneapolis, MN. Find the organization here: http://www.youthlinkmn.org/

this passage is simply lovely (and a lovely way to experience and celebrate christmas)... "There is something audacious and mysterious and reality-affirming in the assertion that has stayed alive for two thousand years that God took on eyes and ears and hands and feet, hunger and tears and laughter and the flu, joy and pain and gratitude and our terrible, redemptive human need for each other. It’s not provable, but it’s profoundly humanizing and concretely and spiritually exacting."

Yes! I thought the same thing. It always amazes me how Krista captures and articulates so profoundly the ideas and beliefs we have been trying to get our minds, and sometimes our hearts, around for years. By reconciling the intellectual pursuit of faith to my own cynical questions and sometimes outright disbelief she has, in no small way, effectively contributed to my own reconciliation with God. Her words are a treasure.

Thank you, Krista, for sharing your thoughtful and thought provoking remarks. I couldn't agree more. You have given voice to what I have felt for a number of years - a fellow alum of YDS.

I appreciate your post and am experiencing some scrooge-like feelings this holiday and with what Wayne Muller calls "The Gospel of Consumption." Your reference to clean underwear, etc. made me recall my son's Eagle Project. He collected like new clothing for the neighborhood children in our community but purchased brand new under garments and socks. He thought of himself and said "I would want new underwear and socks." To me, heaven and earth came together that day.

Thank you for expressing so eloquently what I feel. It is always good to know there is connection, and through that validation, with others on an internal level that is so deep it is not often expressed. Belief systems are tricky; even to oneself.

We go through life never verbalizing our belief system, not sure we really have one. But not believing is a system as well. Most of us that say we are spiritual think of it in the context of our tradition. Breaking away from that tradition is actually establishing a new one. We are connected as evolution connects us. If this season means anything, it means that we are connected by Love, not by Law. No law be it civil or religious can bind us, but that Love that comes from within, that pulls at our hearts, is the true binding force of the Universe, that transends dogm, tribe or ethnicity. Let us connect, through Love.

Well said, I agree, and peace on earth.

Amen! Thank you for expressing what I've been thinking and feeling for so long. Every year I ask that gifts not be bought for me, but rather donations be made on my behalf. I have yet one person do what I have asked! Somehow they've equated gift giving in Christmas to love-giving. I have also asked for time over a gift... Invariably I get the time AND I get the gift! I'm appreciative of the gesture for sure, but in my quest for simplicity and truth I find that the rush for gift buying, the guess work, the budgeting... All create a distracting buzz from what the experience can really be. It takes a superhuman effort to slow our minds down long enough to really ponder about the meaning of a God incarnate -in our individual lives. So yes! Thank you for expressing your idea of a revolution... It's been long coming for me! Merry Christmas!

In a way I have recently view our modern celebration of Christmas, as one of the greatest distractions from Christ and Christianity that exits. And from the communication of close friends, "This phenomenon has taken over Hanukkah as well."
An attempt by my family to host friends and family for a few days and overnight is coupled by the adults discussing how to restrict the gifts to "one per child" and "none for adults" in an attempt to temper the gift-frenzied-focus.
I appreciate the re-focusing in this article. As a family we'll discuss something similar if not the same.
Thank you.

Uncomfortable essay, difficult to force myself to read through to the end. I applaud your courage. You keep us real. You keep us thinking and uncomfortable. That's why I'm a fan.

After a week or so of saying to my kids, "Don't get too excited, they aren't that great," as they giggle and jump while staring at the gift bags under my 32-inch tree, I can relate to Krista's sentiments.
But who am I kidding? I can say that I am eschewing the excess and commercialism to focus on the true spirit of Christmas, but really, if I could I would be at the mall with everybody else.
I used to have a beautiful, tall tree with matching "Victorian" decorations (I guess I still have it. It is in storage, it just doesn't fit in the cramped duplex). We had piles of presents that weren't socks and underwear. But since experiencing hard times, we can't celebrate the way we used to. I used to spend the weeks leading up to the holidays in rehearsal for the choir Christmas cantata. But the church just doesn't seem like such a welcoming place anymore.
So I say good for you, Krista, for helping others at Christmas. And to those of you who celebrate to excess: good for you, too. Enjoy the blessings of your life, and don't forget who gave them to you.

Thank you.

I applaud your honesty and using your voice to put forth something that has bothered me since I gave birth to my son ten years ago. Do I follow the hype and raise him to believe that Christmas is only about presents and gift-giving? Or do I raise him to follow our Christian beliefs? What we have done since birth was to celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ and we have dinner with family and friends and give thanks for all that Christ has done for us. My son didn't see his first Christmas tree until he was 3, we have never put one up in our home. In terms of presents and my child feeling left out when going back to school and everyone is talking about what they got, he has no jealousy because he gets his gifts all year around, with his birthday being the biggest gift-getting day of the year. I have no regrets of raising him this way, and he has never expressed any feelings of being left out. He actually values the time as a chance to see family and friends who, because of scheduling and distance, we don't get to spend much time with.

This resonated with me so much. Thanks for putting words on this magical little secret --- I think many people must feel this way but don't talk about it. I know I try, every Christmas, to focus on less crazed gift buying and more meaningful connection or donating to people I don't know.

I look forward to Sunday mornings at 7:00 AM before going to church to "On Being" and I always come away refreshed. This piece of writing is much needed and greatly appreciated. To it, I say, Amen!

Me too!

Oh, Krista, please, try not to take yourself and your intellect quite so seriously. Everything in our current American society is overdone and narcissistic. But there are still people who celebrate the true meaning of Christmas quietly in their hearts, without feeling the need to tell others about it or question anyone else's motives or actions.

He says, questioning Krista's motives and actions.

Amen to that. While I agree with the sentiment about obligatory gift giving, there's a certain "I'm a better person than you" moral superiority to this essay and others like it. And it seems to miss the fundamental idea that Christmas is about sharing the day and gratitude for the coming of a new year with those you love. Paradoxically, in making Christmas all about the gifts that she's not going to give, Krista is herself diminishing the true spirit of Christmas by focusing on gifts rather than the larger ritual.

I must confess to being disappointed in hearing it called the Christmas Game. I buy gifts, decorate our tree and sing carols because it is in my spirit to do so. I won't put down your rejection of these traditions but please don't be so discourteous as to put down my form of celebration. I grew up with these traditions. Just because society may have hijacked them, it doesn't mean I have lost my way. I am not playing the Christmas game. I am celebrating Christmas.

First of all, Laura, I love your line: "I buy gifts, decorate our tree and sing carols because it is in my spirit to do so." I actually enjoy seeing people be excited about Christmas, even if they are missing the central point: it is the feast of the Nativity of the Saviour of the world. I like remember that whatever expressions I see are built upon the underlying remembrance the birth of Jesus Christ. I enjoy seeing children be excited about things like lights & decorations, sweets, singing, Santa Claus, and families coming together once again.

Secondly, Krista, I love your show and I hope that you are able and willing to bring us many more episodes to come. I remember coming to the place that you are expressing back in the middle 90s, when I lived in Evanston. I was so sick of all the hype that one year, my wife and I decided to stay home and celebrate with another couple and not do the family tour. I remember that overloaded feeling was kind of like having too many toxins in my body; I couldn't stand the site of one more Christmas motif. Eventually, over the years my disgust subsided.

My church celebrates Christmas (the feast of Nativity) on January 7th according to the Julian calendar. So I've been able to experience the joy of Christmas traditions with many of my friends and family ordered around December 25th, and in a few short days I will celebrate the feast of Nativity of the Saviour of the world at a vigil and a liturgy with others in the Twin Cities. I hope your year ahead is a blessed one.

Father Maximos
St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church
Des Moines, Iowa

Trent Gilliss's picture

Good morning, Father Maximos. Where will you be celebrating in Minneapolis/St. Paul?

The services will be celebrated at St. Mary's Orthodox Cathedral (OCA - Orthodox Church in America),
1701 5th Street Northeast, Minneapolis, MN

This liturgy of Nativity of our Lord is celebrated by Resurrection Skete (ROCOR - Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia)
of Fridley, MN at the OCA cathedral. Archimandrite John and his monks work hard to make this a beautiful service.

Here is the schedule:

Sunday, January 6:
6:00 p.m., Vigil of Nativity, St Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis

Monday, January 7:
9:30 a.m., Divine Liturgy of Nativity, St Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis

Everyone is welcome, there will be much beautiful singing.

The Hawaiian Iveron myrrh-streaming Icon of the Theotokos will be available for veneration at
at the Nativity vigil on Sunday night and the Nativity Liturgy on Monday morning. (This is a miraculous
icon through which many people have received healing.)

Any further questions about the services can be directed to the Resurrection Skete (763)574-1001.

Fr. Maximos

I did not get any sense of, "I'm a better person than you". The fundamental idea of sharing and gratitude is a smoke screen to capitalism. Focusing on the ritual of Christmas oh wait I mean Mirth?

John--well said!

Hear, hear. Some great spiritual and emotional value is added to the Christmas holiday when trees are trimmed, lights lit, and gifts are exchanged between people who love each other. What gifts, and how extravagant they are (individually & cumulatively), influence the benefit yielded - are we taking the time to select, purchase, make or donate on behalf of someone a meaningful present for those we care deeply about?; or are we tearing the doors open of some retailer on Black Friday (and increasingly, and disgracefully, Thanksgiving night) to stuff a cart full of items that are a but a thoughtless "bargain"? As an example,the mere act of bringing a small gift to an aging and shut-in relative, or a teen who sees the world as cold & uncaring, or a single-parent who doesn't have the time or means to get out as much, can be so uplifting of the person - the giver and recipient, both - and validating of our Christian faith's mandate "Love one another." So please - leave the ashes and sackcloth for Lent; put on the festive trappings of Christmas, but keep the Christ-child's spirit at the core of it.

No kidding. I agree

Very well said indeed! I whole-heartedly agree and wish I had the strength to do likewise.

Thank you Krista for this insightful article. A giving of ones self far outweighs any material gift that can be purchased. I have enjoyed listening to your radio interviews over the years and look forward to the year ahead. - Joe

Thank you and Amen.

Thank you and Amen!

beautiful. thank you.

....my sense of winter solstice, Christmas, and life paths of celebration is renewed.... celebrating interdependence seems right...

Sad that "Scrooge" has been twisted to mean someone who doesn't participate in the economic gorging that is called Christmas. When you choose to buy a toy that won't last until New Year's instead of helping someone, you are much more the miser than Scrooge ever was.

Thank you for verbalizing this. I agree with you and have been tending in this direction for years, to the point of being labelled somewhat of a Scrooge, not so much by the actually Christian ones, more likely by the ones who simply want the traditions to stay the same.

Krista...Krista, Krista, Krista, thank you for so beautifully articulating that which I've been feeling and struggling with for so many years, and just this year managed to do something about. If you were within reasonable proximity I'd give you a big ole warm hug of gratitude, but in lieu of, please accept by cyber embrace instead. While I don't now and probably never had the same sense of acceptance or appreciation for the God concept that you possess, I do, nevertheless, consider myself a spiritual being, and the uber frenetic, hyper-material place that this holiday season has gotten to is just, for me anyway, such a very sad statement about our culture. I needed to find a way to extricate myself from this madness and so, this year, I told my ex, in a rather strained and difficult conversation, that I was not willing to be a part of the boatload purchase of gifts for our thirty-two year old daughter and twenty-two year old son. I love your idea/suggestion of finding a worthwhile charity to which we, my children and I, can contribute to those far less fortunate than we are and for whom the receipt of ANYTHING would be valued in ways that we fortunately and most likely will never fully understand. Thank you for On Being and for being the thoughtful voice of reason and consideration that you are, now and throughout the year.

Now to take it further & actually live in a way that one delays gratification or simply does not meet all of one's personal wants & our children's want in an effort to be mindful of & in solidarity with the many in our world for whom this is a reality. To live in a 'sacrificial simplicity' in order to have more to share with those around us & abroad that have less; to consume less & by so fight the raping of the earth & abuse of so many peoples lives who work to produce the stuff that our over consumption leads to ; to choose to follow Christ & to choose poverty verses wealth. Now that is the challenge that haunts me & calls me daily. I too often pat myself on the back for small efforts towards this or let myself off the hook because of others' habits. May 2013 be a year of stronger resolve & greater richness in my character in this effort.

My Episcopal church has been a huge giver over the years and even more now. Diaper Ministry is one of our new causes because food stamps will not pay for. Day care will not accept children if they don't have supplies and for working poor -horribly expensive. Studies show babies who wear wet diapers longer, cry more often and therefore are more likely to be mishandled.

I just realized a month ago that diapers are not covered by food stamps. I had not thought much about this item as my only son is now 43 years old.
I think the Episcopal Chirch is very progressive when it comes to gays also, but I am getting off,the subject. I chose to help a veteran by getting
Clothing items from his wish list. Also we support three girls in two foreign countries including one in Texas, whose parents primarily speak Spanish.
The girl in Honduras lives with her grandmother and little sister; her mother left the family years ago. The money we give each month means
A tremendous amount and goes much further. This is Child Fund International. There are so many desperate needs for children and their guardians
Or parents all over the world and here in the USA. Why not give to people who are desperate instead of giving a gift that is not needed.

It makes Christmas or Hannukah so much more meaningful.

After many years of feeling torn by the gift-giving mania, this is the first year that I haven't given in to the guilt or possible misunderstandings of would-be recipients. I too appreciate the gift of time and relationship so much more than a material gift. I applaud your views Krista. As the quote goes, The most important things in life are not things.

Thank you for the words so wise and true. i have long felt as you do. Now I will give careful and prayerful thought to how I will make my participation in this season special for someone.

Thank you for writing this. I have become a non-doer of Christmas, too. I have decided it really does not have much to do with what I think Jesus taught and wanted for us. I think of it as a cultural fad. One that we can influence!

Last year, as Christmas approached I was busy working on 18 tiger paintings because I was going to have an art exhibit. Several of my friends volunteered to participate. A classroom of children created some art for it too. We were inspired because of your interview with Alan Rabinowitz. Here's the link http://www.onbeing.org/program/voice-animals/60. It was a great time to focus on tiger extinction because some of the big non-profit organizations were also pushing for tiger conservation simultaneously. We wanted to be part of that larger wave.

No matter what else came up over Christmas, I was painting tigers several hours a day. My husband's mother passed away over the holidays. I drew on canvases in the car as we attended her funeral service several hours away. Tiger after tiger after tiger, I churned them out. Our community radio station interviewed me. I advertised in all the event calendars I could find. Our event was promoted campus-wide in a way it had never been done before. The show got a lot of attention. It opened the door for more art exhibits at the library where I work. It created awareness about the effort that's taking place worldwide.

And now, a year later, with the "Life of Pi" movie hitting theaters I got the remnants of my tiger show off my kitchen walls and sold them at our local Alternative Gift Festival. The proceeds were donated to our local wildlife rehabilitator. It was one more chance to make an impression and it did, especially on me. I thought getting people interested in an art show about tiger extinction was going to be a hard sell. On the contrary, it acted as a lightning rod. Many of my friends went on to tackle other huge local issues that seem overwhelming in their scope. They've learned to hold problems their minds when the people around them cannot even look at them. We have all risen above the din of ordinary existence for whatever amount of time we can stay aloft, and then we try again the instant our feet touch the ground. Listening to your show cuts years off my learning curve. I especially loved Joanna Macy's interview. Rock on, Krista!

Responding to the last 3 sentences especially - the Joanna Macy interview was a big one for me, along with Sylvia Boorstein, Nikolas Kristof and just to name a few. My spiritual journey is uneven and On Being provides me with the fodder I need to think and grow. On this Christmas eve I am thankful for the program and the community of listeners. This essay of Krista's particularly resonated with me: the obligatory gift-giving and feeling like I am a scrooge for being uncomfortable with it. Krista, you articulated your your issues with the "cutlural" Christmas expectations so well - I agree with you. Keep up the good work. It's a gift!

Krista, thank you for sharing this. I recently wrote a blog about a parallel experience, though yours seems to be much more mature and less emotional than mine :) Anyway, keep speaking, writing, inviting us, because my heart is filled with every On Being podcast...
http://gigislens.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/christmas-not-christian-yep-i-said-it/

Thank you very much for your reflections Krista. I have noticed more and more essays like this in recent years, written from both a religious and secular standpoint, questioning the way we do Christmas and how alienated the material consumption and the showy performances are from its true meaning. I think it's vital to always approach Christmas and our the way we remember important religious events in a considered way. However, essays like this never fail to leave my heart feeling a little heavier, despite the fact that at an intellectual level I understand what they are driving it (I was glad of the final paragraph, by the way).

For me, although I consider myself a person who is focused much more on relationships and people than "things" (we limit gifts to birthdays and Christmas), tries hard to be thoughtful, modest and non-wasteful in terms of material consumption, and who is increasingly attuned to and interested in the spiritual and religious side of life, I can't help myself - I LOVE CHRISTMAS! I can't relate at all to the narrative that is very present here in Australia of it being a stressful, difficult, pressured time of the year, full of obligation and an empty going through of the motions... every time December rolls around, I feel a sense of joyous celebration and anticipation, of people coming together so much more than at other times of the year, and it's impossible not to be infected by my children's joy - which is not just about the gifts, but the gatherings, the food, the church services and nativity plays, the well-worn Christmas carols, the 'orphans' around our table on Christmas Day, and last but not least, contributions to people in need. I can't address here the more profound aspects of the meaning of Christmas and the best way to honour these, but to me, there are spiritual dimensions to be felt or seen in all of these manifestations of the celebration, but it depends on the attitude and spirit one brings to it.

Take for example gift-giving, as this is the most often mentioned part of Christmas that seems to cause a lot of anxiety and cynicism. There are certainly grounds for this - however, in turning away from giving presents to one another or becoming overly focused on the rules as to how it ought to be done, I have a strong sense that something is lost - namely the joy that can come with giving, and the way in which the giving of a gift can represent the honouring of a relationship (though of course it's not the only way). I have a lot of people to give to as a result of the culture of both my family of origin and that of my in-laws, and of necessity must give modest presents. However, and I sometimes feel very alone in expressing this, but I genuinely derive enjoyment from the experience of thinking of each person and what might bring them pleasure, inspiration or utility, can fit within my budget, and where possible is second hand, hand-made or fair-trade in origin. I may not always get it right, but I certainly choose with care, and I enjoy the process. Because while there are other ways to do it, giving gifts for me is about my relationships with important others in my life. The material things I have received over the years I almost never use without thinking of the giver - it gives those items a special quality - and that process I go through in choosing presents for others is for me about my choosing a small (material and sometimes not in the case of 'experiences') token that tries to embody or convey somehow my love and respect for the person I am giving it to. Of course I am a comparatively wealthy person in a wealthy country, and over-consumption and waste are huge and very important issues, but I just wanted to add these thoughts because I think that questions of to give or not to give and if so how, when and why are not quite so easily dismissed or resolved. The giving of gifts is something that is I understand common to almost all human societies, and has the potential to carry layers of meaning beyond greed, games of status anxiety, and empty symbolism.

And one final point - I don't know much about this but I have a vague awareness that the way Christmas is celebrated in places like America and Australia is some sort of blend of the Yuletide festival of pre-Christian days as well as the birth of Jesus, which may also explain why some of the rituals don't really make a huge amount of sense. Personally, I'm happy to embrace the messiness and confusion, but separating the different rituals may be a good solution for some and indeed some other comments here seem to indicate that is what some people do.

Merry Christmas and blessings to all!

Thank you for your response! I completely agree. Just because the dominant culture participates in Christmas in a slightly (OK, maybe very) ridiculous way does not mean that the rest of us need to turn our backs on such a joyous holiday. My children get one (and only one), great gift each. And it's a gift that they will use for years. This year, my oldest son (who is 6) and I wrote and performed a 15 minute Christmas musical for my husband. The story was written almost entirely by my son. My son played the violin, I played the guitar, we both sang and acted out a story that my son wrote about a prince slaying the evil dragon with Princess Grace (we sang and played Amazing Grace when she was introduced, they had to search for the dragon in a Yellow Submarine - you get the idea, yes it was super corny and awesome). My son and I practiced for WEEKS. And we were both so excited to give this present to my husband. It was by far and away the best present my husband has ever received. There are so many things we can give to people that do not involve credit cards. Instead of just dissing the whole thing, why not take it as a creative challenge? Valentine's day is another example. I HATE valentine's day. I HATE that we are supposed to have our very young children make 20+ valentines for kids that don't care about them and then throw them away, and who is left with all fo this work? The parents (and this crafty stuff is NOT my cup of tea). Instead, I sit down with my son, and he tells me a Valentine's Day Story and I type it in. Then we print out however many copies. SO much better, easier, more creative and personal, and the other kids genuinely like hearing the stories (last year, the story was about a volcano exploding hearts). The point is that one does not have to turn their backs on traditions and rituals just because dominant culture has gone a little nutty. Just don't worry about expectations from dominant culture and do your own thing - but again, without having to get all scroogie. You CAN have a joyful and meaningful Christmas AND do it in such a way that adheres to your values.

"I was studying at Yale Divinity School, learning vocabulary like “Christology” — all the ways Christians have pondered the complex notion of Christ as both fully divine and fully human for the past two thousand years. So it was with incredulity and not a little annoyance that I found myself, in a state of severe sleep deprivation, singing..."

And no incredulity regarding that "complex" notion "of Christ as both fully divine and fully human"?!?

"There is something audacious and mysterious and reality-affirming in the assertion that has stayed alive for two thousand years that God took on eyes and ears and hands and feet, hunger and tears and laughter and the flu, joy and pain and gratitude ..."

A deity who has himself born by parthenogenesis, resurrects himself after being tortured to death and ascends into the heavens unaided by technology is REALITY-affirming?!?

"It’s not provable,..." Not only that: there is also no more evidence to support it than there is to support the existence of Santa Claus and it violates everything that Biology and Physics has shown us about the nature of reality. Which leads intellectually honest people to discard it along with thousands of other deities from Allah to Zeus.

"And it’s no less rational — no more crazy — than economic and political myths to which we routinely deliver over our fates in this culture,...."
Economic and political theories are subject to empirical review and discarded, corrected or at least criticized where they fail. The absurdities of religion are held immune behind the smokescreen of self- proclaimed holiness and the infallibility of self-proclaimed divine absolute truth.

How about a much more substantial reason not to do Christmas: Not to celebrate as true myths such as the virgin birth of the son of YOUR god become human to die, be resurrected, ascend to heaven and return to "save" humanity.

Dearest Arjun,

You are very smart, but I fear that you missed the point.
I assume you are not Christian, nor am I, but I wonder why you are surprised to find Christ discussed with an air of belief in an essay about Christmas.
I don't think, if it were presented to you differently, you would disagree with the overarching notion of this essay: Admitting joyfully to the parts of ourselves that require love and company, and indulging in them by being with each other and helping others this Christmas, and always.

I sincerely hope that you have a magnificent holiday.

Esteemed Anonymous,

I am happy for you that whatever you read into this essay rendered you joyful. T'is the season which so commands after all.

The point of my post, which you appeared to have missed, was to point out the irony of Mrs. Tippett's sanctimoniously lamenting how current Christmas celebration has so strayed from its "true" meaning. While its "true" meaning -the celebration as true the myth of a virgin birth of a son of a deity who became human to die, be resurrected, and ascend to heaven and return to "save" humanity - is in fact no more true or legitimate nor less absurd than the consumer orgy it has spawned and Mrs. Tippett whinges about.

I sincerely wish all your days to be magnificent regardless of day or holiday.

You have a point. There really isn't a standard of Truth, at least one that doesn't get holes punched in it regularly, which kind of mitigates it. (For example, empiricism has mushroom-shaped holes.) That lack of a standard is a huge part of why so many people still believe in something they can't prove. Belief & practice isn't *necessarily* logical, even for some of the most logical minds. Logical arguments, as much as we love and believe in them, often end up looking like a round frame on a square mirror. It's creative, to be sure. You're right where all the fun is, and very astutely so. I really appreciate your drawing this out. Calling people out on what they weren't thinking about is how we all get smarter.

I think what Krista might be talking about when she says "true meaning" here is that which was originally intended by the writer(s) of the story, regardless of who the writers are (or who you think they might be). In this case, I'm fairly convinced even the corpus of writers and editors intended to draw out our better selves, rather than our credit cards.*

"The True Meaning of Christmas" in my experience is a cliché, which means, somehow, most of us who talk about Christmas have an internal definition for it. The intent of the article is to contribute to our personal definitions.

I personally find stories that contain at least a little embellishment & perspective at least as meaningful as historically correct time tables.

*Well, maybe not ALL of them, but they sure didn't mean to say, "Go shopping!" (attr. GWB.)

krista, i'm so reassured to read this admission. i have opted out of christmas for 3 years now, and feel relieved. I donate to several charities on behalf of family members and hope they'll appreciate the thought. i like the new underwear idea. it sounds like a great thing to give a needy person.

well said Krista, thank you,

I have a very different take on this. Since humans started noticing the days begin getting longer right around this time of the year, there have been midwinter festivals, a time of feasting and sharing of gifts. I think it is deep in our human social DNA to want to celebrate this time of the year. Christianity co-opted existing winter festivals-- I think most scholars agree that Jesus' birthday was not December 25 (Kris Kristofferson not withstanding, I can't see Jesus as a Capricorn).

It would be a real relief if we could just admit that there are two holidays: Christmas as social/cultural phenomenon that harkens back to our early human roots, albeit on hyperdrive and Christmas/Advent as a time of spiritual reflection.

If Jesus was truly the reason for the season, then Easter would be a much bigger holiday than it is now.

Thank you Krista. I am thinking about the "distortion" of Christmas. We do need each other and this distortion may be a means to keep us safely apart. I enjoy your show and writing. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us the last year. Peace and continued inspiration.

I have no doubt that the bible was written by men. If it had been written by women, the story of Jesus' birth might have gone like this:
Going for the census was Joseph’s idea. There was an exemption of the elderly, small children, pregnant women, but given Joseph’s position, he said we had to go and assured me we’d be back before the baby was due. So, we set out and around 2pm I thought I peed myself. You know, strange things happen when you are pregnant. I didn’t mention it, just tried to change some of my clothes the next time we stopped. We arrived in Bethlehem and couldn’t find a place to stay. Joseph had assured me he had cousins we could stay with, but literally, every bed was full. I was feeling quite ill by then and told Joseph that I had to get off the donkey and rest. So, we found a warm barn and thought we’d rest for an hour before setting out to look for a place. But as soon as I got off that donkey, I knew something wasn’t right. Joseph knocked on the nearest house and told them I might be having a baby. Some women came, I don’t even remember their names, but they had blankets, warm water, and some extra clothes. I’m not sure where Joseph went – probably in the house drinking wine and eating with the husbands. I don’t know how I would have done it without these women. They were angels and I am still grateful for them. Labor went pretty quick. From the time we stopped to when Jesus was born, it was only an hour or two. I guess that was my water that broke when I thought I peed myself. Fortunately everything went well and these women brought blankets and showed me how to wrap him. They also helped me start nursing. One of the women went home and brought some food. I was starving by then! We were there for a few days. Every day one of them would come by with some food and fresh blankets. Those first days were so hard – I didn’t know what to do and he would cry a lot. I was exhausted and just wanted my mother and my bed. Later some men showed up with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Joseph was excited that they came, but quite frankly, I just thought it looked like more stuff to carry on the way home.

I guess this ridiculous gift giving frenzy is a biblical tradition.

Thank you for sharing your true feelings. I always love your show and writing and would not have pictured you a Scrooge. I share many of your feelings. I have passed through the various stages of: doing xmas 110% to fit in; preaching about how wrong people who are non-Christians are disrespectful in the way they commercialize xmas; quietly keeping my mouth shut. I'm in a particularly Scroogy mood this year...not that my son is now a teenager has anything to do with it ;(..... So your post hits the perfect spot.

I have been made to feel guilty for expressing much the same sentiment for years. Thank you for so elequently capturing what I have been trying to say!

Dear Krista,
Thank you yet again for your honesty and courage and for your willingness to bring to our attention in a real and focused way another of the cultural behaviors that we take on so thoughtlessly. Just the idea that this season is about something other than retail and commerce is barely acknowledged any longer. Your decision to donate to a small but important organization that gets to the heart of what matters for people in their daily life is perfect. I am so glad you are there, doing your work. You are the best kind of inspiration.

By the amazing amount of comments below, I'd say you tapped into something on so many of our minds this Christmas. I don't judge others for participating in the obligatory gift-giving, but after overhearing several friends this past week listing all the folks they have to buy for simply because they're expecting presents from those folks, who are probably expecting presents from my friends . . . I have finally decided it's time to take a stand: no more obligatory giving. You really hit on how this skewing of the true meaning of Christmas is a sign of cultural sickness, not health. In fact, if there is anything that takes the Christ out of Christmas, it is Black Friday. It is Cyber Monday. It is (a new one this year) Gray Thursday. Thank you for reminding me to find better ways to give during the holidays, and to make that free-giving a regular occurrence throughout the year.

No crying over someone's intoxication, no presents to compare, no hurt feeling over who showed up or not, and no having to caretake other folks feelings, another words the abscense of stress, I discovered the joy of Christmas as 21 year old sitting alone on a step in Vietnam in 69-70... (Go figure) Still seek those "alone" moments at xmas to find the presence of the Christ Child. In the dark of a small south Mississippi Sanctuary with the Christ candle burning on xmas eve I continue to find that presence in the serving of the loaf and cup... I learned to move past others/my expectation to the adoration of the Christ child. It still takes practice but having others share in such a practice helps along the way...

No crying over someone's intoxication, no presents to compare, no hurt feeling over who showed up or not, and no having to caretake other folks feelings, another words the abscense of stress, I discovered the joy of Christmas as 21 year old sitting alone on a step in Vietnam in 69-70... Still seek those "alone" moments at xmas to find the presence of the Christ Child. In the dark of a small south Mississippi Sanctuary with the Christ candle burning on xmas eve I continue to find that presence in the serving of the loaf and cup... I learned to move past others/my expectation to the Christ's adoration. It still takes practice but having others share in such a practice helps along the way...

I can understand to a certain degree Krista. I grew up during the years when "It's a Wonderful Life" first hit the boob tube full tilt, back in the 70's when it's copyright slipped and it fell into the public domain. When Christmas comes the spirit of that film sinks in for me, no matter the cultural surround. I grew up wanting to be George Bailey. It's the "heart of the season" that matters most to me. I lost my brother this year. He died last April. I miss him very much. He wanted to be George Bailey too. For free he filmed and produced dvds of weekly church services, often delivering them by hand for free. He was George Bailey in his own unique way, offering his heartfelt services up in similar creative/unique ways. I hope we can still all find the heart of the season like George, like my brother Steven. Plus or minus a tree, it's a season for heart giving.

I still like to give & receieve, but how I'd like to receive just one thing. I suggest the book "The Hundred Dollar Holiday" by Bill McKibbeon, I believe. A quick read on how to reshape x-mas & all it has turned into. Convincing relatives to join you is the hard part, especially your parent(s) or your cousin's wife who is completely subsumed by society's commercialism & materialism and gives so much it is embarrassing. My mother is particularly bad. She enjoys shopping and giving gifts, but one year she gave each of her adult children (all in their 30s or older at that point) over ten gifts each, with many boxes containing multiple items. It was literally tiring opening them all (and embarrassing). We had no time to visit, as we spent nearly the entire evening opening gifts. Spouses of her children received nearly as much. We have begged for years for it to be reduced. It is a great book to give to parents with young kids. Krista, come to our worship community. I think we celebrate in a way that speaks to all ages. We also do multi-generational religious education, as many adults cannot recall much from their religious education, and we need to formulate an adult faith. We are trying to drag the Vatican along with us as well.

Love your idea Krista and wonder how we could help it to catch on as a new "tradition". Oh wait a minute, was dreaming for a second there :-). Wish you a Joy filled Christmas Season!

GIFTmas is the commercial holiday stealthily substituted, in place of the religious ones. Though primarily affecting Christians, Muslims and Jews are having their traditions similarly co-opted by militant year-end materialism. I enjoy the double-take from using the correct name, as the juxtaposition of the material versus the spiritual dawns upon others. With the proper name, it is far easier to direct one’s activities to avoid being overtaken by the materialistic hegemony that constantly seeks to supplant the spiritual.

Yes. Absolutely, yes.

Congratulations on an excellent post, Ms. Tippett. The problems with Christmas are several, as you say: But the biggest one of all is that Christmas is simply not about spirituality, much less about Christ. Non-Christian people see this immediately when they come to the US. Christmas is more about getting families together, or about trying to be generous (except for that coercion and social acceptance factor that drives gift giving), or about its original purpose: a wintertime festival and holiday when people can forget about their problems for a while. No one really thinks that it means anything about the life of Christ -- his trust in God, his love of sincerity and truth, his being true to his statement to Pontius Pilate that "I am no part of this world," his love for people, his kind and dignified and respectful treatment of women, the way he poured out his energy and time to teach others about God, his exposure of religious hypocrisy, the amazing way his example helps us to "see" his Father's righteousness, love, and justice. All of these things need to be discussed every day of the year. But they are completely lost in the bustle and parties and travel and Christmas card mailings and gifting of Christmas.

Thank you, Krista, for your honesty. I was the product of a mixed marriage and decided to become 100% Jewish as an adult. When my son was born and it became clear we would not be celebrating Christmas (i.e., we would not have a tree or give gifts), my born-Jewish mother-in-law protested on the basis that "Christmas is not a religious holiday." Indeed, consumerism and capitalism have hijacked Christmas, so I gladly opt out.

Powerful!

Well said. I feel the same way, and have for a long time. My 2 sons have been gracious and grateful for the gifts we have been able to give them and yet I too find myself ever more alienated by the sheer force of being identified as a consumer rather than a person of heart and mind. My siblings and I do not do this "thing." We have a mutual agreement, unspoken, to respect the quiet of our special days throughout the year. We are still there for each other whenever needed. My other family has an utterly secular gift-giving insistence at Christmas. The best I can do is make a joke of it and lately, despite the disappointment, I give to charities in their names. We also make gifts; they are beautiful and from the heart -- but our recipients have grown tired of this.

The On Being productions and interviews sustain me in more ways than I have ever found in a life of seeking to understand our world and our human traits. On Being is a gift I allow myself.

~ Barbara~ a nurse on the front lines

Krista, I too feel the ritual is essential for linking children to the past and family. My children are still young (I have 3-6 year olds and a 5 year old) We go in to a "purchasing freeze" after school shopping in the fall and all desires are directed to this current holiday. It is not easy and there have been some conflicts (we can afford to give them what they want) We distinguish almost everyday between what they WANT and what they NEED (which turns out to be very little.) We are Catholic (just recently, the more observant type for their education) and we celebrate St. Nicholas Day where the gift giving is framed around a "real" person. My husband could not bring himself to "lie" to our children or confuse them with two amazing stories, so they have always known Santa was a fable (yet they discuss his arrival and approach down our chimney on a regular basis). When they found out St. Nicholas actually lived, they were thrilled and we placed candy in our shoes to remember the generous gentleman who surprised children with his generosity. We also refer to Christmas as "Jesus' Birthday" and discuss the story that surrounds the lead up to the 25th. They are a little young to completely replace the traditions yet I miss serving lunch at our homeless shelter (which I did with my husband for the years before we had children.) Do you have any recommendations for activities for children as they are limited due to their age and I like you cannot tolerate the "non-spiritual" odyssey that 25 December has become in the US. Thank you for your thoughts regarding meditations regarding Anger and Brother Thay.

Krista's willingness to openly declare 'the Emperor has no clothes' - that the way we've come to celebrate Christmas as a major spending spree - speaks to the heart of the matter of why this is NOT what Christmas is. While I still celebrate Christmas it is with a constant effort to not let the material celebration overshadow the spiritual - the birth of the Christ, God's only 'begotten' into the world of fallen humanity. With commemoration of this long-promised event we are reminded that this birth is also meant to be fulfilled in us as we recognize God as the father of the Christ and our father as the Christ is born in us. I love this quote from Victoria Safford, a Unitarian Universalist Minister, "We already possess all the gifts we need; we've already received our presents: ears to hear music, eyes to behold lights, hands to build true peace on earth and to hold each other tight in love." Let us keep this Christmas in our hearts and in our lives.

Thank you for the courage you have to live what you believe, to say with thoughtfulness what you think and to love those who you don't even know.

Thank you! It brought me to tears of recognition and relief.

I don't do Christmas either, primarily because I really can't afford to. It's actually quite liberating to know that I'm not obliged to give physical gifts, and in doing so helps me differentiate between gifts I really need versus those I simply want. I'm thankful that I'm part of a family that understands this as well, and that has encouraged giving material and financial gifts to those truly in need at this time of year.

Krista, thank you for expressing well the thoughts and ideas I've been pondering. My "family" is now greatly diminished, due to my recent divorce and parents being deceased. This year, as Christmas drew near, I began to slowly anticipate making a few new traditions, perhaps hosting a small gathering of friends. And then came the news of the massacre at Sandy Hook. I felt as if reality's chains had yanked me up by the throat. I can't 'celebrate' Christmas this year. It seems insane to sing Jingle Bells, or to write 'Merry Christmas' on cards proclaiming peace - while families in Newtown are burying young children. I'm no longer sure what Christmas means. I resent the commercialism; I resent snarky comments about religion, faith and spiritual beliefs. I continue to be troubled by a general rudeness and uncaring in this country. I fear we have gone too far; we no longer really *hear* or *see* each other. Thankfully, I have learned in the last few years to 'stay in today', to do only what needs doing today, and to give the rest to God. The best I can do today is write a little bit, maybe go 1:1 with another. This year, I am one who desperately needs to give to myself. To first put peace back in my own heart. Thank you for inspiring me to own up to it.

It's so wonderful to read these words from you, Krista. You bring such a range of spiritual voices to us every week, the real spirit of Christmas. Over forty years ago I found Bahá'ulláh and realized that the gifts that matter are service we give to mankind in every aspect of our lives.

Dear Krista, I write this with enormous admiration for you and your work on On Being--what a gift that program is! Thank you to you and your staff for your efforts. As much as I hear what you are saying about Christmas, I have to disagree--I love the crazy hot mess of our American cultural Christmas. I am very much a spiritual seeker and person of faith. But, my experience of my faith has not been shaped by Christmas very much. There were countless other days, people, and readings, and experiences that have spoken to me more profoundly. So I accept the Christmas hoopla as is--a mess of materialism, parties, and flashing snowmen on front lawns. I am just accepting what is, embracing what is, and releasing the day from having to be a sacred religious event. I don't think it is possible to have an "on demand" deepening of religious experience anyways.
What I love about the Christmas season: my husband can take some time off of work; watching corny movies with our little ones along side the Christmas trees; preparing holiday foods that reflect my culture; pushing the kids in the stroller at night through our Southern California neighborhood looking at light displays. In fact, we just saw a light display of a purple hippopotamus with a santa hat on someone’s front lawn! Were hippos in the manager? Probably not, but it was absurd and sweet to see one on my neighbor’s lawn. We take the best out of the season and use it for family-building, relationships, culture, and delight.

Dear Krista, I write this with enormous admiration for you and your work on On Being--what a gift that program is! Thank you to you and your staff for your efforts. As much as I hear what you are saying about Christmas, I have to disagree--I love the crazy hot mess of our American cultural Christmas. I am very much a spiritual seeker and person of faith. But, my experience of my faith has not been shaped by Christmas very much. There were countless other days, people, and readings, and experiences that have spoken to me more profoundly. So I accept the Christmas hoopla as is--a mess of materialism, parties, and flashing snowmen on front lawns. I am just accepting what is, embracing what is, and releasing the day from having to be a sacred religious event. I don't think it is possible to have an "on demand" deepening of religious experience anyways.
What I love about the Christmas season: my husband can take some time off of work; watching corny movies with our little ones along side the Christmas trees; preparing holiday foods that reflect my culture; pushing the kids in the stroller at night through our Southern California neighborhood looking at light displays. In fact, we just saw a light display of a purple hippopotamus with a santa hat on someone’s front lawn! Were hippos in the manager? Probably not, but it was absurd and sweet to see one on my neighbor’s lawn. We take the best out of the season and use it for family-building, relationships, culture, and delight.

What a great idea Andy!

Thank you for sharing!

My family stopped giving Christmas gifts, except to the children, when my mother became ill at the end of her life.
There is nothing like eliminating gift giving to focus our eyes on what Christmas really means to us. For me it is light in winter's deepest darkness, peace in a world of conflict and hate, hope in the midst of despair.

So well articulated! This feeling inside me has been rising in me for so very long but has caught in my throat. My husband, Gary, of 35 years died less than 3 weeks ago. When I told my 8 year old grandson I just didn't have the energy to buy him a gift this year, he replied, "it's okay, Grammy. Christmas isn't about presents. It's about love... and I love you." I did find the energy to knit him a new pair of mittens! May we all find peace everyday of every year!

Totally agree and have been riding the non-material Christmas train for many years. I think it began when my sister's kid's wanted to return or exchange the gifts I'd given them two years in a row. That's it!, I thought, no more gifts for them! And that's where the frugal Christmas's began.
I too recognized that it is the modern trend of buying what we want, when we want it , that made Christmas go downhill. I remember being thrilled with Christmas gifts because there was always the anxiety that we might not get the one thing we so much hoped for, as well as the confidence that there would be some nice surprises.
Although I work as a volunteer with a national organization that helps homeless families, I am not entirely on board with the gift collecting that goes on for them. I know that they too are well entrenched with the desire for every little new game, toy, phone, name brand shoe, etc etc, and giving them loads of unnecessary stuff at Christmas, in my opinion, does little to engender appreciation.
Socks, underwear, a coat and maybe one indulgence - awesome! A boatload of toys and crap - not so much.
Krista, thanks for all the work you do to raise consciousness in our society.
May your holiday be restful and unhurried.

I have been balking for years at the universal pressure to buy, buy, buy that has little or nothing to do with anything spiritual. I am Jewish and after spending my childhood literally pressing my nose to windows with Christmas trees alit and scenes of what seemed like amazing warmth and conviviality, I started "doing" Christmas when I married a non-Jew and then certainly continued it for my children.

I have grandchildren now and their mother who is Hindu is raising them with an appreciation of modesty and restraint which I wholly endorse. For Christmas this year, their family requested a membership to a museum in Philadelphia that will allow for science and art classes and an appreciation of things immaterial.

My daughter and her boyfriend, my ex-husband and I will have "Christmas" dinner together without exchanging a single gift, partially determined by our current economic straits, but mostly by our choice to opt out of the insanity and do this our way.

I "give" of myself in my work with HIV+ drug users, people with mental illness and histories of trauma and incarceration, and children and what I get back from them is immeasurable and more rewarding than any thing anyone could buy me.

Thank you, Krista, for so eloquently and gracefully offering an enlightened git-giving. I volunteer at a local Boise homeless shelter but had never thought about new socks and underwear for homeless teenagers. I will share your thoughts with like-minded family and friends - and perhaps, even those who might be open to becoming "like minded". May the spirit of the solstice remain with you throughout this season and on into the new year!

Thanks again.

DEAR KRISTA, i AM REALLY WITH YOU ON THIS AND HAVE ALSO FELT COERCED TO DO WHAT I DON'T FEEL I WANT TO DO IN MY HEART. I GIVE GIFTS TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY DURING THE YEAR SPONTANEOUSLY AND IT'S ALWAYS A SURPRISE FOR THEM. AND IT'S OFTEN THINGS I MAKE-THE BEST GIFT. THANKS FOR YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS.
THE BEST TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY-HEALTH AND LOVE
ELIZABETH

It is funny...5 years ago, I might have agreed with you completely...but I find myself feeling differently after being out of the US/Western culture for those 5 years. I now live in a country whose main notion of Christmas is that it is a romantic date night for courting couples, that is, if people even are certain of the date. Now I am engaged to a man who is one of those who is entirely uncertain as to what day Christmas might be on, and is even more baffled by the concept of Christmas Eve. Obviously, my fiance and his family have never celebrated Christmas in any way shape or form...no tree, no gifts, no church service, no special meal, no day off work, no gathering of friends, nothing. They are Christian, but somehow that has not translated to an awareness of the day that Christ was (supposedly) born. However, this year they have shown a keen interest in trying to "get into" Christmas, because they want to include and incorporate some of my traditions into their family life. An odd situation to find yourself in if you once considered yourself a bit of a Scrooge. We just exchanged family gifts today, a bit impromptu, because they were too excited to wait until Christmas Eve or Day. It was truly a simple and joyful gift-giving. Simple things....a cup for someone who has only a couple in the cupboard, long underwear for the construction worker who is outside all day, warming gel for someone who is having trouble with her legs, a pair of movie tickets for the couple who never get a chance to go out. Without a past of gift-giving, there is no game here and no particular expectation of reciprocity. It was the first time either of the sons (in their mid-30s) had given anything to their father at all. Through the simplest of items, with little money spent and nothing flaunted, there was just a sense of kindness, goodwill, and love. It was such a wonderful evening, and there was none of the cynicism that I think comes from years of the overwhelming commercialization of Christmas.
After tonight and then reading this article, I think it is easy to blame the Western version of the holiday, with its excesses...and the easiest solution is not to participate in that. But bear in mind that gift-giving itself is not the cause, but merely a symptom. For those who have bought into the anxiety and "obligations," then perhaps it is healthy to step away. However, bear in mind that a reinvention of the gifting, based on fulfilling needs and warm-hearted attentiveness, can also keep an ancient tradition and ritual of sharing and honoring our relationships alive.

Thank you for writing this. It was clear, well said, assertive (but not aggressive), establishing your rights to choose how to celebrate without criticizing other people's choices. Very well written. We, as a family, chose to "give up" the celebration of Christmas in all its material forms quite a number of years ago. My youngest was between 3 and 6 when we made the decision as a family. First went the tree. I cannot stand artificial trees and we were all concerned about the environmental impact of chopping down natural trees every year. So that year, the stockings from Santa were left on the kitchen chairs. The next year, we asked Santa not to come - to pass on our gifts to other kids who have less than us. That year, no decorations were put up. That was when my youngest was between 3 and 6 years old. So he grew up without really knowing about Santa. He has not suffered and neither have the other children. That was also the year we didn't give each other gifts (we have another time of the year where we do that). Now, we appreciate the days off to recoup and relax and refresh and prepare for the new year. It is a great way to celebrate Christmas rather than the frenzy that the rest of the country seems to get into.

Amen! I share your sentiments and have also "boycotted" the insane practice of obligatory gifts! I agree with you, wholeheartedly and consider myself a member of this force of resistance to a "commercialized", " trivialized" version of Christmas.
Christmas to me is the opportunity to enter slow time, while the masses are caught up in the hunt for gifts.
I am so grateful for your voice and the courage to share your heart with us... so refreshing, a voice of reason !
So many have so much and so many, not enough. Underwear and socks, it is for a local charity in my area

Thanks so much for the straight forward candor about Christmas, and how, by and large, we have gotten gluttonous and consequently, blinded to the essence of what it means to celebrate divine incarnation into our daily experience. The "audacity," "mystery," and "reality-affirming assertion . . . that God took on eyes, ears, hands, feet, hunger, tears, laughter and the flu . . ." is what I try to hold onto if/when I attend church services these days, singing advent and Christmas hymns from my youth and early career as a (now former) clergy person. I consciously seek out and attempt to celebrate, not just at Christmas time, but daily, the audacity and mystery of the Incarnation in the in the myriad of life encounters.

Thanks so much for the straight forward candor about Christmas, and how, by and large, we have gotten gluttonous and consequently, blinded to the essence of what it means to celebrate divine incarnation into our daily experience. The "audacity," "mystery," and "reality-affirming assertion . . . that God took on eyes, ears, hands, feet, hunger, tears, laughter and the flu . . ." is what I try to hold onto if/when I attend church services these days, singing advent and Christmas hymns from my youth and early career as a (now former) clergy person. I consciously seek out and attempt to celebrate, not just at Christmas time, but daily, the audacity and mystery of the Incarnation in the in the myriad of life encounters.

What a relief to learn that my husband and I are not alone in this view of the absurdity of Christmas in the New Millenia. I abandoned celebrating Christmas in standard American form when Thanksgiving was swamped by the commercial juggernaut the day after.This year I was superbly ticked off by stores bagging any pretext that Thanksgiving dinner is anything more than a warm up meal for a spate of hedonistic shopping. .I would be a very happy woman if I could avoid shoppong at any store that puts up a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving (much less Halloween), Now, we treat the holiday as an opportuniity to share a meal with family and friends. I'll look into the underwear, socks and other bare necessities idea - it might restore some old fashioned joy to an otherwise rather bleak time of year.
Thank you for sharing your story.

thank you! as a single parent I have never been able to afford much and the only people who pressure me are the women grandstanding, but not paying for xmas. In fact never paying their own way in any of their history. The association of motherhood can be a profitable way to hide and never grow up, and they seem to be the ones cutting my hair, and cleaning my teeth, and shaming me for not comparing to their $ expectations. My values aren't totaled$ at xmas in that way. To be a pawn is "normal" and destroys adult hearts, what does it do to growing children.

For the moment and hopefully forever, I have gotten over the rebellious feeling to the awareness that there need Christmas. Perhaps this Christmas one person will realize "I want this feeling of joy throughout the year. At that point, they may begin to realize that the joy is the gift of giving to others and begin to give to those who need it. At the same time time whey will realize how special Christmas was as a child as lithely hoped and prayed that they would get that bike they had been refused all year.

Krista, one of your gifts to me this year was Alain de Botton. As he notes, these Christmas rituals, are not only pre-Jesus but pre-God. Gifting is also pre-human. Christmas and gifting-so complicated, so rich, so meaningful. I view it as a time to marvel at the complexity of the universe at every level, particularly my own stratum, as a Great Ape.
I believe we are animals, living in a complex, interdependent world. Gifting is important for the survival of our closest relatives, other primates. It was important for our human ancestors. And it continues to be important to those less fortunate than us.
At this time, some of us live in a miraculous environment of abundance and safety, which allows us the luxury of stepping back to examine the dark side, the pre-narrative side of this pro-social behavior. Unlike our ancestors, we can choose to not follow our group’s gifting expectations and will not die, if ostracized by them. We will not starve, if gifted insufficiently by our leaders to make it through the dark, barren winter. (Not yet, anyway.)
I give thanks for this abundance, freedom and security which allow me to give only as an expression of love, joy and appreciation. WHAT A GIFT!

I've carried these same thoughts for years. Thank you for sharing them here!

What a timely essay; thanks for validating what I have felt for some time but could only recently fulfill. My partner and I have been overwhelmed with health issues this fall. He's dealing with a chronic illness and I've been worn down by obligations; there just weren't enough hours in the day to "fit in Christmas". So here we are, on Christmas eve day with a decorated (artificial) tree, but not much else: no cards sent this year; no gifts for one another (or anybody else); the house is a mess and I'm just recovering from a bout with the flu, and yet....and yet, we're going to make this Christmas (unlike anyone of our others over the past 26 years) into something different; maybe something transcendent.

No Christmas Eve service tonight at our parish because we don't feel well enough and because the music at our parish, frankly, could use improvement. Instead, I'm cooking a modest dinner for us this evening, early to bed and off to a wonderful Christmas Morning service at a parish downtown with wonderful music.

Our "broken-down" Christmas promises to be something very special and restful. My partner says he'll never go back!

Merry christmas Krista and God bless

Merry christmas Krista and God bless

I work with homeless teens in Rochester, MN, on my own.Yes, they need new stocks, underwear, mittens, hats, haircuts...and relationships with healthy adults. They need love and hope. The best gift I can imagine is a world where these children are valued, loved and supported. Thank you for this beautiful article.

Well, it's true that I've been going around grumbling that I hate Christmas this year - mostly because my partner has 6 siblings who have started marrying and having children, and it's been a stressful season time and money-wise and a bad time to figure out small gifts for dozens of people that will show them we thought of them each in particular. So there's that.

But generally, I like Christmas. Thanksgiving and Passover have more spiritual meaning for me, but there's something about Christmas, too, even coming from an anti-religion family. It's a time when we're expected to think about each person we care about in our life and do or get something special for them, at least as I've understood and celebrated it. It's a time to reconnect with my family and actually spend some time together without distraction. I celebrate with just my family, no extended family and not even my partner, who goes home to her family, and it's the only time we're together as we were growing up, repeating traditions that we established as children. It's the one time of year we're It's the only time of year my family stands around the piano and sings together. It's a time when we try to create something special for each other.

It was probably stressful for my mother when we were growing up, since money was tight and she wanted to do a lot for us, and for her that meant mostly spending money, and I wish she hadn't felt that pressure. But there was a deep pleasure for her in doing something a little extravagant and unusual for us, creating that sense of excitement. And there still is, in cooking the meal she thinks is important, in having us all there together. And now that we're older, it's not just her and my dad creating Christmas for us, but all of us creating it for each other and enjoying the feeling of giving.

It was so exciting to see all the presents under the tree this year, even though most of them were from me, my partner, and my sister, and most of them were for my dad and mom - maybe even more so because of this, certainly more satisfying. It was wonderful eating the duck my mom roasted, the bush noel and champagne we always have, and standing around the piano singing through the book of carols we've used forever late into the night. And although I miss my partner and feel a little empty without her, it is a really nice feeling to have things the way they used to be, or even better.

Sorry for the long post, but I felt like Christmas as it's evolved was getting a little overly hated-on. It's important to look outside your family and think about what other people are going through and doing things for them, but there's also a value in looking within your family and doing something special for each other and celebrating being together as well. Is that really so wrong?

Merry Christmas, everyone, however you celebrate it :)

I share some of the same thoughts on the crazy less-than-meaningful Christmas traditions I now feel caught in. Excesses in gift buying and gatherings that are all crammed into the month of December.

I share some of the same thoughts on the crazy less-than-meaningful Christmas traditions I now feel caught in. Excesses in gift buying and gatherings that are all crammed into the month of December.

Thank you, Krista.

We have a beautiful 6 year old daughter, an only child. I found myself sick to my stomach as she opened gift after plastic gift on Christmas Day.

I am not particularly dogmatic about Christmas; but I completely agree that the commercialization of Christmas is the dominant cultural theme. Our daughter is sweet and empathetic. She has no idea that all kids don't have the kind of Christmas that she does. She doesn't know what excessive consumerism is.

My wife and I both have jobs and we provide a safe and loving home for the three of us. However, I felt empty Christmas day, as we opened gifts. I felt embarrassed.

I don't think I would have felt this way two years ago, but something has shifted in me the past 24 months. I don't know what has shifted.

My idea of a great Christmas would be this : Among relatives, we gather around a cozy fire, in a low-lit room, with wine, food and craft beers at hand. We each exchange a gift with one person ( for whom we have drawn a name). The gift should be something we have thought of ourselves that will be cherished by the recipient. For example, my niece is an artist and I asked for a painting of something dear to me. We all tell stories and talk about what we are thankful for and say a prayer for those who have passed.

I am Jewish, as was the child whose birth is celebrated at Christmas. The Christmas myth that most impacted me as a child was that "IF YOU ARE GOOD, Santa will leave you presents." This myth is unkind to Jews, Native Americans, Hindus, Budhists, Muslims and those in a family with limited means. When I returned to school after winter vacation, my classmates always asked what I got for Christmas. I was aware that Santa was a fantasy, but it would be insensitive to share that info with my believing friends. Of course, the answer was "nothing."Was I not good? Why didn't Santa stop? Doesn't he go to EVERY boy's and girl's house? Did I forget to leave cookies?" The whole celebration of Christmas felt unfair to me. I explained that I was Jewish. Some of my classmates assumed that meant "bad." Some thought it meant inferior. From these circumstances, I understood that not everything the general populace believes is necessarily true or worthy of belief.

As a white, Midwestern preacher's kid, I'm sorry. That was me. I was part of your rotten circumstances, and bought into the whole spiel.

I know I can never make up for my history of ignorance. In response this early-winter, before the candy canes flew, I made a point of learning more about Eid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_al-Fitr) from one of my daughter's suburban classmates. She was very shy about it, it took a while for her to explain it to me, but she was endearingly articulate. It turned out to be one of my top 5 favorite conversations of my life so far.

Thank you for your post. I'm edified to know that you brought wisdom out of the experience. I hope readers realize the problem still exists..

GOOD FOR YOU, KRISTA--and for your standing up in the assembly!

Your "...overwhelmingly an exercise in excess and trivia" captures (for me) the message of EXODUS 32: 1-6--in its account about the absence (or poverty) of worthy and accountable leadership.

Incidentally, I find EXODUS to be FABULOUS that way. The first time I "got" the story about the staff of Moses and and the staff of Aaron changing into serpents--and gobbling up the serpents (the staffs) of Pharaoh's high priests, I understood the objectives that must be embedded in a decisive staff meeting.... (o;

Worthy celebration of the Incarnation enters deeper into the mystery than the representation of its contest-qualities. Yet the contest so readily spotlights the cosmic stakes--for children and parents together.

Thank you for expressing my own thoughts so beautifully! This from our annual holiday letter..."We are bessed with relatively good health, fine families, good friends, a comfortable home. We know there are too many in our country who are not so blessed. We forego lavish gifts to each other and our families at Christmas so we can give a little more to the charities that help those less fortunate than we are. We're not much help to the economy but we have never liked the total commercialization of Christmas anyway. We love the lights, the coming together of family and friends and the good cheer...and we wish you these things in abundance for the holidays and the coming year!" And I especially liked the part about new underwear and socks - such a great idea for giving...

For personal reasons, I insist on referring to this as Xmas...

In any event, I am less bothered by the gift giving and more bothered by the notion that December is a complete wasteland. You can't get any work done because everyone checks out. We have a culture that presumes everyone "does" Christmas - but what if they are not Christian? Maybe I'm just a Scrooge, but the whole December check out thing just butters my buns.*rantover*

Can we be sure that each one of us is not a bit of God taking on "eyes and ears and hands and feet". As Father Richard Rohr points out, "Christ was not Jesus' last name". Christ means being able to express what we are, the Godness that is our essence. Jesus came to show us what we are capable of and worthy of. That's something to celebrate!

AMEN it takes a village.

Thank you and peace to all. What an adventure to have someone like you share such visions and give energy to positive growth and change.

Krista,
I don't like the commercialization of Christmas, but I LOVE Christmas and the reminder that God did break through to become one of us. My personal rebellion is to fully enjoy Christmas, the light in the darkness, the liturgies, the shopping for gifts for Angel tree children, whose parents are incarcerated, the long breaks from school (I'm a teacher) that allow me to have a small break to have space for Christmas, all the while fighting urges to rush out on Black Friday, to shop every weekend for obligatory gifts for family and friends because someone has already gifted me. Even the word "Christmas" is religious, with Roman Catholic roots, meaning "Christ Mass." Santa Claus may have become kidnapped by the secular, but he has religious roots which trace back to St. Nicholas, a very real person and bishop who had a very generous spirit. In the Tim Allen movie, "The Santa Claus," one of the elves says, "believing is seeing." God became one of us and for better or worse, Christmas is the reminder of this event, and it shall not be taken away from me.

Namaste.

To clarify what I wrote yesterday. perhaps every one of us is fully God and fully human. Still quite a mystery, but it makes Jesus more of a role model than an idol.

I have listened to you on Sunday mornings for more than a year. This morning, 12/30/12, after the conversation with Dr. Zenn, I went on line to your blog. Never before following anyone's blog, I was amazed at the wealth of information and intellectual challenge I found. I have spent the entire morning listening to past programs which I missed. The Rivlin-Dimenici conservation was brilliant and I wish every member of the Congress and Senate would listen to it. I have become very disenchanted with our grid-lock ridden governmant as well as the commercial celebration of Christmas and every other holiday on the calendar. Kudos to you and your program.

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Thank you for the kind words, Virgina. And welcome!

Thank you, Krista. I'm with you 100+%. I have become increasing more irritated with the excess and the stress that accompanies it; however, I am very much in the minority. I hope to have the courage to follow through in the years to come.

I admire your strong stance and well articulated comments on gifts and Christmas. Why we fall for this tradition of gift giving year after year seems to indicate a mindless society of people-bots not aware of right actions, only of fear of rejection and criticism from others should we be honest with each other and ourselves. Thank you for getting me thinking again and acting on this from now on! Suzi

Thank you Krista...So many blessings to you. You are a night light...........

as ever so well said.

This year we had the gift of taking a trip to Peru mid-December. What a gift to ourselves, not just the trip but also the escape from the Christmas machine. No ghastly decorations, no blaring Christmas music and no invitation to buy, buy, buy from retailers. It was a welcome break I had a hard time believing it was actually December, it made Christmas much more palatable.

To keep our Faith alive we need to hear each others stories... I thank you for this story! The waiting, I remember as a 10 year old, was for our Mother to come home Christmas Eve... When she did, she couldn't wait for us to open the gold crosses she bought my Sister and Me. With all the other gifts we'd received that year, that connection with Her urgency for us to open that gift has stayed with me over these past 60 years. That joy she had in the giving was infused in me.

Jesus would be more comfortable with your approach than with what has become "traditional" I'm sure.

Made me tear up. V. Beautiful!

More importantly the story itself is a myth written around the fact that Christ was born in Isreal at about that time. It was distorted by Hebraic early writers to fulfill the Old Testment Phophacy of "The house of David." Was there a Nazareth at that time? Probably not. Would Cesar do a census of tribal centers or waht to know where people actually lived and worked? Would the census be done in planting or harvesting season? Absolutely. Was the nativity text written lon after Mathew and Luke? Yes
Is the story poetical, and are we stuck with it? Almost certainly, yet at some point children and adults need to disillusion themselves and come to terms that the whole story is a beautiful cultural myth.

We did this for the first time this year, placing a donation at one of our local banks for the children of a murdered police officer.
We told our grown and married children that's where the gifts were this year. They said, collectively, "Good idea."

Years ago while serving on staff with a large, upwardly mobile congregation there was a story I heard about the Christmas tea one of the women's circles held. A member of the circle had taken her aging mother who was experiencing symptoms of dementia. Very quietly the older woman sat on the couch sipping her tea and when the assistant minister sat down to visit she looked around the room with a beatific smile, then in a deep southern accent companionably remarked to the pastor, "I just LOUVE a gaudy Christmas." --I agree with Krista that expectations of stuff can suck the life out of this season of mystery. But I have to be honest too, and confess my delight at times when stumbling on shinny surprises in the cold dark season.

One of my life lessons was that when I was a parent to a young child myself I limited the number of gifts opened in the Christmas morning orgy of tissue and tinsel. Over the 12 days of Christmas I tried to leave a trail of gifts back into the post-Epiphany days & ordinary time. One year when my child was about 2 or 3, one of those gifts was a package of bright colored plastic clothes pins that had caught her eye in the grocery store & may have cost $3. Those pins became a favorite toy/tool over several years. We counted them, designed sculptures with them, incorporated them into dress up costumes, held art projects in place for glue to dry with them, and more. They were a true gift of wonder, because they became mechanisms for helping her to connect with the world and others. They were a lesson for me as a parent to know that sometimes the most important gift as a parent is to be present but get out of the way.

Jesus is the center of my life and I honor his birth as a HOLY DAY. You have verbalized beautifully what I have been grappling with for years. My kids are grown but I have younger grandkids and feel compelled to do some gift buying, But I have already been toning it down. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and ability to put things into words. I love your program and find it helpful

Oh yeah, fabuolus stuff there you!

Kick the tires and light the fires, problem officially svoled!

Thank you. My family wonders why I don't get caught up in the holiday hoopla, but I do not feel like a Scrooge, either. I am tired of the media telling me how I should celebrate by buying the latest gizmo. Most people are just going along, riding the current of opinion, instead of thinking about what they are doing, and why tbey are doing it.

I read this in the early morning hours of January 2nd as I was reflecting on how the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas is roughly ten percent of each calendar year -- and that for me it is the most difficult ten percent for all of the reasons Krista so cleary wrote about. In that moment Krista's words became an experience of healing that opened the morning to my practice of meditation, uencumbered by the burden of the season just past. Thank You.

I agree. I haven't celebrated Christmas for years. Thank you for posting this.

I'm ever so grateful you had the position, gumption and wherewithal to voice what a lot of people struggle through. I hated Christmas, too, around the time the Mall of America opened. I refused to walk through the doors for 6 years. I was livid at commerce and its near-total consumption of this specific amazing, enduring, and humanity-shaping story.

I'm imagining Jon Kabat-Zinn as therapist on this anger point. We're in it. It's even part of us. Yes, we often need to back out for a time, yet we can't entirely disengage.

I hope everyone can get tornadically angry at Christmas, drop out of it, and then re-engage, mindfully, maybe even going to the woods to pick out a Christmas tree deliberately. As long as I'm' talking about "stuff," Christmas is useful, it's old, it's part of the family, has been for generations, and it could be beautiful with a new finish on it and in the right place. I put it in the "Keep" pile.

On "Away in a Manger:"

From one mother to another, I'm convinced there is a sacred moment after which one's own first new baby stops crying. Personally, it gave pause in my outward focus to turn inward and realize, repeatedly, tearfully, rendingly that I desperately already needed everything and a thousand things I didn't know about, including more information. That moment I quintessentially needed. I was just getting started on something I had, and still have no idea what it means or how it will turn out, or even, really, how it happened (yes, I'm cognizant of my participation, but it strikes me as kind of incidental to the whole process). That, for me, was total vulnerability, like leaving on a major vacay with nothing but the clothes on my back, on foot. Contrast that self-focused silence against the horrific screams on the other end of his life, Mom. Although I have to agree, on the surface, it can sound pretty insipid. I don't blame the hymn for that.

It's sad that you can't find it in your heart to enjoy Christmas and its "spirit" as it exists in the world now. Yes, it has changed, like all things. But it still brings out the good in many people who don't feel obligated to flaunt their wealth by buying expensive gifts for children who most liklely will never be able to afford such things themselves. It is the paradox of King Wencelas that feting him actually just made him more acutely aware of what he had been missing, deepening his misery. The stereotypical "old lady" says, as always, that "things just aren't lwhat they used to be." True enough.

I think I'll follow your lead, somewhat, and get some children the socks, coats, and new underwear that they want and need. After all, I'm not trying to impress anyone, so why would I buy or donate expensive clothes, assuaging my conscience, perhaps, but intensifying their suffering?

My birthday is Christmas and have only once or twice (celebrating on a different day) experienced what it might be like to have a day dedicated to your birth. I loved this article, it made me feel less guilty about celebrating X-mas for my 9 month old daughter this year. I felt guilty for not putting up a tree and lights, wanting her to experience this magical moment. It was hard to cave into the "ritual" of x-mas but it was for my daughter. How does one day highjack our collective attention to the point it has become this all consuming affair? From my perspective 20% of x-mas is the spirit of Joy, Gratitude, Giving and all that jazz the other 80% has gone off track and into the mall.
All I know is people get so consumed on Christmas day focusing on what they did or didn't get or how much the person liked the gift you gave, that they can't remember to wish their friend or family member a happy birthday and most of the time don't even realize they even forgot.
So my anger grows which I try to release every year. Why should I go broke every year around my birthday, trying to buy everyone presents who often forget to even say, Happy Birthday. Is that not what Christmas is all about, celebrating someones birthday? I wonder how Christ would view how people celebrate his April birthday in December. Looking back I should have celebrated my birthday as a child on Christ's real birthday in April.

Change is unsettling. We continue to do many things even when they don't feel right. It takes courage to say, "Hey, this is not working. Change is better than doing the same thing expecting different results." Kudos to you Krista to face it and then share it.

You say with such eloquence that which I have felt for years. I am a deeply religious person who is angered that my holy-day has been hijacked by commercial concerns. In these difficult economic times, we have been told that to be a good citizen is to buy, buy, buy. The holy seasons of Advent and Christmastide have become corrupted by competing values. I despair.

THANK YOU KRISTA FOR BEING SO BOLD AND ARTICULATE!
AS A HUMAN RACE, WE HAVE LOST OUR TRUE SENSE OF WHAT WE WERE CREATED TO BE....TOLERANT, COMPASSIONATE, KIND AND YES, LOVING TO ALL OF GOD'S CREATION.
WE GIVE SO FREELY DURING THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS, BUT WE AVERT OUR EYES AND SENSES DURING THE OTHER TIMES OF THE YEAR....FOLKS ARE ALWAYS SUFFERING NOT JUST AT CHRISTMAS.
CHRIST HAS BEEN TAKEN OUT OF CHRISTMAS. A TRUE EXAMPLE OF WHAT IT IS TO BE ALTRUISTIC IS TO BE CHRISTLIKE AT ALL TIMES. THANK YOU AND PLEASE CONTINUE TO ILLUMINATE US WITH YOUR OPEN-HEART.

As a child, I remember my father saying Christmas in America was all about the loot. I remember watching an in law family showering their grown children and toddling grandchildren with so many gifts at the Christmas we shared that the opening started at 9 ended at 2 or 3 in the morning as we all oooed and ah-ed over gifts individually opened and displayed. As a young adolescent, I was embarrassed at the disproportionate "wealth" displayed between our families. As an adult, I watched my own inlaw family shower us with Santa Claus chairs because there were so many little things that no stocking was big enough and then the opening of family gifts. It was such a financial struggle for us to meet the expectations so carefully not spoken but so carefully signaled with Christmas lists, postures, grimaces, false smiles, and inquiries about return policies. Now I have become my father -- not a curmudgeon as I thought -- but a sad observer -- yes, Christmas in America is about the loot and I just want to get together with people I love and care about who want to be with me instead of checking the obligatory "Christmas list" has been filled.Thank you for your thoughts. I don't feel so out of step.

I, too, have moved away from the commercial Christmas and back to the traditional season, Dec. 25 - Jan. 6. In this way, I can let the shopping and pressure wash over me, knowing I can share with others throughout the year and celebrate my Lord during the church's season. Happy New Year and thanks for the wonderful podcasts.

Oh great! Someone actually said it! You said it! I read with anticiapation your article about why you don't do Christmas but was left wanting more explanation of spiritual content. At 65 with a combined family of six children and ten grands and all the accompanying in-laws, I dread the annual gluttony of unappreciated gift giving and just move through all the actions by rote, but I still try in vain to proclaim the "reason for the season" at every opportunity, only to come away feeling shallow. As my own relationship with God deepends into the cave of my soul, the outward demonstrations feel false, like a table setting that will be put away when the company leaves. Perhaps we should discount any Christian relationship to the holliday and acknowledge that it is simply a time to give a gift. Do you think then it would be more joyful? Just give a gift because you want to -- no strings attached to religious significance. By george, that sounds very Christian, doesn't it!

Thank you for bringing us back to the reality that to overcome the commercialized Christmas/Hanukkah gift-giving, all we have to do is look around and see that there are many more far less fortunate...giving to the least is the best gift ever!

Personally, I dislike the cover on the James book. I much rehtar liked the others. I wonder if it's maybe that this doesn't focus on any of the women we've seen so far and so he's the focus. But I could be wrong.

We are now about as far from Christmas as we can get - in weather, in spirit, and in expectations.
Perhaps this would be a good time to "report out" on how Krista's actions last December met expectations.
Anything unexpected? Any plans for the coming Christmas season? Any lived insights?
Thanks

The true meaning of Christmas is to live its message and meaning every day...you have captured that essence...thank you for the gift of OnBeing!!!

Thanks for the courage to take a stand. That's what Jesus did.Also Dr. King. May you have a wonderful Christmas!

I love you. Thank you.

Growing up (and remaining!) Jewish, Christmas has always been a fraught time for me. It was the time when have felt most alien in American society, for any number of reasons. The growing materialism of Chanukah, a very different holiday, only made things worse. However, since becoming a parent, I have begun to see things differently. The wonder of the incarnation -- that, as Krista says, the divine would take on a human body, not only in all its frailty, but at its most frail moment, as a newborn, has led me to appreciate more some of the warmth and wonder that many Christians seem to feel at this time of year.

Thank you Ms. Tippett.
Your post gave be an opportunity to reconsider what I do in this season. I am a Japanese living in Japan and I am a Buddhist, but Japan has a strange mixture of events of different religions, including not only Buddhism events but also visiting Shinto shrines for prayer in the new year's days and the Christmas where we give gifts and have parties with friends or girl/boyfriend (not with our own family unlike in the western countries).
In recent years, Japan is in a kind of gloomy mood where nothing -- politics or economy or any social things -- seems to look bright and hopeful. So this year, I thought I should cheer up others and myself using the joy Christmas can bring us, and have been thinking of and actually buying gifts for my family members, relatives, and friends. But now I read your post and I started doubting myself. Feeling the joy of the season may be harmless and not that a bad thing, but the fact that I was unconsciously part of this materialism and consumerism made me rethink the way I should spend this season. Though I was acting that way, buying gifts, in recent months I have been having doubts about this materialistic societies (I mean mostly Japan since I do not live in the US or other countries). You post was a wonderful reminder of the doubt I have been having and was losing again little by little. So thank you. I will find my way of "gift-giving", not to my families or friends, but those who are in dire need.

Hi Krista; Good comments, as always. For years now many, many people have been in to "alternative giving". While members of my immediate family do get some carefully thought out, small gifts we pretty much give donations in the names of others that go to support education, health care or life enhancing projects in developing nations. Our loved ones appreciate these gifts. They know they do not need another belt or shirt. They also love the idea that a gift was given in their name that truly makes life better for someone who has less opportunity in this life than they do.

So beautiful written and clearly from the heart. So many teenagers are profoundly in need of very basic needs...shelter, food, clothing. It will make a difference!

That was so refreshing to hear! As a family we do the same thing! No more passing around $50 bills , no more hours of needless shopping for needless and thoughtless gifts. Now we take our time and money and adopt a family. We enjoy our together time as a family to shop for these people, we wrap their presents and sometimes drop the presents off at their house. As a non- Christian, raised as a Catholic, I find this to be my meaning of Christmas. A time to give, a time to love and a time to be together with loved ones. Because time is greatest gift of all.

Your gift is well received. God bless you.

It's all too easy to get caught up in thinking Christmas is an event we stage or "do" instead of entering into it, participating, sharing it. One solution is to give up on "doing" it. I've chosen a different approach.

Visiting the Capodimonte museum in Naples I was amazed at the nativity scenes there, centuries old: exquisite and tender depictions of the mythical manger scene surrounded by hundreds of Neapolitan townspeople going about their day -- growing tomatoes, making pizza, shoeing horses. To me these conveyed Incarnation, the divine powerfully present and alive in the midst of our everyday lives.

Since seeing those I have turned from worrying about what to me risks being a fundamentalist approach -- this kind of Christmas is sacred and that one is profane -- and instead tried to keep asking myself the question, "What does this particular action mean?" If children are given material things all year without any sense of their relationship to money, I am not convinced that doing a 180 on Christmas is logical or meaningful. We never gave our children junk or the toy of the year. They still cherish the books they received, the science and art materials, the building blocks they will give their own children one day. Oh, and Silly Putty etc. We do not take ourselves too seriously. Even gifts can convey love and connection! I think kids learn from giving them to each other and to us -- both choosing them and saving for them. I have found that as they reach their twenties and are supporting themselves they do definitely experience the old-fashioned anticipation of needed items -- a bathrobe and slippers, for instance.

Giving these things does not get in the way of also giving gifts to needy children or to various organizations and causes that desperately need money. We do that too. We've been broke and we've been comfortable. Somehow it all fits together in a messy, wonderful way.

I don't agree with you on this on, Krista, but I appreciate all you do.

Just another suggestion when looking for ways to donate. I worked in a program that provided housing to homeless families and among the people we served, there was a constant need for personal hygiene items for girls and women and disposable razors for men. These are some of the things that people, when they don't have them, sometimes resort to shoplifting and further complicate already complicated lives. They are also a reason why girls may not attend school at times. These are things that people not in those circumstances tend not to think about. Lots of people donate socks and underwear, and though needed and people are grateful for them, they are usually available in much more abundance than these other items.

Krista Tippett, this was fantastic! What a great thinker and writer you are. I have just been thinking this season about the triumphant music that comes with this season. The talk of the "king." I don't know. It occurred to me that all of the pomp and circumstance flies directly in the face of the inherent, devastatingly poignant, humility of Christmas. So I enjoyed this bit. Right there with you. You should write more often! (I was planning a long trip to see family recently. I bought a jump drive and downloaded about 25 of your shows--yes, the unedited ones--for the duration.) Keep up the great work.

It's good to do what you've done for the teens who need subsistence. I admire that result from your discussion of Christmas, but I think you have taken a jaded view of us, who may or may not have the motives you ascribe to us. I'm sorry you have chosen to take the Christmas celebration many love to its worst interpretation.

What was your turning point one wonders? Is it because it is a commercial success? Can't we get beyond that?

Thank you. You nailed it! We are always looking for meaningful traditions that allow our souls to connect but the gift/ spending glut always feels so empty to me. I didn't celebrate Christmas as a young single adult, but embraced the tradition once we had kiddos. Consumerism hijacked an opportunity to celebrate renewal of the solstice, the return of the sun, reflection of our psyche and lives. Right with you in searching for ways to bring it back.

I love that you took the time to write what so many of us feel so deeply but find hard to express in the midst of our own family friends and co workers !!! So many people hop on the holiday train on Black Friday and ride it all the way through the excess of New Year's Eve

S. Mateo 1:21-23 HCSB

She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”his is my reason for celebrating Christmas:

Great article. Where can I drop off in kind donations, website didn't clarify for me?

Krista, I love your radio show, and look forward to it every Sunday morning, even though I must often miss the end of the program to begin getting ready for the Sunday School class I teach. What you have to say here about Christmas is thought-provoking, and I hope it will inform my future actions. Alas, it's far easier to continue along the same path, especially when you are seventy- three years old, and somewhat set in your ways! But perhaps I can help to make a difference in my own family. It would be the greatest gift I could give them!

Trying something new on the 25th, with my wife's consent.

Last year, I saw a group of Filipino helpers (there's a lot of them here in Hong Kong) at our local McDonald's celebrating Christmas. How I take my own space for granted.... This year, if I see a group celebrating Christmas like that, I (with my wife by my side) will invite them to use our place.

(I'm posting here, in public, so I will follow through.)

i shamelessly celebrate the gift giving. in some years i celebrate the birth of the sweetsweetbabyjesus also.

santa claus is real. he is real because we see the effect of him.

god is real. "he" is real for the same reason.

microsoft is no more or less real. for the same reason.

things mean exactly what we choose. when i was in iraq, i kept a hamdful of random rocks in my pocket. these were my children. this brought me comfort of company and centered me.

it was just a handful of rocks. and the old green ballcap i wear at all times is "me and steven" because i SAY it is.

things mean exactly what we individually say they mean.

You are speaking what has been in my heart. Thank you!

Krista, Just because Christmas has been so commercialized, by so many, doesn't mean that for a lot of us, the sacredness of this 'man made holiday', escapes us. I thank God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for bringing Jrsus Christ into this world as man to save our weary souls. My family hasn't exchanged gifts for many years. We do things in the community, give to those less fortunate, spend time worshipping together, enjoying each other's company and lots of good food. We are truly blessed and we know it. We thank God that Christ came into the world to save us.It is to each of us how we celebrate this 'man made holiday.' We choose to celebrate this time of year as the 'Birth of our Savior.'

Hi Krista - I really love your shows, insight, humanity and your gift which you share to us all. May I hold up a mirror to you, like you try to do to the intellectuals who don't like the pop culture, internet, etc, which you wrote for the acapella(sp?) Lorde piece? Few people like the overcommercialization of Christmas, but I submit that we shouldn't let the businesses poison/manipulate us to avoid the goodness which can come from the season, if we chose to do so. Just like we should not let the nasty stuff on the internet and in pop culture manipulate us to avoid engagement with them for goodness or the right reasons. One can give a gift (material, time, loving kindness, prayers, listening) to loved ones and the needy at Christmas, and throughout the year, even while all that advertising/pressure is going on. - A Caring Fan

I am not a fan of obligatory gift-giving either. Nor capitalism, when it comes down to it. But the thought of robbing children of the wonder and excitement of Christmas that I felt as a child fills me with sadness. We only get the one shot at being a kid. Sure, we won't know what we're missing if our parents were jaded. But I feel like I've managed to carry the spirit of the holiday that I felt when I was young through to adulthood, and I don't know who I'd be otherwise, so I'm probably going to stick with the tradition and try, like my parents did, to instill an understanding of the illusion of commercialism into my kids when they're old enough, and encourage them to seek out their own spiritual truths as they get older. I have to have enough faith in them to figure things out for themselves in the context of whatever messed-up world they inherit. And I get the added bonus of that delightful joyous smile when they rip that paper off the boxes on Christmas morning. Year-round instant gratification is a much more worthy target than Christmas, I think. But I can't afford to constantly shell out cash for NFL jerseys, so maybe it's a case of two different worlds.

Thank you for stirring this pot of reality. I will try to be more aware of the rampant commercialism that invades our true holy days.

Thank you.

Americans have bought into the lie that Christmas is about giving gifts. "The holidays" are just an excuse for "the people" to spend, spend, spend so the "haves" get more and the "have nots" spend money they don't have. I do give a few gifts to those closest to me but I also donate dollars and other goods to those less fortunate than me. Thanks for exposing the lie of the American Xmas plus the multitude of other holy days lumped into the Xmas group for no other reason than to make money.

Yes! thanks for sharing, Krista. from personal experience, the season brings more peace, joy, and contemplation when not preoccupied with shopping! Christmas blessings to u....

Only to say thank you.

Beautifully put. And inspiring. My family will gather and our focus will be on our one small child. Her mother too requests that that the gifts be modest and our time together be what it is about. Having read your piece, I understand my daughter much better now.

I don't usually give gifts outside of my immediate family. But one year I decided to give my fellow band members books that I read, choosing ones I thought they would like. My wife has expanded this to a tea and book swap with the church as an auction fundraiser item. Giving something meaningful makes sense. Otherwise it' all hype.

We are on consumerism autopilot. Driven, as Krista notes, by years of marketing mantras that seep into our cells like a spiritual poison. The only real goal is to enrich the marketers. But it takes two to tango. This essay is a thoughtful and courageous wake up call and a way to reclaim one's power.

Beautifully put, Krista. Thanks for sharing your reflection and for imparting a sense of hope as you affirm basic values.

Krista, well said. And the public forum to compel follow through is brilliant. The Creator of worlds set us up on time delay to manifest our own small desires to give us pause to consider the desire's worth. We have circumvented that pause of consideration through our "modern" life style's ability to deliver instant gratification. In service to others who find themselves outside looking in, we can experience the gift they offer us of the Divine plan of Pause.

This is just what I needed! We decided not to do presents this year and instead, revel in each other's company, experiencing each other. The Experience, not the things.

Experience over stuff. Love over poverty. Let the spirit of giving continue through the year.

Thank you so much for stating this perspective on Christmas so well!
Cheers, C2

I always appreciate your posts. I too am the parent of a teen-aged boy and, while I feel there is lots of room for improvement in my parenting, there is one thing I feel good about having done right: I've raised a kid who isn't BURDENED by a sense of entitlement. For it is, truly, a burden. Particularly in this uncertain economic period, when our kids may finish college in debt and find no decent paying employment awaiting them, I believe it is essential to arm them with the ability to go without, to postpone gratification, to live on very little. It is, in the end, freeing to be able to get by on nearly nothing -- I know because I've done it as a young adult and will probably be doing it again as I grow old.

Mazal tov on deciding to divert needless accumulation of yet more stuff towards those who have little or nothing. "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers."

For years I've felt that Everyday should be Christmas...Give when the spirit moves you to give, why wait till one day a year to "reward' those you love, and others. I don't buy into commercialism and advertising that has guilted you/me/others into giving .....
Everyday is a Good One and some are Better .....

First world problems: I'm upset that society makes me spend my expendable income on others. Grow up.

Great!

Thank you for expressing so eloquently the aversion I have developed over the years towards a holiday that was so meaningful when my adult children were young. Then we focused on the mystery of new life in the dark of the year, the opportunity to celebrate with family and friends, the beauty of light and music. As we all grew up together, we've forgotten some of that wonder. The challenge now is to reject the dominant culture's perversion of ancient rituals and return to what my kids used to call "the true meaning". Blessings!

A wake-up call indeed.

All these rules and all this angst about giving. Let me remember my Brother who blessed us by coming to live among us. And let me give without attaching a whole lot of stuff to it. I am happy to give -- for whatever reason and for whatever need -- and in remembrance of this -- to whomever and whatever -- and without a reluctant spirit. Why withhold? I step away from consumerism because there is nothing to be gained from it. But a thoughtful gift -- this is a joy. It's part of being in the flow of life.

Bravo! I believe that we have marketed away the sincere love and appreciation for family and friends that once flooded the homes and communities of our ancestors. Perhaps its through maturation that the importance of gift giving (receiving) has declined for me.

Hello Krista - we've never met - I appreciate many of your programs/interviews - I am a grad of Harvard Divinity School and then went on to medical school and psychiatry - I practice in Des Moines, Iowa - where I am a rare breed who still spends 45 minutes with the folks I see - I am of like mind as this piece on gift giving at Christmas thanks for your work

David Drake

David E. Drake D.O.,
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Des Moines University,
Private Practice, Des Moines, Iowa
515-288-8000
drakeoffice@gmail.comm

Amen.

why is it that there seems to be more self-guilt at Christmas than at Easter?

I grew up in a church that has many extremes about iconography - such as believing it's sacreligious to wear the cross as jewelry, or to have an image of Jesus in the sanctuary - but also in this church Christmas was not celebrated as a religious holiday. Many of the extremes my church practiced I found silly or counterintuitive, but I liked that they didn't try to claim Christmas. For one, I understand that Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Christ replaced the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. I'd rather just celebrate the solstice! And two, I never enjoyed judging others for the way they celebrated Christmas, so i'm glad my church didn't encourage me to do this. My family celebrated it as a family holiday - a time to be together and sing, eat, share. Still, there are people in my family that embrace Christmas as a consumer holiday. So every year there is a little guilt felt when I'm given "stuff" and don't have anything to give in return. Or do I? It brings up the question of what giving is. Giving to charity is certainly one selfless way to give, but there are so many others- we just need to recognize those ways as gifts.

Thanks for sharing your heart and mind on this Krista.I agree that much of the activity we ascribe to Christmas (or other Christian holidays/events) often focus on other than the intent of the holiday. Thank you for this reminder. However, I will challenge you on one point. I will continue to "do" Christmas, and do it with joy, for the very reason you stated. We need each other. I just came from Christmas at church where I though the same thing about it being a children's service. There was a time I would have said, I not "doing" this. Unfortunately, this created a condescending "holier -than-thou" attitude in my heart that once harbored, was difficult to move away from. This attitude was destructive to my relationships, and, just like the commercialism of Christmas had distracted me years before, my desire to live my life in a right manner replaced my desperate need for Jesus, and to share the love and grace he generously showered on me with all other I know and don't know. What I have come to understand is that I don't want to be defined for what I "don't" do;rather for what Christ calls me to do. Love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and mind, and love my neighbour as I would love myself. What does that look like? We have traded some of the self-centeredness of Christmas with clothing donations, time spent at the food bank, fundraising for the local youth centre etc., but we still celebrate Christmas. We exchange gifts with those who value that ritual, we spend time with family & friends eating things we don't usually eat, we watch church programs that maybe don't speak to all about the true nature of the coming of Christ. Te reality of what this looks like changes from year to year as we grow in understanding. We do this to be salt & light, to share what God has so abundantly bestowed on us, and to point to Him when someone asks why we do what we do.

Well said Krista. We are not self-interested enough. The materiality of Christmas distracts us from the extravagant inner gift we can give to ourselves and others.

Bravo! We are the gift to each other! I am because of you! Ubuntu!

I am so glad I am not alone on this. Several years ago I stopped giving gifts to anyone but family and made donations to charity. Now all adults get donations to charity as gifts. Thanks for saying it so wonderfully.

Thank you for expressing many feelings I've had for years. I love the idea you came up with. You're helping me find the courage to make a change.

Krista, thank you so much for your honesty on this. I blogged about my own similar Christmas journey, recently, though you managed to state yours so much more eloquently and less emotionally than I did (no surprises, there!). May you be encouraged to continue to speak, write, blog, etc... I cherish the podcasts...
http://gigislens.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/christmas-not-christian-yep-i-said-it/

Someone said to their children, " Jesus only received three gifts, I think that's enough for you too."

How completely idiotic!

You need to find a better church lol

Thank you for this. It is what I've felt for years. I once asked my family to join together and skip the gift-giving that year. It didn't go over well. I dislike Christmas and most holidays for that matter because it has all become so commercial. There is no meaning anymore. I hate the feeling of obligation… I want to give from my heart and not from obligation.

Oh how I wish i'ld read this earlier ... Before the running to stores unsure that what I was getting would be needed & appreciated. Help me get out of the trap of contemplating the right gift, finding it & then watching the let down of "not what I wanted."

Hi Krista,
Loved the article. First time to your blog. My family isn't celebrating Christmas either, at least not the culturally acceptable Christmas with santa, reindeer, malls, and wrapping paper. We will celebrate the Christ en Mass with others who bear witness to the incarnation in the midst of our messy lives. As a family we made the decision to move gift giving from Christmas morning to St. Nicolas Day, who could be against giving gifts to those we love. We have freed Christmas for the pondering of the mystery of God come near and our call to service in the world God loves and is working to redeem. I have often wondered if we were along in these Christmas reformation/restoration efforts. Your commends resonate with me.
Blessed Advent and Christmas!

"In my lifetime, this has become existentially linked to a commercial orgy that has now even co-opted the ritual angle."

Perhaps you mean synonymous...NPR hosts, at least I've noticed because existential is a very important concept to me, sometimes use 'existentially' to perhaps sound more intellectual.

Ex: "Iraq's latest actions pose an existential threat to Israel." (A made up sentence but correct in the NPR usage.).

An existential threat to Israel means it would no longer be a 'jewish state'. Literally destroying the country, which is what I think is meant, wouldn't be existential...it would be real... really real... 'conventional'.

A person pointing a gun isn't posing an existential threat. A slanderous article about someone's gravitas is an existential threat.

Nice post. For me getting or giving presents has never been part of Christmas. I didn't grow up with that, and I still don't do it. And it is not hard at all, it's just a matter of what you are used to. Food and family are more important, but in a way that food should be about sharing and about showing an effort to your guests to offer them something special. And family should be the family you want to be part of, the community that you create around Christmas, not necessarily the family you belong to or come from.

I would say, don't swap buying gifts for your kids to buying stuff for others. You are still buying. Why? There are plenty of things to share when money is not involved, or at least not the main thing.

Although deliberate consumerism, waste and want are ugly aspects of our culture, I think she has somewhat missed the point of Christianity as it relates to Christmas. Belief in what we don't see before us. And I think this is significant to the secular celebration of Christmas and the ritualization around the holiday as well. Jesus didn't appear a King laying in that manger. I don't think he really glowed. I don't think the star lit up all of Bethlehem like a neon sign saying "this way to the savior." In the same way, I don't think we see what is in people's hearts when they are at a crowded mall the weekend before Christmas. We don't know who is frankly purchasing crap because its on sale, and who scraped together enough cash this year for a tree, a ham, and a few dreams come true for their kids. We only see what is plainly before us; tis the season also to believe in everybody's unseen magic, love, or spiritual self. I learned a lesson this year through forced giving. I was ba-humbugging around about how I wanted only to give presents to people on my "good" list and not my "naughty" list. When all is said and purchased, although I'd love to buy a sailboat and some new black shoes for my besties instead of anything at all for some people on my list, I grew as a person by being forced to find a "thing" for them, wrap it in forgiveness and present it with love. Lesson learned. Things are not always what they appear. Relish in it once a year.

Thank you for this BEAUTIFUL and spot ON post. ... May I suggest you use person first language in discussing these teens? It doesn't seem like a big deal but they are actually children/people first versus their condition, we so often use the circumstance to describe the person before their humanity. These are children who are homeless - it is a correctable condition NOT who they are.

Thank you for sharing your struggle; this helps validate all our struggles! I learned from the movie Scrooged many years ago that I didn't just want it to be 'one day a year', so I keep a Christmas tree up all year round; just the ornaments change! And every day I look for some way to give. This frusrrates my children, but they put up with thier old man's 'excentrcities'. And they don't complain about the periodic 'just because I love you' gifts throughout the year.

Thanks Krista for talking about something that I struggle with.

We are a blended family and most of our children are young adults. My partner's daughter, 27, with her own 4 year old, announced this year that she wasn't doing Christmas presents. Her father and I started thinking in terms of supporting her by minimizing our present giving behavior and also concealing it "so she wouldn't feel bad.". Then my 25 year old and 21 year old launched into their gift list, finding out what their 12 year old brother and us parents wanted, and pinpointing what would be welcome in their lives. Practical young people, this amounted to each person listing what they needed anyway and exchanging wrapped boxes rather than each just buying things for themselves. Last night my partner got a call from his daughter finding out what everyone wanted, and I felt better about my guiltily purchased and wrapped presents for her and the grandson. (The twelve year old decided to write a book and give a copy of it to each member of the family, retaining his Christmas money for taking us all out to movies and buying more legos for himself.) Lately I see things in terms of "acting out your commitment" and "every action, however pragmatic, being a symbol for your commitment" such that $1 given to save the wolves or feed the hungry is infinitely more powerful than nothing, in the life of the giver. In my view the symbolic act of thinking about each other and wrapping the presents for each other and giving them to each other and hoping the person is pleased and delighted... the INTENTION of giving, is very very important between families and communities. I do not see how it really detracts from anyone's relationship to Christ. I do agree if it's all about Getting, and the birthday of Christ gets sidelined in a commercial splorgy, how it can be detrimental. Balance in all things.

Beautiful articulated article on the insanity of Christmas but shared so gracefully x Thank you

thanks for the thoughtful piece. Everyone could turn gift giving into a an opportunity to support charities, causes worldwide and I think everyone would find it infinitely more meaningful. It always shocked me that Oprah with her big Christmas giveaway never utilized this idea

We can always look for the evil in this world if we choose that path. I choose to see the Love, Joy, Peace, Hope and Grace that is lived out at Christmastime better than any other season of the year in spite of the foolishness that society encompasses. All the truth of the Christ Child is still true and was and will be forever. I choose optimism.

thank you

thanks for sharing your experience.
It is terrific to seek core principles at their finest when shared with others we love,
extended toward less fortunate ,who genuinely benifit and are grateful for compassionate charity.
we can be charitable in daily practice, breaking the grip of commercialism individually.
preferring presence over presents any time!

Krista won't do Christmas. She's in good company - nor does most of the rest of the world. Albeit for a rather less frivolous and rather more substantial reason: most of the rest of the world doesn't buy "the message of a god become human "

Christmas' origins are unrelated to Christianity. The date, the trees, the gifts, the eggnog, the caroling, the mistletoe and holly, the candles and lights, the yule log; pretty much all of it (except the manger scene) comes directly from European Pagan and Animist traditions. Christmas is (still) the celebration of the Solstice, the most significant annual astronomical event, harbinger of warmer weather and therefor survival itself, for both hunter-gatherers and farmers. The solstice is significant to every temperate-latitude indigenous culture globally, which is to say (almost) everyone's ancestors. With all this in mind, it is wholly appropriate for us Atheists to get into the "spirit" of Christmas--it is Applied Astronomy through-and-through, and celebrating it helped our ancestors survive long enough to make our births possible. Just ignore the manger scenes; they are recent newcomers to the holiday season.

Your comment (I see what you did there with the scare quotes on “spirit” – very naughty) is appreciated, though perhaps a tad too stridently (you are, I trust, familiar with that epithet) fact and reality laden for the tastes of the fan boys and girls (judging by most of the comments here) the producers and patrons (bestowers of grants) of this show.

You could have taken your observations even further and still be on firm factual footing by mentioning that even the virgin birth of a deity is not Christian in origin. It’s just the only time it really, ahem, truly did happen. But that would have had you flagged as even guiltier of waging the “War On Christmas™” than you already find yourself by recommending we “just ignore the manger scenes”.

To be fair, the Dalai Lama, another one of Krista’s faves, is also a god become human. Indeed, the most recent reincarnation in an entire line of such humans. Though, he plays it down just enough not to be seen competing with the One and Only True Son of God (Krista’s) but not too much as to risk losing his cachet.

Thank you for this article as I feel much the same but could never have expressed it so well. I am trying to eliminate this obligatory giving of gifts to friends and family who have everything to begin with. I prepared food for the LGBT shelter in the neighborhood and contributed a grocery store gift card for one of the families my church adopted. If I can fight off this cold will visit a friend in the hospital and two others who are shut-in at home. I think this is more important and in keeping with the reason for the season. Thanks again.

Thank you.

Well said. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
I have been trying to articulate this to family for years, only I do it very poorly.

Thank you.

Thank you Krista! You are not alone with these thoughts and deeds. We live in entrapped in many illusions. Refreshing when we choose to follow a different path often amidst family criticism.

Wonder-ful......I totally agree! Thank you.

The discussion reminds me of the Apostle Paul's teaching on eating meat sacrificed to idols. Eat or don't eat. The important issue is that you not offend your brother/sister.

My daughter and I did this years ago. On a whim we bought socks and gloves and blankets and coats for the homeless. Also, please remember food banks in deepest winter, after the giving spirit of Christmas may have worn off but the needs remain...

i used to be cynical about the whole Christmas thing. But when giving stared to become a lifestyle so my cynicism disappeared as well. I realized that while many people give our of sense of obligation it is better than not giving at all. I too despise our consumerism. The way we celebrate Christmas is simply a reflection of where our hearts really are. So at this time of year I still give gifts as I do through out the year not because obligation but because I like to give gifts. My hope and prayer is that even when people give for all of the wrong reasons that the simple act of giving will cause a spiritual awakening in them.
I have grown to love the season. Perhaps because it high lights what zi desire to be dong year around. So let us encourage more giving and even when "they" "me" do not get it right I know that I have a God who gave it all 2000 years ago and still gives today and forgives today as well. I only have to make sure my heart is in the right place and if I am so fortunate as to get it right maybe somebody will follow me.

At one point I emailed my local NPR station - WCAI - here on the Cape about the 'business of mankind' during the holiday season. It was just TOO MUCH from my viewpoint. So I turned my station off, put on the music and just veered off the road of deep winter holiday hype to the peaceful road of focusing on essence of the 'season.' it's hard and thank you for putting your path into words. I always appreciate the podcasts. Happy to you and yours ....

An arrogant essay.

A smug and An arrogant comment.

This has really helped me get more clarity on how to celebrate Christmas, as being raised culturally Christian, and now Buddhist. But MY BIG COMPLAINT ABOUT CHRISTMAS IS THE THOUGHTLESS KILLING OF SO MANY EVERGREEN TREES. With the reality of global warming, do we really need to kill a tree? especially the really big ones that grace the town centers of most cities in our country? For those like me with sensitive hearts, it truly HURTS to see all the trees being killed. HURTS!!

I appreciated Krista's essay as a thoughtful counter to the out-of-control materialism and commercialism that have drowned out the meaning of our holidays generally, but most particularly Christmas. I give to the SPCA or local pound, and I prefer trees living, growing, giving us their natural gifts of oxygen and beauty. The older I get the more I realize the best gifts in life are somehow freeing both to giver and receiver. I like the Salvation Army with their bells and simple donation ritual. And the poppies on Veterans Day. There's something lovely and comforting about the understatement which makes the experience of giving such a pleasure. I love "On Being" -- what a gift that is!

why didn't you post my comment about the killing of trees for Christmas? It's relevant, and on topic, and respectfully said. ????

Thank you for this article. I go along wholeheartedly with what you say. But what do you do when you're a lone voice in this insane time of year.

I too grew up in a much leaner Christmas environment. Most young people who are not poor are fairly inundated with "things". The consumerist environment that we are all encouraged to participate in has left our children with no appreciation for anything they receive. To correlate it with their ethics is out of the question in their minds and those of most parents. I am left to think back to the 1940's and my Christmas with Mom and Dad and the sparse and simple gifts we had. My heart warms now to a situation in which the material could not distract from the central messages that reached our hearts.

Well aren't you a special snowflake.

♫ snowflake roasting on an open fire ♫ ♪

Interesting piece. Many many years ago I was one of those Christians who knew just enough to be dangerous, and had a pole up my @$$ about how people were trivializing my religious holiday, all the while never refusing a gift from anyone.

Then I gained a little knowledge...and wisdom. When I learned that we did this to ourselves by putting the Feast of the Nativity on the same date as an already overdone Yule/Solstice/Saturnalia celebration, I realized that it was sort of like deciding to get married on the 4th of July. Both things get mixed together, and called by one name.

And so I've made my peace with the fact that there are two parallel Christmas celebrations. One is religious, the other is secular and cultural. And I celebrate both just as I would celebrate Independence Day and my wedding anniversary had I been foolish enough to schedule them for the same time. They are cousins with the same last name...maybe even fraternal twins...and one does not easily disentangle one from the other without losing something.

And the gift-giving...while we do try to keep it modest in our family, I also look at the "obligatory gift-giving" as a time to teach my children about thinking about other family members and keeping an eye out for things that they might like.

We also, though, do make a point of buying things for the Salvation Army tree...or this year, donating to the family of a woman who was killed in a car accident a few weeks ago. It doesn't have to be either/or. It can be both/and.

God Bless You!

Thanks for the thoughtful message and for your beautiful insight I get every Sunday at 7 am in On Being.

Amen…Amen….thankyou, Krista…deeply for writing, for saying in absolute words... for being with me..for being with us in giving up on Christmas….
Your sharings, your gifts of insight, your relentless willingness to dive deep, deep…all through the year….make life better…richer.. life in this culture, in this day…possible….meaningful…ALIVE….

Not surprisingly, this is an exceptionally well thought out and beautifully persuasive account of why a Christian might not participate in the Christmas "traditions." I would only add that these economic and political myths that are so damaging to our cultures are fed by a fundamental myth about science and the nature of reality. We put our faith in and are deeply comforted by science and technology. The myth is that we are convinced that this faith and comfort are themselves supported by scientific facts, which is a distortion of the nature of reality and the mystery of human spirituality. Walker Percy sums up well our trust in science:

"What has happened is not merely the technological transformation of the world but something psychologically even more portentous. It is the absorption by the layman not of the scientific method but rather of the magical aura of science, whose credentials he accepts for all sectors of reality. . . . Such a man could not take account of God, the devil, and the angels if they were standing before him, because he has already peopled the universe with his own hierarchies."

Well said! Personally, I believe gifts should be given from the heart , when moved to do so- not out of obligation. And I have disdain for all "commercial" holidays that do nothing more than place us deeper in debt and make the credit card companies even richer.

Our church started participating in Advent Conspiacy several years ago and our family liked it so much, we've been doing it ever since.
http://www.adventconspiracy.org/

Thank you, Krista, for putting my thoughts about Christmas into words, in a much-better (and kinder!) way than I ever could have. You hit the proverbial nail on the old noggin. I've been struggling with holiday commercialism side effects for many years, but until I ventured into some dept. stores myself recently, the enormity of it all hadn't really hit me at a "soul" level. I found myself crying in the middle of Target, after listening to parent after parent trying to placate their kids' wishes for this, that, and the other. The tension and stress was so palpable, I had to keep from shouting out, "People, people, people! You're all missing the point of Christmas. We've all been given a wondrous gift, available FREE to everyone!" But I didn't, and instead announced to my church folks and friends that, instead of buying endless gifts, I was going to commit random acts of kindness and giving, and encouraged them to do the same. And, some of them did, and shared their experiences with me. I hope what you and I have done spreads to as many people as possible, and that the true "gifts" of Christmas will be given all year round. Thanks again....

After struggling to stay awake through an irrelevant mid nite mass sermon about some bishop giving refuge to an Imam who was being hunted down by his peers, sure leads one to also rethink the modern production of Christmas too! Happy Birthday dear Jesus!!! My gift to you is .....

I am so glad that a friend shared this with me. And I have been a silent, unchanged member of that little rebellion for several years. Thank you for giving voice and plausible action.

you put into words feelings I cannot always articulate. Thank You.

Hallelujiah!!! I have been listening every Sunday morning @ 7am since long before the name change and have spent happy hours at the site. This year I was provided a huge and exhausting (Amazon) wish list expressing the wants of my 2 under six year old grandchildren including a motorized scooter, various superhero costumes, electric trains etc...I dug in my heels but still went shopping. To the extent that my gift, a telescope suitable for moon gazing and yet to be opened, I can only imagine how Grandpa Ken is being thought of over these party days. Thank you Krista, your voice coming loud and clear singing through the commercial fog that I can only barely avoid here in NYC, was more then refreshing, it was healing. P.S. I am looking for a spiritual community here in NYC...all suggestions much appreciated & will be acted on.

Thank You Krista for expressing what i could not say better. Turning it around to help those in need is the spirit of giving that cannot be commercialized. The fruits are heartfelt. Happy New Day every day!

I know that surrounding one's home with lights is indeed secular, but there is something in the hanging of outdoor lights and putting out the decorations that seems to be a gift to others. Even when the front yard is filled with kitschy blow-up Santas or a singing Rudolf, I realize that someone has taken the time to create a display for others to enjoy. I always smile when I pass by a humble manger scene put up in a yard in a not-so-well-to-do neighborhood, just as I smile when a see a 50-ft. tree adorned with lights in my own neighborhood, knowing someone cared enough to risk his or her life to string lights on their tree. I assume that these efforts are done for the enjoyment of others. And I do believe that the lights and decorations are put up in a spirit of joy--secular as they might be.

I wake up every Sunday morning by seven, so that I may imbue myself with one of the most deeply spiritual, politically intriguing, or uncommonly interesting science-research radio interviews that I listen to on WNYC in New York City. Krista Tippett and her show, "On Being", has captured my heart, mind, soul and spirit with humor, great intelligence, and profound empathy. I have begun to read some of the earlier segments online. One of my favorite ones was especially dear to my heart: Alan Rabinowitz's beautifully moving narrative of his life, leading up to the establishment of the first (and perhaps THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD?) jaguar preserve in Belize, Central America. I lived for the major part of seven years, from 1974 to 1981, in southern Belize, with my now ex-husband, Jack (who still lives there); our daughter, Kamil, (the "Harutu Garifuna" of Barranco Village); our former fellow Peace Corps volunteer-friend-in-El Salvador, Ed; his Salvadoran wife, Vilma; their daughter Rosalynn; and various and sundry friends and occasional back-packers. What an amazingly inspirational and astounding story Mr. Rabinowitz told about his encounter with the jaguar on the jungle path !! We had heard other incredible tales of "meetings with remarkable jaguars" ! Thank you so much, "On Being" and Krista Tippett, for these superb programs !!!

Bill Moyers and Company on PBS this week interviewed Thomas Cahill, His new book Heretics & Heros . It was a riveting conversation and very much described my own feeling about what Christmas and christian churches have become in our culture. Your comments only adds to my feeling of great Hope that we are on our way to a better understanding of our yearning. Kindness & Cruelty ,A walk with Tom Jefferson. by Philip Levine a recent poet laurette was even further illuminating about our culture. Thank you Krista Tippett

Yes ,quietly tending indeed. I wonder in more than a few years when grandchildren are born how we do ?

I enjoy your interviews very much.

Hi Krista - Redeeming the Day! Love you post. Over the past few years my income has diminished to next to nothing. I now have 11 grandchildren and one of the most difficult things is to feel like someone looking through the window of a restaurant in the snow at my family gatherings. I can't afford to travel much less make any purchases that would keep me in the top 'something' category of 'giftings'. All of them are very kind and warm about my lack of 'presenting' and I have also made it quite clear not to be gifting me as I have more accumulated over my life than I need. I spend more time giving bread to the more needy year round and giving away 'things' I once treasured and felt were important perhaps to next generations. (They could care less I found out). Now we are busy with a few folks sharing the gift of communion. In our home each morning, others homes, on the street, in a coffee house - wherever the Shepherd leads - there is always a 'tab;e prepared before us'. Its short and sweet and deliberately non-churchy, We do it to share the 'tangible Jesus' in the bread and the cup and the fruit of the vine. In addition we find bread donated each week and distribute it freely to neighbors, missions, less prosperous churches and our street people friends.I love your comments and suggestions for alternatives and the insight about Good Friday vs. Black Friday - good 'un! Anyway just wanted to chime in as a fellow sojourner in the community of faith who by economic conditions can no longer participate in the dizzying confusion of christlessmas activities. More because I can't not because I wouldn't. If there was a couple of extra dollars I probably would try to send the grand kidlins something from 'bob-bob'. I do love them so much and only hope that my lack of ability to give something temporal might be realized in the eternals of the genuine Christmas - where Baby Jesus lay in a Manger to become the very Bread of Life for all us mangy critters! 100,000 Blessings to you, your family and community of faith in the coming year!

I am deeply moved by your essay, as a avid listener of yours for the past 5 years I often find my self in awe of the woman you are, the woman with such great compassion and listening skills, and the magical way you use words to bring others passions to light. I work for a non-profit here in California that work with many young children, ranging from age 6 to 18, with many life challenges and life obstacles, not from their own doing but the unfortunate life choices their parents have made. So when I read your article I was touched that you and many others have found some small and big ways to touch the hearts of our youth, with deep gratitude for all that you do in touching our hearts and reminding us to do our own part to touch the hearts of others, isn't that truly what Christmas is about…thank you!!!

It is interesting to read this perspective. As a non-believer who was raised Christian, I love everything about Christmas. I don't really buy that "God gave his only Son," but I love the lights and carols and food and gifts and family part. I would be pretty upset, though, if I was a believer, as I do think Christmas has become all about the parts I like, and not about it's origins at all. All of that said, I cannot imagine raising young children and denying them gifts when all their friends will get gifts. That borders on cruel to me.

Here, here! Well done Krista Tippett. I agree wholeheartedly with you and am going to have to add the homeless teenagers website to my charity list. Thank you. Good Health to you and your loved ones.

About 10 years ago I opted out of the gifting game. My beloved nieces and nephews didn't notice. Now I send them money in a card a few weeks before Christmas, so they can buy me something.

You again hit the truth right on... about Shopmas as we now "enjoy" the season.. Your abstaining from gift sending to family and friends, and instead shopping specifically for items needed by the less privileged is the way to go. thanks for your wisdom.

Traditions which sustain some, oppress me. Expectations based on (refinement of) previous experience I question. Christmas and other official holidays seem overshadowed by commercial interests. My sense of being alive in the world, awakened fresh each day, refuses to be overrun by trivial trappings of tinsel and glitter. Rather than the usual compromise, I completely dodged Christmas this year. Nope to parties where I would be obliged to eat, drink and make merry. Refusal to shop for presents, even worthwhile necessities, left me feeling free and at peace with this dark, quiet season. Space for meditation and naturally arising inquiry hearten me. I'm with Craig Reed (comments below) thinking that gifts which surprise at 'off times' are interesting and delightful.

Thank you!.
In Quakerese, my response would be "That friend speaks my mind". In other words, "ditto." December the past two years has been punctuated by a rotten Christmass. One of my newest friends also reports having had the givens of her life fall out from under her Christmas Day of 2012. I would love to opt out. Jesus is a fine example. Some amount of ritual can be very meaningful. Much of the music does my soul good. But expectations around consumerism, food and excess tear me apart. Thank you for the spirit you bring to your interviewing and for being an honest and caring human being. I especially like the choice you've made to clothe the homeless and cold.

My wife and I have felt the same way for a great number of years. We applaud you saying it like it really is. Someone needed to, finally.

Thank you so much for putting it into a beautiful perspective. I have refused to go 'shopping' for years and my family knows what to expect from me as it has been the same for several years. They love it and so do I. I re-gift on occasion and donate many things to a local senior thrift shop.

I so resonate with the tension of ritual and commercialism that you have brought to my attention. I feel it yearly and seek desperately to find a balance between my/our traditions of a newly assembled 21st century family and the essence of the birth of Christ. Ritual is so essential in our modern world. Your clear message of non-doing of this holiday has inspired me to find a path for our family to discuss and decide what we WANT as a family on this important holiday. thanks!

We generally have a party on the Winter Solstice (to celebrate the days getting longer) where we see all our friends. Some bring wine, dishes to share, but most important is that they show up. I go to a couple of Christmas concerts because I like the music. I put up a few decorations because it helps me through the darkest days of the year to have the house look festive.
I agree with you about the gift giving. It's just marketing. I buy gifts for people during the year and sometimes wait till Christmas to give them, but if it makes sense or they really need a gift to cheer them up, I give the gift then. I try to give gifts to those in need during the year. I always put money in the Food Bank collection jar when I go to the farmers market. I hope those small things add up.

I've found Christmas one of the saddest days of my year. It seems that no one but me "gets" it. It's not about US as much as about a Holy Prophet of God come to Teach us a 'new' way of 'Life'. Thank you. You renew my sometimes flagging respect for people in general.

I did nothing this year, except visit with friends. Less hectic, more joy-full. Money went into college funds for grandkids.

apples