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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.

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285 Comments

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.

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