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!
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