Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A season fraught with contradictions

Scrooge alert warning: If you are one who loves Christmas, maybe it will be best to skip today's blog :)

The reason Christmas can be tricky to fit into a work of fiction involves its very essence. Talk about a contradictory holiday. To begin, it is set at a time of the year that Jesus was very unlikely to have been born. Shepherds kept watch in the spring, not the heart of winter.

The early church likely set it December 25th to compete with Saturnalia, Hanukkah, and Celtic festivals for Winter Solstice. So many of what we consider traditional Christmas practices come out of pagan traditions. 

Today, there is a powerful irony in how Christmas is celebrated. It is about the birth of a man who preached giving to the poor, healing the sick, avoiding riches, and living a moral, simple, and non-judgmental life. Jesus talked of worshiping God in a meaningful way, and doing that by personally living a life that illustrated those core values. What in today's Christmas speaks to that?

Born in a manger, except it is unlikely to be anything like it is usually portrayed, then certified a godlike birth by three wisemen who were most likely Eastern mystics, sorcerers if you will-- who later Christians would have killed for following astrology. I know the argument that the star might've been a comet. That was to avoid it being a sign in the sky. Cannot have signs in the sky, now can we...


Christmas has been celebrated different ways through the ages. Even the notion of Santa Claus has changed especially due to popular fiction that added to the mythology.

For the most part, Christmas, at least in America, is a time of conspicuous consumption, some giving to the poor but usually as a side note, running around to parties, and spending more money than the people have-- leaving those without money feeling more deprived and depressed than they would the rest of the year. 

Oddly enough, and against Christ's teaching, today the misery of the poor is added to by condemnation. Those, who have so much and can overdo for Christmas, claim it's the result of their righteous living and hence no responsibility to worry about the poor-- beyond a few tokens when the mood strikes.

The decorations and customs of Christmas come mostly out of paganism. A Christmas tree as a major part of the celebration makes as much sense as an Easter bunny-- [history of Christmas trees]. [Wreathes have a long history]. [Lights, we must have lights.] And, of course, we have the time of birth of the light-- [Winter Solstice]

[Santa Claus], who knows if you've been naughty or nice, becomes a potential trap for parents because if they tell their child there is one and they later on find out there is not, what about when they tell them about God or anything else? Santa is a representative of a real saint, or so we think, Saint Nicholas, who was generous and giving. A lot of the rest of what got added to him came out of...

Okay, let's be honest, Christmas has been totally commercialized, a time for the economy to boom and people to get part time jobs or lots of overtime. Not to mention all of this in the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere (where the US, Canada and most of Europe are), where humans should be hibernating (if they don't have livestock to feed...)


And can't forget Christmas cards which can depict a view of a particular religion, proselytizing as their witness or something cute, humorous or scenic. They go along with the infamous Christmas letters where the sender can do a little personal bragging about trips, promotions, kids' events but only rarely going into the negative experiences of the year--  especially not if they were of their own making. The ones receiving the letters can pretty well depend on not hearing from that person again until the next year rolls around. If they were writing regularly, there'd be no need for a Christmas letter, now would there!

Buying lots and lots of presents is a key now to a healthy economy. Stores even name the first Friday after Thanksgiving Black Friday because it's when they hope to go into the black and make their year profitable... stores hope.


To add to this whole rigamarole, of a religious holiday set to compete with other religious holidays, let's add in what it actually ends up meaning to a lot of families i.e. increased credit card debt and many folks back at the stores the day after Christmas returning what didn't fit or they didn't like leading to another big spending day with sales... stores hope.

Broken families will never miss having all the benefits of a whole family as much as when it's Christmas and it's supposed to be about family together. If someone has had a bummer of a childhood (had that character as the hero of Moon Dust), they want to skip the whole holiday season and do something very unChristmasy-- like go to the beach or ski at a mountain. Sitting home and feeling sad about what didn't happen in their own life is no way to get over disappointment. They have to make a new way and it can be done-- if they leave out the imaginary part that isn't there for very many people.

That all isn't to say that Christmas can't be a warm and wonderful time in a story or for a people. I have many wonderful family memories of Christmas from childhood on. 

Growing up on a farm, we had our family Christmas on Christmas Eve; so that Christmas Day we could drive to Portland to my father's brother's home. There it was filled with laughter, lots of talk, and play. There were cousins, aunts, uncles, and long tables laden with food coming from every family. For years, there was a white elephant gift that went around the room as people picked new gifts or took the one the last person got. Big families can have a lot of fun with Christmas.

Then with the birth of our daughter, we traded off as to where we'd have dinner and gift giving-- from grandparents, to a beloved aunt, and every third year, our own home. New traditions involved Christmas Mass and later a country church's Christmas program. 

In my life, there were all the trimmings and no fights that I ever remember on any Christmas-- whether alcohol was part of it or not. 

These days, other than being with my grandkids, to be part of their Christmas memories, I don't have a lot of sentimentality toward the season. A little nostalgia sometimes as I remember the early Christmases when my children were small and think of all the ones who were there at Christmas and now have gone on. It is a season for nostalgia and nothing wrong with that. 

When Christmas and all its energy is used in a story, it can be a powerful dynamic where the writer has to decide whether these people celebrate it in a religious way, healing, time of loss, or a time to make new wonderful memories-- they hope.

No comments: