I came very close to chucking the entire holiday season this year. Not only because the world economy is making it particularly challenging in terms of mustering holiday cheer, but our personal economy wasn't faring too well either.
On the surface it seems any sort of celebration would be obscene in the face of so many people losing their homes or facing the threat of unemployment.
The conundrum, of course, is that right when everyone wants to hunker down and have a quiet, frugal holiday, retailers need everyone in a buying frenzy. Retailers need you to aim for The Best Christmas Ever.
While I sympathize with this line of thinking - it's been governing our economy for a very long time - I'm still not buying. For years retailers have manipulated our fears and emotions to their advantage. Sooner or later it was bound to bite them back.
I have no choice but to scale back this year, and I have no qualms about encouraging others to do the same. It's high time we took back Christmas and turned it into the holiday it was meant to be.
But first let's address the elephant in the living room; the glib, know-it-all elephant that annually needs to point out that:
* Jesus Christ was not actually born in or even close to December;
* That not everyone is Christian but are still forced to in some way observe the holiday;
* People exchange a lot of money at Christmas;
* That most of the rituals we use to celebrate Christmas are Pagan in origin.
Quite honestly: Yawn.
As I said, there is a lot of money exchanged because of Christmas, and it isn't all among Christians. Be thankful if you still get something called a Holiday Bonus or even an office holiday party, Christian or not.
There was, as a matter of fact, an attempt to rid the Christmas holidays of all the Pagan and Germanic accoutrement - by Oliver Cromwell. He almost succeeded too and we would be having very dismal Christmases indeed were it not for a poor romantic-headed Englishman with an ironic sympathy for the poor of his country. The Christmas we enjoy today is not so much Pagan, as Dickensian.
A lot of what is now interpreted as "commercialism" actually started out as a genuine, heartfelt tradition. I thought of this when I noticed there was an abundance of treacley Christmas movies being advertised for the Hallmark Channel, all with suspiciously similar plotlines and requisite tinselly set design. Hallmark's annual holiday movie used to be high quality screenplays with impressive casts featuring no less than the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Glenn Close and Christopher Walken. I guess Hallmark sensed how popular their holiday fare had become and, in true American fashion, now offers up an overabundance of formulated watered-down imitations. Since they care enough to send the abysmally mediocre, Hallmark employed every out-of-work 90s sitcom actor and male 70s television actor that could remotely be decked out to look like Santa Claus.
So taking back Christmas is going to involve some digging of information because we've gotten so used to purchasing the Hallmark version of traditions. The most baffling practice I've seen was a woman I knew who annually had a florist come in and decorate her house, right down to decorating the large tree in her living room. The more unsightly "children's tree" was sequestered in the basement. We've forgotten that what made the holiday was the process, not the end result.
Finally, there is the gift-giving. I don't know of anyone who is not scaling down in this area, but I do wish we would stop with this depressing impoverished attitude and take this opportunity to re-evaluate what, exactly, a Christmas gift represents.
A Christmas present is different from a gift given any other time of year because, for believers, at Christmas a gift is a token; a representation of the gift that Christ was to the world as stated in John 3:16: For God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son.
How does that translate into an iPhone?
Well, it doesn't. And that misrepresentation is the niggling discomfort we've all felt in previous years when, for just a second perhaps, we knew that something just wasn't right.
So this year will be very different at the Jackson house. It won't be as grandiose and decadent as some of the past Christmases. It won't be nearly as exhausting. It will be infinitely more memorable.
It will be The Best Christmas Ever.
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