Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oh, Come All Ye Spendful


I am already tired of Christmas. The commercialization of it has always offended me and it gets worse every year. This year, store decorations were up before Halloween, totally skipping Thanksgiving while going straight for the jugular, our wallets.

When I was young there was a rhythm to the year, bounded by holidays. Each one was given its due, and it was reliable. Even if one didn't especially enjoy a holiday itself, there was comfort in the orderliness of it.

Mercantile greed has done away with all special occasions that do not bear fruit which means that Christmas has taken on the enormous task of keeping the economy afloat while assuaging all the guilt we have accumulated during the year. Treat someone badly? No problem. Give a nice present and all will be forgiven.

Lest I be confused with Scrooge, let me say that I love giving presents to my near and dear. Where they are concerned, it is truly more blessed to give than to receive, although the receiving ain't half bad either.

But I prefer to give presents when the urge hits me, when I see something that screams the name of one of my loved ones. This joyful experience doesn't necessarily occur in the weeks immediately preceding December 25th, however. And watching people shop aggressively with grim determination is not conducive to spreading holiday cheer in my heart.

The custom of gift-giving originated with the Pagans thousands of years before Jesus was born. In fact, his inclusion in celebrations of the winter solstice, when the sun is farthest from the equator, did not occur until long after his death. Even his "birth date" was arbitrarily assigned by the pope in AD 320 because Mithraism, an early folk religion, marked the birth of Mithras, the Persian sun god, on December 25th. It was easier to convert people by keeping things as familiar as possible.

I am not a Christian, but I endorse the Christian plea to "Keep Christ in Christmas" because it is an anti-commerce sentiment. In this context, "Christ" should be loosely interpreted as giving meaningfully of ourselves to others, no matter what our religious beliefs or lack of them, because in caring service lies our true freedom. Helping or forgiving someone is a gift which costs nothing and which also brings the greatest return.

And then there is mistletoe, which the ancient Druids considered a divine plant, symbolizing love and peace. Kissing is pretty divine, too, so let's Keep the Kiss in Christmas.

23 comments:

thailandchani said...

Luckily, I can tune out all most all of Christmas.. which I do each year. Any kind of compulsory gift-giving makes me squirm. Like you, I prefer to do it on a whim.

I know it won't be long before I have to get up at 0-dark-thirty to get to the all-night grocery store because there will be such crowding everywhere.

Thank goodness for amazon.com and on-line grocery stores.

Me aside though, I do think the effort of starting Christmas early to kick start the economy (which is the reason) is going to backfire.


~*

Molly said...

I agree with you heartily, no pun intended.....Christmas has become so commercialized I find myself dreading it and feeling relieved when the New Year comes along! I would rather have it be about getting together with family. But the greed extends to the airlines too, in how they double their fares at the holidays---Bah Humbug!

Molly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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Take the trouble!Thanx!!

Nick said...

I do agree. Christmas ceased to be a spontaneous, meaningful occasion many years ago. The whole thing is now grossly commercialised and over the top, a mixture of mass hysteria and phoney joviality. Yes, it's nice to be with your nearest and dearest but the rest of the seasonal hoo-ha is just insufferable. I always say Christmas should be more like Easter - a few modest gifts, a bit of time off, some good food and wine and that's it. Something that leaves you refreshed and happy rather than exhausted and peevish.

Jenny and I are escaping it all this year - we're spending December in Oz.

Glamourpuss said...

Am with you on the spending - it all seems so hollow.

That's a lovely picture of mistletoe - reminds me I really need to find a plastic sprig of the stuff for an upcoming performance...

Puss

furiousBall said...

you're very on the mark with this post. one of the things folks don't understand is the obscene gift giving and debit incurring habits we pass on to our kids

Say It said...

you couldn't have said that better if you wanted to. That was perfect. What's more, I agree 100%. I can't stand the commercialism of it all. Thanksgiving used to be a holiday once. Now it seems like just a reason to buy turkey.

Jonah K. Haslap said...

This reminds me of the words of that great animated philosopher, Bart Simpson:

"Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together and worship the birth of Jesus Christ."

Or, the birth of capitalism.

Jonah K. Haslap said...

ps and that is coming from someone who actually likes the music, lights, food, nog, Muppets specials, and all that other sort of rot. Actually, being Jewish I get the best of both worlds -- I have a wonderful excuse for not getting involved in the gift giving mania, but I can partake in the peripheral celebration. The only gift I get on Christmas is a box of lo mein noodles from Chang's.

Ian Lidster said...

But, with mistletoe, is it OK if I only kiss people I want to kiss? I mean, I'd happily kiss you, but not everybody. As for the rest of it, I so embrace the view that you have taken and it gets more vulgar and more vile each year. And earlier and earlier. A big deal when I was a kid was when mandarin oranges first came into the stores. That was usually just a couple of weeks before Christmas. Now they arrive in late September. And yes, keep the Christ in Christmas entirely for the reasons you state -- and I love the traditional carols, especially by a choir that can make me misty.

Jocelyn said...

Your first sentence does it for me. YES.

I will admit, though, that I get excited about the way Christmas can remind us to open ourselves up to the world. For example, my English dept. is "adopting" three families (single mom students at the community college here, one of whom spent the first year of her daugther's life with them homeless, living in her car) for the holidays, and I am ALL OVER getting presents and gift cards for the grandma raising her grandchild, the recently-divorced mother of four, etc. They all live in subsidized housing, and they all are hungry much of the time, and I am, therefore, ready for Christmas to start RIGHT NOW for them.

leslie said...

I'm quite fond of Reverend Billy's Church of Stop Shopping :)

http://www.revbilly.com/

Cecilieaux said...

Your post makes me want to launch a whole dissertation, not so much to disagree as to amplify ... hmm, I think I'll write a post in response on my blog. Stay tuned ...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Chani,

I love buying presents. I do. I just dislike having storekeepers dictate when I must do so. And buying gifts for everyone at the same time kind of detracts from the specialness of each one.

Molly,

Yes, the airlines. It must be particularly hard for you when your original family is across an ocean from you.

Nurilhakim,

I suspect that you're a bot, but in case you are a real person, please don't troll for converts on this site. Thank you.

Nick,

How wonderful that you and Jenny are going to Oz!!

I love the family aspect of holidays, but the buying frenzy seems inconsistent with the real spirit of this particular holiday.

Puss,

I am quite certain that you do not require accessories like mistletoe to get kissed.

Van,

You've made an excellent point. We should be teaching them better values. Sometimes I yearn for a simple, old-fashioned Christmas with homemade gifts like a child's handprint in finger paint.

Say it,

That's it, exactly. I certainly don't object to Christmas in principle; I just don't want it taking over all the other holidays. Thanksgiving is a nice one. It should not be given short shrift just because it's a month before Christmas.

Jonah,

I love the carols. And the lights, if they are tastefully done. And muppets are wonderful any time of year.

But isn't Chinese food more in the province of Hannukah? I once attended an Orthodox Jewish wedding at which brains chow mein was served. Swear. Sometimes it's actually convenient to be a vegetarian.

Ian,

Your mandarin oranges are my cranberries. I watch for them and then stock my freezer so I can have them all year.

Christmas is wonderful. It just shouldn't take over the entire year -- everyone knows my birthday should do that!

Jocelyn,

But that's just the thing -- why does it take a holiday to whip people into action when so many are needy all year long?

Christmas does remind us to open our hearts (as well as our wallets.) It's just a shame that it takes an occasion to make that happen.

I'm sure that your department is making a huge difference in those lives, and that is what the holiday really should be about.

Leslie,

That's funny!

Cecil,

I certainly will stay tuned. Thanks for the heads-up.

seventh sister said...

I think the retailers are experiencing more fear than greed this year. Too bad for them. I make almost all of thegifts I give anyway. Soap mostly but last year I gave a freezer full of meals to a friend who had company from Halloween to New Year's and I knew that adjusting to being on her own again would be a challenge as far as cooking for herself. I made extra food for about a month and froze single portions for her which she got after all her family left town. I;'m tring to think of something else original this year, maybe candles.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sister,

I do feel for the retailers, especially the small ones who really depend on Christmas to survive. I try to support those stores year round instead of the soulless giants.

I am not anti-commerce. It's been around for centuries and is a good system. I am simply against hyping up for Christmas in September, as happened around here this year, because it shortchanges the entire Fall season and two holidays in between.

Your gift of food for your friend was both thoughtful and ingenious, and I'm sure it was much appreciated.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Amen.


There are still wonders to be see in the midst of all the horrible commercialism, if one looks very carefully.

The beauty of it all is rich in the extra time spent with family and friends, the celebrations together, the love that is more contagious, and the tangible peace that comes, the nearer we get to that special day.

And yes... let there be kissing all around. Lots of it. ;o)

Don't let anyone pee in your cheerios Hearts.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Lex said...

Keep the Kiss in Christmas, indeed!

Commercialization is in over-drive this year, but so is crime. The instances of people being robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot of the mall with their KIDS is astonishing. What is the world coming to?

citizen of the world said...

I have to say I LOVE Christmas. The lights, the tree, the music, the get-togethers. But I do not care for the focus on spending. I don't even want to think aout it until after Thanksgiving. I do think a lot of stores will be going under right after the sales season and that is spurring on the desperate attempt at making as much profit as possible beofre then. I understand it, but I don't like it.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

Um, ok. No peeing in my Cheerios.

You know, suddenly I'm not feeling very cheery anymore.

Lex,

That is shocking! I know it's all a sign of the times but no matter how hard times are, we still have choices. We do not have to choose violence toward others, ever.

Citizen,

There are aspects to it that I love as well, and I also understand the merchants' fears. It just seems tacky and unseemly to begin drumming up Christmas trade before Halloween and Thanksgiving.

I do hope no more businesses go under because that is bad for all of us. Like it or not, we live in a society that depends upon commerce.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Oh, we are kindred spirits, Susan! I try to get special little things for the ones I love all year long - and I, too, don't like having the calendar take charge of my itenerary.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Eastcoaster,

I have never appreciated being told that I have to do something on someone else's schedule. I prefer a more free-form arrangement in which I give presents when I want to, and can focus on one person at a time.