Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Spirit

I've been thinking a lot about Christmas (oddly enough) and the "meaning" of it and all lately, particularly in relationship to my atheism (pantheism, you know)

I'm dating someone who doesn't like christmas, which in a way is nice for me. There are no expectations, no family gatherings that not only are family-gathering-awkward, but which I am an outsider to to boot! This year we painted my upstairs apartment, which badly needed doing. we kinds exchanged gifts (I bought her a $6 hat a few weeks before and said this is your xmas present, she bought me a used dvd at the blockbuster going out of business in her neighborhood)

Anyway, I love being free of obligations on Christmas, I really do.

But sometimes I miss it, a little bit. I don't miss buying stupid stuff you know someone doesn't need or want because you need to have a present for them and you haven't found the right thing yet, I don't miss the stress of wanting it to be perfect, which almost always made it awful when I was younger. But there are parts I still love, that I wish we shared more easily.

When I was a kid I was particularly present focused. It was all about the "haul" - I do think about if there's a way to steer children away from that in the US without having them simply feel terribly deprived. I have no clue.

But one year, when I was six or seven, I "got" it - I really did (or thought I did) and I LOVED Christmas, without regard to presents. I felt all warm and as one with humanity, full of love and light. Awed at the wonder of birth (any birth) and light in the darkness and warmth in the cold, and the essential humbleness of even the most important people. None of that came in words, it just was.

And it felt wonderful.

And for moments of each year, I feel it again. Very fleeting moments. I love Christmas lights on houses. I know that they're run by nuclear power and coal plants, but in the moments I forget that they bring me joy.

I love knowing that light is returning (which is solstice, not christmas, but really now, to those of us who don't attach mystical importance to the dates and the myths, it's really all the same, no?) - it makes no sense, it's still dark. It's still gonna be dark for a good long time, but it's getting better..... Hope, especially this year, is crucial to survival sometimes.

And I feel alienated, cranky and petty that someone might question my right to celebrate. Cause I'm not excited that that baby born among the critters (how cool!) will grow up to be tortured to death (how awful!) - supposedly in some sort of payment for my sins (how really awful!)

My favorite Christmas Carol from my childhood was Good King Wenceslas, a carol that really has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, it clearly states that it happens the NEXT day (St. Stephen's), and Christmas never come into it. What I love about it is the spirit of generosity. I guess that's what Christmas Spirit is to me, maybe, a concern for other humans, in the part of the year that's hard to get through, where people might freeze or starve or catch pneumonia so much more easily. Like maybe we wake up to each other and feel a real sense of urgency to save us all, not just our own skins. And true connection. The king doesn't just order that help be sent, he GOES, he walks through the snow and bitter cold himself. He doesn't have to (like the page does, he was ordered, poor thing!) - at least not technically, but he does. That thing I call God (and don't) tells him he has to, and so he does. (Of course there's so much in that song about wealth and privilege and obligation and charity and justice - I could tear it to shreds too, but not today)


Latter-Day Flapper said...

All children are present-focused at Christmas. On the other hand, people make far too much fuss over the kids and gifts thing. Unless the children in question are spoiled beyond all reason, most kids are not going to notice that much if their parents pare down the gifts. How many of us remember every single thing we ever received for Christmas, anyway? We don't. We remember a few favorites, but not the whole kaboodle. (And if somebody does remember everything they ever got, chances are they didn't get that many gifts and are exempted from Over-Gifting Syndrome, anyway.)

The things I remember about Christmas were making gingerbread houses, sledding (when we lived in Colorado), building models or Legos with my parents, etc. All of that, I think, is in the Christmas spirit, and none of it requires that one be Christian. We never traveled at Christmas, and we never set up gift-giving expectations with a large circle of friends, so there was never a lot of pressure. There was nothing about Christmas to dislike. Yeah, my Baptist neighbors insist it has to be all about Christ. Whatever. I bring them gingerbread cookies and talk about something else.

And of course you know this, but most of the trappings of Christmas as we celebrate it are pagan, anyway, and we've got the date wrong (because it's also pagan, in an early-Christian attempt to convert pagans. I totally think the pagans got the last laugh on most Christian holidays).

I have mixed feelings about commercialism/materialism and the people who oppose it. I definitely think Christmas is oversold, and that it needs to be dialed down quite a bit, from a purchasing point of view. I can definitely understand why people get overwhelmed and turned-off. On the other hand, I think that it's grinchy and party-pooper-ish to insist that it's a purely commercial holiday and refuse to see, or seek, joy in it. It seems like a lot of people are good at hating Christmas and complaining about it, but then what are they doing to reclaim it for themselves? (Or, at least, they are welcome not to like it, but please don't spoil it for the rest of us.)

There isn't any law that says you must overspend and buy presents for everyone you've ever known. Finding the perfect gifts for my immediate family and few closest friends--and I have an eye out for gifts all year long--is like a game, and finding something that is so them is a big thrill. The point isn't the item so much as how right it is, and that they will (hopefully) find it beautiful or useful or amusing.

Mary Ellen said...

Pam, I like this a lot - and am happy to see you blogging again! I managed to cut WAY down on the buying/getting frenzy, but kind of missed messing with bright wrapping paper. I think I'll try finding small odd things over the year (and of course the FNVW crafts) and allow myself to enjoy wrapping them and giving them. And I totally agree about the spark of happiness the holiday lights can bring - so, let's call it Solstice or whatever, just keep on with some lights in these dark days. (And may YOUR days to come be bright!)