The human race is capable of some remarkably stupid things. A brief look at pretty much any chapter in any history book will tell you that. Of course, you don’t have to really look that far: just take a trip to any mall or shopping center this week.
I have to wonder, if we as a race of sentient life forms could stop for one second and pull ourselves out of our own lives to really examine what we were doing, would it make a difference? We’re all so busy, so caught up in the minutiae of our daily existence, we’re fortunate to be able to navigate our own lives at all. Many of us wear this ridiculous rush like a badge of honor, as if somehow we’re noble creatures worthy of praise for enduring all of these trivialities.
People are very good at getting so caught up in the details, they’re no longer able to see or comprehend the context. We bicker over minor offenses, so obsessed with getting our own way and having our own agenda pushed through that we trample on others and carry on in ways that used to be reserved for villains in Saturday morning cartoon shows.
Maybe if we could zoom out for a moment, look at our lives from an outside perspective, we could better understand how those behaviors impact other people. And perhaps such a new perspective would give us cause to make better, less self-focused decisions.
That’s an absurd notion in today’s world. It’s all about the self – I just want to live my life, be happy, and have fun, because I deserve it; this is the prevailing attitude, and anything that arises to the contrary of this philosophy is met with scorn, disdain, or worse.
It’s this type of attitude that has finally begun to reshape Christmas.
Let’s look at this holiday, shall we? It is considered by many to be the “big one” – the one time a year even the sacred institution of Wal-Mart closes its doors for a few hours. It heralds the coming of winter, the end of the year, and sparks what has become a 3-month ordeal of shopping, decorations, music, lights, and spending money we don’t have on things that will be trashed by the end of January.
Ostensibly, Christmas brings with it joy, cheer, and goodwill towards men. Practically speaking, it brings with it religious and philosophical differences, an even more incessant focus on the self (despite the fact that we’re buying gifts for others, we’re incredibly self-centered about it), and such disparaging, destructive, and irresponsible behavior that it’s a wonder the holiday hasn’t been banned.
Who am I kidding? So long as it brings in millions of dollars for the retail industry, it will never be banned. We pretend like we care about peace on Earth, deluding ourselves into thinking that our self-centered shopping binges will somehow bring about joy to the world. We proclaim that Christmas is a time to be selfless – so don’t miss this great deal on a 42” LED television set! We proclaim that it’s a time to be kind to one another, so we’ll politely tolerate the visiting family members as best we can, even though we don’t really like them, whilst running a run red light and forcing three cars off the road because if we don’t get to where we’re going right now then we’ll be… we’ll be… we’ll be there just a little bit later! And we don’t want to be later, we want to be there now, because it’s Christmas and we just want to live our lives and be happy and have fun, because we deserve it!
Even the great public debate about the religious celebration of Christmas versus the secular is motivated by purely selfish reasons. Do we honestly believe the great debate is about Jesus Christ’s birth, or some intangible, feel-good right to be able to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas? Bullshit. The people engaged in these debates care less about the subject matter and more about having the right to do what they want to do, without regard for what anyone says, does, or thinks. Freedom of speech gives every person the right to their own opinion, after all. Yet, it fails to mention that they also need to tolerate others’ freedom of speech. These folks who act all outraged at a nativity scene displayed in public aren’t acting out of some altruistic need to fight for the little guy, they’re acting out of their own hatred of religion. And these people who sabotage non-traditional or secular Christmas displays aren’t doing it out of an abundance of love for baby Jesus, they’re doing it because they don’t like when someone has a different opinion.
And so to both sides, I say: if you really want to demonstrate the spirit of this season, whether that spirit comes from Christ’s birth, or simply being good for goodness’ sake, why don’t you both take back the truckload of presents you bought and use the money to feed a homeless family, or work in a soup kitchen for a few days, or go down and pass out blankets and coats to people who depend on the generosity of others to simply exist. Donate the gift money to a worthy charity. Or even – get this – treat everyday people with the respect and dignity that should be afforded every human being, whether you like them or not, and whether or not you agree with their belief system or life choices.
What does it matter to you, really, if I prefer to say Merry Christmas, if that’s what I believe? What’s more, why should you care what I believe in the first place? Why degrade and belittle and disregard anyone’s beliefs, religious or otherwise? Why should anyone care if I choose to depict a nativity scene in my yard, or if some organization sponsors a nativity scene in a park? This country got by for many a decade with such abominations occurring, and the sense of community and brotherhood was significantly greater back then.
The answer to all of these questions is simple: it’s to push an agenda. Those who don’t believe in God often belittle those who do, regarding them as weak, unenlightened, confused, or religious nutjobs. And the same is true of many faithful, who view those who don’t believe as soulless, joyless atheistic heathens.
But the one consistency, regardless of your persuasion, seems to be that during this time of year, we should all be just a little kinder. That’s the rhetoric that’s presented, anyway. We certainly don’t practice it though, do we? Some might, but the overwhelming answer is no. If you doubt it, take a drive to Wal-Mart in the next 24 hours. Head out to the mall this evening.
If I may be permitted a brief anecdote: this morning, I came to work by way of the parking lot for Ross Park Mall. I drove around the outskirts and was promptly intercepted by a shopper who was in such a hurry, they could barely keep their car straight. They cut me off and blew through a stop side without even looking. When my turn came up, I waited past my turn and allowed someone else to go first. I caught the look on her face as she waved her “thank you” to me, and it was one of surprise. As if to say Wow, an act of kindness at Christmas. Tell me there isn’t something seriously wrong with someone being surprised at an act of kindness at Christmas – a holiday that we universally proclaim to be all about such things. (Epilogue: I caught up to the driver not twelve seconds later, stuck in traffic. Fat load of good being a jerk did you, huh?)
All of this is enough to make one want to give up on the holiday. I, personally, have allowed the past week, filled with miserable, wet drives home and drivers who are equal portions rude, ignorant, and careless, to get me down. But why should I allow that to so thoroughly influence my mood? Why give the ignorant power over me? I think we as a nation do that often enough of a national scale. There’s no need to do the same thing on a personal scale.
The solace I’ve found is simply this: Christmas is what you make it. If you’re a miserable, self-centered person then you’re probably going to hate the holiday. And if you’re the sort of person who does mark the holiday by helping those in need, then you probably do it year-round anyway.
I’ve always loved Christmas. As an only child whose parents were divorced, and who lost his step-father at a young age, my Christmas’s were always exquisite, if only to compensate for the lack of a father figure. I always received everything I asked for: video games, toys, whatever my heart desired. But you know what I remember the most about my childhood Christmases? The smell of the house when my Grandma baked cookies. The laughter and joy of family getting together. The smell of ham, cranberries, and cinnamon. The fun and unique sights and sensations of visiting family on Christmas Day. That’s what has stayed with me, and that’s what I’ve tried to carry on for my children. That, and being a good example for them. What will it profit them to see me react in kind to an impatient driver who cuts me off or flips me the bird? I want them to have positive experiences at Christmas time, so that when they hit 30, they look back with as much fondness as I do. Because Christmas, for adults, is about that nostalgia more than anything else. We look back at days gone by, as each year comes to a close, and we remember happier, more innocent days. I want my kids to have those kinds of days to look back on, too.
That’s my Christmas. Being with those I love. Exchanging gifts, not because we have to, but because we want to take the time to show that we care. I took my oldest two boys shopping for their younger siblings this year, and let them pick out gifts that they felt their younger sibs would enjoy. They had a great time picking it out and imagining what will be said when it’s opened. They were not expensive or elaborate gifts, but they meant something special. And it did the kids good to be selfless and focus on someone other than themselves. And this, amidst the chaos of hundreds of shoppers running into each other, pushing past each other, in a hurry to find a good deal, oblivious to the true nature of the season, enslaved only to its perceived obligations.
News flash: Christmas carries with it no obligations, folks. None. It’s a man-made construct, meant to honor the birth of Christ. Yes, this winter holiday existed before that, in the form of Saturnalia, Yule, and other precursors. Yes, it exists now as a holiday also embraced by more secular ideals. But it carries with it no obligation to buy presents, no obligations to put lights, no obligations to do any of that stuff. Christmas is just a day, that will come and go like any other day on the calendar. Take charge of your own life, and your own holiday. Choose to make Christmas what you want it to be, not what someone else tells you it should be, and you will have the merriest, most enjoyable holiday you’ve ever experienced.
Besides, we all know that Christmas really came about because Santa, the immaculately conceived and murderously evil son of Satan who was born at the same time Jesus was, went on a killing spree the night just before his own birthday, forcing people to gather at a Mass of Christ (or Christ’s Mass – BAM, mind blown!) for protection. Of course, Santa then lost a bet to an angel and had to do good and make children happy for 1,000 years, but that ended back in 2005… so you better watch out…better not cry… better not pout… or Santa may bludgeon you to death with your own ham…