The Dark Side of Christmas
A little bit of extra reading and thought can reveal a few of the evils of Christmas. Here are several that top my list:
- The Christian Christmas tradition finds its roots in pagan practice and has at times been misappropriated by Christians to oppress other people, especially those in the Jewish community.
- Christmas is becoming increasingly secular and even a public nativity scene can now be defended in the American courts as a non-religious display because of the intended economic implications of the holiday.
- Christmas is hard on the environment with all the tree-chopping, gift wrapping, extra-large-plastic-and-Styrofoam packaging, lights, and general garbage that is generated by the festivities.
- Christmas accentuates the feeling of loneliness and depression by highlighting the difference between the have and have-nots of society.
- Christmas adds clutter and unnecessary complexity to our lives through all the useless gifts that people give us that then require storage or eventual disposal.
- Christmas is an excuse for gluttonous behaviour in a world that is hungry.
So, why do you celebrate Christmas?
Hmmm…. interesting thoughts. With all those reasons, I suppose a more pertinent question would be “Why DO YOU celebrate Christmas?” Your list of the “evils” of Christmas is by no means exhaustive, no are they really evil… When viewed alone, these reasons are unfortunate, but they are certainly not the entire story. The pagan origins of Christmas do exist, and as disappointing to some as it may be that Christmas trees and Santa aren’t in the Bible, just because something was originally pagan or belonged to another faith, doesn’t make it bad. Even our beloved “Sunday” is named for the Roman god of the Sun, “Sol”. As was December 25th. Sol Invictus, or the “day of the Sun” was Christianized in the attempt to supplant local pagan folk religion. It is a practice that nearly every religion in history has engaged in, as one culture and faith supersedes another. Was Jesus born on December 25th? Almost certainly not, and if you read the gospel accounts the wise men didn’t visit until he was nearly 2 years old. There are tons of references in pagan literature to virgin births that predate the biblical account. Trees, garlands, lights… also pagan (but I would submit, no less beautiful). If you are looking hard, there is quite an interesting and dubious back story to our celebration of Christmas. But do these points invalidate our celebration?
Does Christmas have a negative social and environmental impact? That is hard to answer definitively. Largely, western society has commercialized Christmas and every other excuse for marketing and big sales. This is truly unfortunate as such rampant consumerism obscures what is genuinely beautiful about our celebration of Christ’s birth. Do people need to be spending thousands of dollars on presents they can’t really afford? No, and our family certainly doesn’t. But our perspective is exactly that, “ours”… We cannot transfer our value system to anyone else, all we can do is model that behavior which we most highly prize. The environmental impact of our existence as consumers has become increasingly more apparent, and as Christians should be of great concern to us. The body of Christ exists for the care and redemption of the entire created order. Preservation of our planet should be a priority for those who worship the Creatorâ€¦ not just members of Greenpeace. Should we cut down on plastic packaging and presents in needlessly oversized boxes? Sounds great!
As for your point about the accentuation of loneliness and despair around the holidays, this is truly a unfortunate aspect of what is intended to be a joyous season. It also presents us with a challenge and opportunity to exhibit what is most beautiful and Godlike about humanity, and that is our capacity for love, affection, generosity, and compassion. There are a great many individuals and families in our society who daily experience great poverty, hardships, physical and emotional turmoil. It is a travesty that in one of the most prosperous nations in the world, thousands of men, women, and children are without homes, or even a bed and meals to eat. These, the most vulnerable and outcast of our society, are at the centre of our Fatherâ€™s heart. If you want to know how to practice righteousness , you neednâ€™t look any further than those who are broken and hurting. â€œJust as you did unto the least of theseâ€¦ You did unto meâ€¦â€ If the difference between those who have and have-not is accentuated during this holiday season, rejoice, then throw yourself head long at the inequality and injustice!
As for the complexity of our daily lives, this is entirely a beast of our own creation, and choosing. I am a firm believer than when it comes to the unmanageability of our schedules and possessions, there are no victims, only volunteers! Use this Christmas a time to prioritize, and simplify. The intensified focus on family and togetherness canâ€™t be a bad place to start!
Finally, gluttony may be a sin, but really its just bad for you! You are correct, we live in a world where there is much hunger and need. Certainly this doesnâ€™t mean that we cannot enjoy what we have, but excess leads us to take things for granted. Given what we take for granted in our society, gluttony may be our modus operandi for a great many aspects of life.
I would like to submit a challenge, in the face of some glaringly negative facets of what Christmas has become, what are some wondrous, joyous, positive reasons why you all celebrate Christmas? I canâ€™t wait to hear!
Good thoughts and a great challenge. Beauty, goodness, truth. Love to hear from others where they find these virtues during Christmas.
By the way, the beauty of a star can only be appreciated on a dark night. I think that most of us enter Christmas in a kind of blissful ignorance to the darker side and therefore miss the true beauty of the celebration.
Baring including the Krampus in our modern celebration of Christmas (use the google if you’re not familiar), there certainly are some ugly side effects to this festive season. Moreover it seems that the very celebration of Christmas itself punctuates some of the ever present ugliness in our society that exists all year round. For me, Christmas is a celebration of divinity. It is the exultation of the impossible (I’m not referring to Santa’s cross continent chimney tour…) and the manifestation of all that is beautiful. Seldom does transcendence and imminence take centre stage as we witness in the celebration of our Savior’s birth.
Scott, you are most correct as you identify that we cannot recognize nor appreciate true beauty without being aware and having confronted that which is ugly. How difficult it is for us to be ever mindful that as we celebrate and make merry, we do so in the company of those who hurt and hunger. It is my hope that we are only spurred on even more to act with grace and compassion, restoring life and dignity to everyone we encounter.
At first, this article may not seem too “christmasy” but in a very real way it embodies an attack on conventional wisdom that, to me sounds just like Christmas!
“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, copyright Â© 1973 by Wendell Berry
The Problem with Christmas
Every Christmas, people talk about the problem with Christmas. It’s too stressful, obviously, and far too commercial. It’s too religious for some, and not religious enough for others. The reason for the season locks horns with happy holiday banality, the ultimate Santa vs. Jesus pay-per-view. On top of that, the shadow of December 25 extends too far in both directions, from Thanksgiving well into the New Year. How long before we’re putting up Holiday Trees in August and taking them down around Easter (that is, the vernal equinox)? Everybody’s got a problem with Christmas these days.
But not me.
Here I am in nostalgia’s thrall, giddy with anticipation. I’m not lamenting the packed shopping malls or the traffic, or the inordinate (and no doubt unhealthy) material expectations of the young. I’m not railing against the cabal of marketing ghouls who transformed St. Nick into an end-of-year Sugar Daddy, the masses living beyond their means, or the secular puritans who insist on bowdlerizing the holiday soundtrack. Strangely enough, in spite of my reflexive cynicism, the only thing I resent is the de rigueur condemnations that go hand-in-hand with the celebrations these days, all the apologies we feel we have to make for enjoying ourselves.
I refuse to sit through the human comedy without cracking a smile. I refuse to define myself not by what I love, but by what I condemn. There’s such a gravitational pull on our holiday rhetoric, forcing us to qualify our joy. I want peace on earth, good will to men, and forget about all the rest. Like those brow-beaten, shell-shocked soldiers of Christmas 1914, I want to abandon the trenches for a spell and sing a hymn in no man’s land. And if that pure impulse has to be commodified, if the Christmas Truce dumbs down to “Snoopy and the Red Baron,” so be it. I’ll take my pleasures where I find them. Merry Christmas, my friend.
The pressure on artists to think correctly is enormous. We want to have right opinions, so our work gets the nod from the right people. I suspect sometimes the problem with Christmas is the problem of sophistication itself. We can’t experience things in their simplicity for fear of opening ourselves up to criticism. So we hang our lights and wrap our gifts while issuing solemn declarations against consumerism, greed, and the North Pole. We signal our awareness of things we don’t really fathom and can’t possibly change, as if pinning a rhetorical ribbon on the lapel serves as a Tetzel-like indulgence, covering our backsides in the event of holiday cheer.
And now I’m doing it, criticizing the critics, being cynical about cynicism. Enough of that. I have presents to wrap. And to open, for that matter. I’m in nostalgia’s thrall, giddy with anticipation. There’s something under the tree with my name on it, and I don’t have to invoke a pious gloss about the the ultimate Christmas gift to feel happy about that. (Except I just did.) Enough of that, too. Have a Merry Christmas.