There’s an ominous abyss dividing the theory and practice of this ‘holyday’ so many refer to as Christmas. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of borrowed ideas from various sources, which is partly why I think it has survived so robustly in secular society. No one seems to know whether the inspiration for the practice of exchanging gifts was a philanthropic old Dutchman or the three wise men. Either way, we’re not poor little kids, and we’re not the baby Jesus. So what makes us think we’re entitled to all this shit? In any neighbourhood of every city or town that isn’t a slum, look around: do you really think kids aren’t already spoiled enough? Or us adults, for that matter? I know it’s all very fun. But I have that warm and fuzzy feeling, despite the fact that I’ve decided I will not give gifts this year. No matter how much I tell people I don’t want any in return, I know it’s inevitable. I won’t be ungracious enough to refuse them, and of course it’s fantastic to receive some cash – I won’t lie – it’s not like I’ll turn around and give that money to a food bank. I’m far from rich and I know I’ll put it to good use. But still… I just feel so guilty.
Jesus. This is supposed to be about him, right? Well, I think he was a pretty cool cat. He was almost definitely not born in December, mind you, but I suppose it made sense to move his party to this month, when people were already celebrating something wonderful and fun – AKA Yule. Which is pretty much what I celebrate myself. But there’s so much controversy surrounding Christmas voiced by insiders and outsiders alike, and what’s worse is that what the ‘tradition’ has become today is something no Christian could argue is what Jesus would have wanted. People stressing over an essentially obligatory ritual of spending money they probably don’t have to buy things people don’t need, making corporations richer and more powerful, designating an annual holiday as a special time to be particularly generous and cheerful (to be jolly like Santa or compassionate like Jesus?). If Jesus floated down to earth right now, I think he’d do a lot more than flip over a few tables in the temple bazaar in an uncharacteristic rage.
I know, I know. I sound like a grouchy old hag. And if you’ve ever watched Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (in all its psychedelic vintage campiness), you might be reminded now of Burgermeister Meisterburger, the infamous bastard of a mayor whose fascist regime outlaws toys (he’s German too!!!). One can only imagine the creators’ intentions of injecting such stark and layered political commentary into a children’s Christmas special.
The term ‘Christmas tree’ has drawn heat in some urban centres. This is the reality of political correctness. A public institution, especially in such a multi-cultural city as Toronto, should be a venue for the veneration of all religions (if it does make this controversial move) or no religious veneration at all. The argument hinges on the unrelenting Church vs. State debate, and yet even non-practicing Christians get irritated by the fact that you can’t say ‘Merry Christmas!’ like you used to. So it’s really as much a political issue as it is a religious one. If it bothers you that governments and employers try to acknowledge that not everyone is Christian (news flash!), then you might as well just admit you don’t like people disagreeing with your own views, or immigrants for that matter (news flash # 2: unless you’re Aboriginal, you’re one of them). What I find fascinating is that offended Christians seem more concerned that we won’t all join them more than they are about being Christ-like. Especially during Christmas.
I’m a Buddhist, and I’m struck time and time again by the similarities between the Buddha and Jesus, both of whom I respectfully try to emulate, often failing miserably. But whether or not you subscribe to the Christian doctrine, you can’t deny the collective and personal value of generosity, compassion and love. But exchanging presents at Christmas has little to do with it. It’s a lot easier to be selfless and cheerful when everyone else is doing it (and expecting it in return), not to mention when you’re well-fed, liquored up and on vacation. I’d be interested to see how many Christmas revelers would extend such generosity and care toward their fellow humans on any other day of the year.
On a lighter (but entirely serious) note…
Wouldn’t John Hurt (who plays Mr. Ollivander in the Harry Potter movies) make a great Scrooge??