Ever feel cynical about Christmas? Maybe it’s not you. Sure, you could just be a jerk, or maybe you get it.
As long as I can remember, I have been more or less anti-Valentine’s Day. It occurred to me at a young age that there is something a little screwed up about reserving one day a year for expressing feelings you should want to share every day.
I mention Valentine’s Day in an article about Christmas Day because the same argument can apply. Now, I am not anti-Christmas, but I can understand why someone might be. You don’t have to be Mr. Scrooge to feel that there is something a little screwed up about the adoration of the Christmas holiday in both its religious and commercial manifestations. That is actually part of the problem with Christmas—it is now two separate holidays (religious and corporate) occurring at the same time of year.
Both of the two Christmas holidays suffer from the same pretense and insincerity that plagues Valentine’s Day. How Christmas is sold encourages people to see it as a singular, exceptional event. The tag line that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” does imply that every other minute of life is inferior in comparison. Connected to that sentiment is the idea that if you don’t feel that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” there is something wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with you of you don’t like Christmas because there is a lot wrong with Christmas. That doesn’t mean there isn’t also a lot right with Christmas, but this blanket assumption that Christmas is sooooo wonderful and perfect that no proper human being could be anything but utterly joyful at Christmas is screwed up.
How About a Holiday Season of Mutual Freedom?
My hope is to carve out a social place for those people who are just fine with others going gaga over Christmas but want to be left out of it. There is a lot of space between Mr. Claus and Mr. Scrooge and there is room for everyone. If you are anti-Christmas because you are anti-Christian, then you have deeper issues you need to look at. Everyone has a right to celebrate their religion. It is common human decency to respect others’ choices as long as they are not harming others. For example, if you want to string Christmas lights on your house, that’s cool, but if you string up so many Christmas lights you turn the block into the Las Vegas strip, that’s not cool. No one should force anyone to not celebrate Christmas and no one should force anyone to have to celebrate Christmas. These are just good manners.
Not liking Christmas can be either a personal choice or a principled stand. We should respect both, regardless of which Christmas is the issue. As I mentioned, there are two Christmases. I will refer to the religious Christmas as Christmas 1 and the commercial Christmas as Christmas 2. People can enjoy one or both or neither. All of those are okay.
Aside from the cynical jerks like Mr. Scrooge, there are good people who have good reasons to want to be left out of Christmas. There are a number of good reasons but I will focus mainly on one—the healthy opposition to treating Christmas as a singular, exceptional event. It’s about not buying the mythology of the two Christmases.
De-mythologizing the Two Christmases
First, Christmas 1 – the religious one
There is little doubt that Jesus existed. There is reasonable discussion about everything beyond that and of course what it all means. Regardless, it is pretty obvious that if you are a Christian, you should be celebrating Jesus’s birth every day. Anything less is a tad hypocritical. Ask any clergyperson and he or she will tell you about the “twice a year” church goers who only show up at Easter and Christmas services. Even if these semi-annuals aren’t hypocrites, they are displaying poor form. A day to celebrate Jesus makes sense, just like there is a day to celebrate each Christian saint and every day has several saints celebrated. It is a perfectly legitimate to celebrate Christmas as Jesus’s day even though there is evidence that Jesus was born in the spring and that centuries ago the December 25 date was chosen for political reasons.
The point is that if you believe in “peace on Earth, good will toward men,” you should be practicing that every day, not simply Christmastime. You wouldn’t expect kids to only behave around Christmastime would you? Christian charity is a good and wonderful thing, but it is hypocritical to denote a particular season for it. Volunteer at the soup kitchen and clothing bank more than once or twice a year. Show good will toward everyone all the time. If you don’t, then don’t blame anyone for thinking you are insincere.
Christmas 1 can be a bit of a turf war. How many times has a form of this conversation taken place?
“Why don’t you have a Christmas tree?”
The assumption that everyone should be Christian is more than bad manners, it is prejudice. It may just be stupid ignorance, but no one has the right to demand that others worship Christmas. And yes, for some it is not worshiping Jesus, it is worshiping Christmas. It is idolatry.
We see this idolatry writ large in the right-wing propaganda pushing the claim of a “war on Christmas.” These idolaters demand that everyone worship Christmas and to have no other holiday before it. They declare it to be some kind of evil act to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Saying “Happy Holidays” is the common human decency of acknowledging that some people don’t worship Christmas. The “war on Christmas” dren is an attempt to create an atmosphere that intimidates non-fundamentalists into silence. That is more than not cool; that is disgusting.
The turf war over idolatry is a good reason why some people don’t like Christmas. When the holiday supposedly dedicated to good will toward others is weaponized to oppress others, that is just wrong. To call out and distance oneself from that disgusting hypocrisy over Christmas is not being Mr. Scrooge, It’s being more Christlike than the fundamentalists.
Okay, so what about Christmas 2?
Surely because it is non-religious it is free from such militancy, right? Wrong. The pressure to worship Christmas 2 is even stronger and more of a cult than is Christmas 1. The demand starts earlier every year to worship the idols of Christmas 2—the idols of consumerism and excess.
“BUY, BUY, BUY!” screams every advertisement from Halloween on (remember when it didn’t start until after Thanksgiving?) We must buy gifts for everyone. We must buy Christmas decorations. We must buy all of the paraphernalia for multiple Christmas parties. Oh, yeah, and we must buy special Christmas clothing, preferably ugly Christmas sweaters.
Consume, consume, consume. It is the mantra that corporations inflict on us year-round, but it becomes maniacal during the “Christmas shopping season.” Every business has a right to try to make sales, but the crush of Christmas 2 commercial pressure is frequently designed to shame you into buying things. The message is that you must buy the Christmas merchandise or there is something wrong with you. And you don’t want to be left out now do you?
The corporate propaganda works. In 2018, U.S. households spent an average of $1,536 during the Christmas holiday period. (Source) That is more than double what the average American spends on rent each month. (Source) One of every seven Americans sell possessions to buy Christmas gifts. (Source) How can this be healthy? If people were spending this much on gambling we’d say they may have a problem. But the corporations want our money, so the maniacal manta to “BUY, BUY, BUY! or you aren’t getting into the Christmas spirit!” continues unabated.
Short of hiding in a cave all of November and December, you can’t escape the incessant, shrill demands to buy stuff no one needs. Even if you say you wont participate in the excessive consumerism, you can’t escape the demand to be “festive.” You can’t go to a store without being subjected to Christmas music. “How can you not love Christmas music?” some people ask. They seem to forget there is no law that requires us to do so. They seem to forget that just because others enjoy something does not require us to also enjoy it.
Christmas 2 demands that we act differently during the Christmas season. We are supposed to put aside our normal sense and reason and mindlessly consume to excess every Christmas. Conform. Conform. Conform.
Respecting the Non-Joiners
We should respect the wishes of anyone who chooses not to join in Christmas. It is a myth that Christmas is a singular, exceptional event for which we must rearrange our lives and empty our bank accounts. Seeing through that myth may be a path toward actually enjoying Christmas. Recognizing that you have the free will choice to accept or reject anything and everything to do with Christmas is a gateway to freedom. Recognizing that you can show love, give gifts, be charitable and merry, and so on any time of the year and don’t have to be different around Christmas is liberating.
Don’t like Christmas? That’s okay. You don’t have to. The world is built for normal people, but you don’t have to conform or feel bad when you are different from the norm. Christmas is optional. If you had an unhappy family life and have scars from the ghosts of Christmas past, or you are sick to death of rampant consumerism or fundamentalism, say “frell it” and do your own thing. A life without Christmas can be a wonderful life.
Before the institutionalization and commercialization of Christmas, that time of year was acknowledged as the time of the winter solstice. A time of transition between the harvest and the dead of winter. A healthy attitude at the winter solstice time is to reflect with gratitude on the year past and look forward to the coming year with optimism. It is a time for yourself free of pressures. Feel free to take advantage of it.