My family and I have been celebrating Christmas for as long as I remember, but with each passing year, I've become less and less excited about it to the point that I don't really understand why we celebrate it anymore. This year, I'm not sure really sure if I'm happy that we do. At the very least, I kind of wish that we could replace Christmas with something else – maybe a holiday with fewer problems.
Problems with Christmas Gifts
Most of these years, my family and relatives give my brothers and I very generous gifts – often warm jackets and other clothes. A few years ago, one of our uncles gave us pocket knives, water filters, and outdoor backpacks. Even though we don't venture into the wilderness very often, we still appreciate these tools. A few years before that, another one of our uncles gave us each an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. He was wise enough to think that we should read more and hopeful enough that we would actually do it. I unfortunately did not use the kindle very much for a few years after I received it, but now I have so many books on it that I'm be too embarrassed to tell you the actual number. Today, that Kindle Paperwhite is probably my all-time favorite Christmas gift, and I'm grateful for it and all the other gifts I've received over the years.
In middle school and high school, my friends and I loved to exchange gifts. I remember saving my red envelopes from Chinese New Year so that I could buy them pens and pencils from Jetpens.com. They were aesthetically pleasant, obviously useful, and surprisingly unobtainable from local office supply shops. I still have more pens and pencils that I can use, but I hold onto them in remembrance of those fun times.
I remember thinking that when I grow up, I want to make lots of money so that I can give people wonderful, perhaps even extravagant, Christmas presents. But I don't really feel that way anymore. Even though I still love to give gifts, it seems to me that we don't need to wait until Christmas to give people gifts that they need or would enjoy, and if they don't need or wouldn't enjoy them, then it's probably better that we don't give them at all.
If we want to give somebody something that they need or could use, we can give it to them when it would benefit them the most. Why wait until Christmas to give somebody something that we think will make their lives easier or improve their happiness and well-being? Just as we don't wait until Christmas to give people life-saving medications, we don't need to wait until then to give them colorful socks and sweaters. We can give it to them when it starts getting cold so we know they'll have them washed and ready to wear by the time it's actually cold. When we give things to people because it's Christmas, it's about the celebration of the holiday and the person giving it, but it should really be about the person receiving the gift, the thought behind it, and how much it would benefit them. When it's about the giver and not the receiver, the act of giving is actually an act of selfishness, or at least not completely an act of selflessness, because we're refusing to recipients the full benefit of the gift. If our goal was to give, we wouldn't wait until Christmas.
Many churches and groups, including some by my home, have additional events focused on fundraising and giving during the holiday season. They ask people to donate to food banks, toy bags, toiletry packs, and other initiatives aimed at benefiting low-income, homeless, immigrant and otherwise vulnerable populations. While they're a good way to make use of people's holiday spirit, I think they reflect how bad we are at taking care of those people throughout the entire year. People need food and shelter every day of the year, but these events suggest that many of us don't think to help until we're indulging in our own capitalistic traditions.
If what we're giving to people aren't things that they need or enjoy, then perhaps those things aren't really things that need to be given. They're not things that matter. If that's the case, then the gifts are wastes of resources – results of money misspent. We can do more good by donating that money to charities that could use it most effectively or saving it for when our recipients really need it.
We can give people gifts because we care about them and love them. The things that really matter in personal relationships – quality time, emotional support – are things that we should be giving to each other throughout the year. We don't need Christmas for that. We don't need a license to give.
Problems with Christmas Trees
A few days ago, my father came back with a Douglas fir to decorate as our Christmas tree. He paid between one and two hundred dollars for it. If we pause and think about that, I think you'll agree with me that what happened is at least a bit messed up. The tree probably grew for a few years on a plantation then somebody cut it away from its roots so that families like mine could put it in their living rooms. Then, for some reason I don't understand, the families don't think the tree is pretty enough by itself, so they decorate it with plastic balls, ribbons, and lights. Some families do this with multiple trees in their homes, year after year, with no hesitation. Rather than asking whether they should have any trees at all, they ask, "Which tree looks best in my living room? How big do we want this year's tree?"
All of this is a waste.
I'm not against putting up lights and decorations for celebration. I simply think it should be done without having to cause unnecessary harm to trees. If a family cuts a tree each year, maybe they could plant one in their backyard. Pine trees grow nearly everywhere in North America. Left alone, they can produce oxygen the all year round and live for hundreds of years. But now, we cut their lives short so they can sit in our living rooms for just a few weeks or months.
If people want to put up lights, then it's probably better (morally and economically) to put them on trees and bushes that are already around them – trees in public parks, malls, or streets. That way, when people come out into the public and admire the lights together, they can feel like like they're part of a community. When people put lights on their houses, neighbors and passerby can enjoy them, too. Besides, how much time do people really spend looking at the trees in their living room?
Maybe my interest in Christmas trees fell away when we stopped using the same fake tree and glass ornaments every year. Or maybe it was when I stopped participating in the process of decorating it. When the tree is fake, I don't get the thought that what I'm doing for Christmas is the equivalent of killing a toddler and dressing it up for show and tell. I don't feel as guilty about having a Christmas 'tree'. When we drop an ornament onto a tile floor, it breaks. So we have something to lose when we're not careful. With plastic ornaments, there's nothing to lose, and it doesn't really feel like it's worth doing anymore.
Problems with Christmas Gatherings
I think it's common for families to not have large gatherings unless there's a somewhat special occasion, such as a wedding anniversary, birthday, or something like Thanksgiving. For my family, Christmas time is one of the few annual occasions that I can expect to see some of my relatives and family friends. When I was younger, I would look forward to seeing them. They are family, after all. But over the last few years, the extra time that I spend with those distant friends and relatives has provided me with less and less joy.
Seeing family can be a joy, no matter how often we do it, but one problem with seeing them so seldom is that friendships build over a long period of time with frequent interactions. Without those interactions, family members are still family, but they don't really feel like friends. Perhaps we can rely on them to show up if we have an emergency, but it's harder to have deep, nuanced conversations about important topics or events in our lives if we don't see each other enough to build a meaningful emotional bond. It's especially difficult, for example, for me to have serious conversations about government and politics in-person with some of my relatives even though they are fellow citizens of my country. When we only see each other a few times during the year, we end up talking about the same topics every year, and we cover the same agreements and disagreements. There's no progress.
Only seeing my relatives during a few times per year, during these special occasions, makes me wonder why other occasions aren't important enough for them to visit. I wonder why the event of not having spoken in a few months is not enough to visit or call. The issue isn't that they don't have money or time, as one might think, because they're well into their professional careers and have enough of it to travel elsewhere. Maybe the reason is that we're not really friends after all – we're just family. But to me, that's a sad thought.
I suppose these problems aren't really about Christmas because they're not unique to it, but it makes me think about them nonetheless. They might really just be issues that I have with my family or reflections of my insecurities. Nonetheless, Christmas reminds me that we don't need it to come together as a family to dine and have conversation. It reminds me that we don't need any special occasion to tell each other that we love each other and care about each other. We can do that anytime, and I'm grateful that we can do it during the rest of the year.
Problems with Christmas Music
Every year, one of the radio stations that I listen to the most (the one with Delilah) plays Christmas music on the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. We play the same songs, or covers of the same song, year after year. We teach these songs to children in school, play it in malls and in grocery stores. It's ubiquitous. Why do we need that? I don't think we do. Plus, if somebody sings about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer any other time of the year, people will tell them it's not Christmas time. It's ridiculous.
Problems with Children's Christmas Tales
Besides, why do we want to tell our children than a fat old white man is climbing down our chimneys to give them toys? If we're going to lie to them, I would much rather get rid of the chimneys and tell them that the old white men are giving them clean air and water.
Problems with Christmas Wishes
Some people send out cards to just about everyone they know around this time of the year. On them, they write something along the lines of, "Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!"
But it seems a bit rude and inconsiderate to say Merry Christmas to people who don't celebrate it. A lot of times people say it only because they celebrate it, without thinking about whether the person they're saying it to celebrates it. After all, they don't wish people "Happy Hanukkah!" on their New Year's card. Wishing people a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah would be imposing beliefs and traditions onto other people.
So if people want to send out mass cards and emails, I think it's better to say Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. It's simply more inclusive, and just about everyone recognizes the change in the calendar.
So why do I still participate in my family's Christmas celebrations? Why don't I put up a fight over not getting a Christmas tree or giving presents during another time? The answer is that I have to pick my battles in order to avoid stirring up too much trouble. I already cause a lot of trouble when I encourage my family to use encrypted chat and email and to steam broccoli instead of boiling it.
In this post, I don't even mention the problems with telling people to attend church on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day if they don't attend it during the rest of the year. That topic is too heated for me, and I definitely don't know enough to discuss it meaningfully. Maybe if you still have some trouble capital left to spend, you could take the lead on fixing the problems of Christmas.
In the meantime, I wish you a happy holiday season! :)