That's a simple question yet the answer is not.
It's not because I am a humbug or a grinch. I'ts not because I don't think givine to others is valuable. It's not because I am not joyful or that I don't like all the pretty lights or the decorating , although I personally am not putting any up.
It's because I think that Christmas, whether you are Christian or not, used to be about something else and I don't like and won't support what it has become.
How did Christmas get started as a Holiday?
Many Christians will point to the 25th as the date of the birth of Jesus Christ but this is not at all a given. As late as 300 A.D. the Council of Nicea finally set this date as the birth of Christ yet they had specific reasons for their choice. Some of their reasons were:
1. It was a traditional festival of Sun worshipers - after the solstice the sun appears to "stop" it's motion in the sky, only resuming and beginning a new year on the 25th, ergo, the sun is "born" that day.
2. Perhaps originally as an extension of this Sun cult worship, Saturnalia was traditionally celebrated on the 25th and the surrounding week. It was "... a topsy-turvy holiday of feasting, drinking, singing in the street naked, clapping hands, gambling in public and making noise." states the History Extra article (http://www.historyextra.com/feature/how-did-romans-celebrate-christmas) In the aforementioned article it is stated that it was a change in attitude, from seriousness to mirth, rather than gift-giving that characterized the holiday. Other historians go further stating that it was a time of general lawlessness and even human sacrifice as characterizing the dark side of Saturn worship.
3. As a holiday (or Holy Day) for the new religion of Christianity. The holiday had begun being celebrated on the 6th or 7th of January by the early Christians, although not because that was the birthday of Christ but rather because of the visitation of the Wise Men. The gift-giving of the Magi became gift-giving to each other in honour of the birthday of the Christ child.
What Christmas has become...
It has become an orgy of buying and a time for getting into debt, which no doubt benefits the economy (and those who make money from it) yet can cause misery for a good part of the year afterward due to unwise spending. It has also become a time of obligation in a different way. The expectation that you need to buy a gift for everyone even remotely connected with you. Those gifts tend to be bought without much thought to their relevance and are often not useful to the recepients. It is more about "shoulds" than about honest appreciation and heartfelt giving.
It has created large expectations on the part of children and young adults, which can become difficult to live up to as they take on childrearing or relationships.
What Can We do about it?
I'm not suggesting that the holiday is unredeemable. But I do believe that we need to change what we are doing. It is not really sustainable. I don't think I am alone in that. You may not choose to completely step away from tradition. It is my personal solution but I know it will not be palatable to everyone or indeed not be for everyone.
But how about some subtle changes? What if:
- Giving was authentic - affordable, unique, timely, heartfelt?
- More gifts were old-school, meaning, home made?
- The focus went back to giving, not receiving?
- Time spent on quietude, simple gratitude and time with friends or family was more important than shopping?
Ho,ho,ho - No.
I will not be celebrating tomorrow. I am not condemning anyone who is - more power if it is working for you.
For myself, I don't want to be told when to buy presents for those I care about. I believe that gift-giving should be spontaneous not regulated by culture. And I believe that largely we only give when it is expected. At those times we put expectations onto others or onto ourselves and we find ourselves sorely stressed. That is not okay.
So I wish all my readers the most benevolent outcome for their day - may you find joy and peace for that is surely the essence of the holiday!