Stealing Christmas?

Posted on December 23, 2011
Filed under Columns & essays, Events & news | 7 Comments | Email This Post

And they’ll feast, feast, feast, feast. They’ll eat their Who-Pudding and rare Who-Roast Beast. But that’s something I just cannot stand in the least. — Dr. Seuss, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Earlier this week, there was a wee bit of dissent among Facebook friends when I replaced my profile photo with an image of Dr. Seuss’s irascible Grinch. I made the change after returning from a nerve-sizzling shopping expedition at one of my favorite grocery stores, which was insanely over-crowded with other crabby holiday shoppers. Climbing back into my car in the over-crowded parking lot, I’d encountered even more crabby shoppers jockeying for position. I wanted to roll down the window and yell: Why in the hell are we doing this?!?

Those who don’t know me personally were surprised to learn on Facebook that I don’t enjoy Christmas as much anymore — although one friend sent a private message to applaud my courage for admitting it.

After all, Christmas has become an official American holiday, so it would have been nicer, more politically correct, to keep my mouth shut. From outward appearances, Christmas is all about buying stuff, trying to digest rich foods we shouldn’t eat, spending money we should save, and reenacting Victorian family myths that don’t always work for our own families.

Bashing Christmas, I’m told, is an act of treason — at least to the most patriotic among us.

But there you have it. After years of studying and writing about the history of its varied (and admittedly bizarre) traditions, I’ve come to believe that Christmas is one of the most contradictory holidays anyone could dream up.

For starters, we all know that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25, and that mistletoe swags and Christmas trees originated with pre-Christian Celtic pagans. Being of Celtic descent, I’m secretly proud of all the trimmings brought to the feast by my ancient ancestors. But I also know that the holiday itself was manufactured by Roman Catholics who wanted to convert the boisterous pagans to Christianity, so, voila, the Winter Solstice festival known as Saturnalia suddenly became Christmas. And so did all the over-the-top feasting and partying that went with it.

Fundamentalist Christians still insist that “Jesus is the reason for the season” — but when you look at the origin of this “holiest of holy days,” you can see that the “season” was also about something else, just as it is today.

Religious faith is not in question here. And I’m not suggesting a return to Winter Solstice revelry, though I think it’s lovely to acknowledge Mother Nature’s changing seasons. I’m just saying that it’s important to consider the origins of all that we choose to celebrate. A few ancient history lessons help to explain the seemingly random blending of Christmas customs such as baking cakes in the shape of yule logs with the tradition of buying computer games and toys for kids.  If Christmas is a time of reflection, we need think on those things too — and what they mean to us.

While I don’t feel a need to explain my religious views or church affiliation here, I do want to add that I have deep respect for Jesus and his teachings.

Which is, partly, why I wonder what the messiah would think of American Christmas rituals and the weird things we do under the guise of celebrating his honorary birthday. If Jesus were to stop by for Christmas dinner, for instance, would he feast on Grandma’s honey baked ham — a meat that’s forbidden by the Scriptures he upheld? (One of my Jewish friends and I had a great conversation about this recently.)  What would he think of all the stuff we buy? Would he be touched or appalled by all those garish plastic nativity scenes imported from China (or the blow-up Frosty the Snowman) displayed on our neighbors’ lawns? Just imagine.

I know there are others like me out there — weary folks who’d prefer to restore some sanity to what is, in essence, a beautiful holiday. I believe it would help if we could unload the emotional baggage and release some of the pressures that arrive in Santa’s sleigh along with all the presents.

A Christmas essay I wrote last year for David Crumm’s “Read the Spirit” explores my conflicted feelings about the season on a much deeper, personal level. I wrote the piece because I wanted my son to understand why I’ve struggled with Christmas every year.  Some of you read it last year, but new readers may have missed it. Please click here if you’d like to read it.

Meanwhile, I really hope you have a great Christmas, however you celebrate. I hope you have some time to be still, reflect, and know your blessings. Wishing you peace. -- Cindy La Ferle

Comments

7 Responses to “Stealing Christmas?”

  1. Sharon on December 23rd, 2011 2:42 pm

    Merry Christmas Cindy! I am with you all the way. When I no longer lived with my parents I knew how I would celebrate Christmas ~ with peace and kindness and joy. Since the beginning my husband and I have bought a few gifts, first for each other and then for our children, and focused more on time together to bake, eat good food, and visit. As adults that is what my children treasure, too. I wish you peace and calm this holiday ~

  2. cindy on December 23rd, 2011 3:23 pm

    Cindy, I want to read your other essay although I’m sure I read it last year. Thank you for your honesty. We share many of the same sentiments. This year, I made up my mind to enjoy the holidays even without my sons here, and I am feeling the love. Every now and then the thought of “when will this end??” pops in. I love my writing routine and the holidays play heck with that. Also with my diet.

  3. cindy on December 23rd, 2011 3:28 pm

    Read last year’s column. {{{hugs}}}

  4. Nancy on December 24th, 2011 12:19 am

    I won’t hijack your beautifully written post with my opinion of this pagan holiday :)

    My “Grinch Hand” profile pic on FB was just replaced tonight with Mariah.

    I Believe … it’s marketing at its best!

  5. Bridgette on December 24th, 2011 3:26 pm

    I have finally come to the realization that Christmas, like life, is always and forever changing.
    The traditions that I held to so fiercly have had to evolve much like our little family. It was very upsetting to me, I didn’t want to let go of something so dear. And during these changes came the loss of my mother, followed by my dear uncle, and then a great aunt.
    I felt like I was losing control of the holidays, nothing was the same, but out of the ashes of Christmas past emerged a new way of life.
    Now I stick to a much simpler tradition, fewer gifts with more meaning. Less decorating and more quiet time. I allow myself to let the tears fall, and they do, but that’s what Kleenex is for. I have begun to allow change to happen, not to fight it. Not every Christmas has to be THE PERFECT ONE, after all, there will be another one next year :)
    I treasure my little chats with you here, like supportive friends we bouy one another up, cheer each other on!
    Merry Christmas Cindy ,and may you enjoy the peace and joy of the season surrounded by those you hold dear :)

  6. Cindy on December 24th, 2011 3:56 pm

    Thanks and heartfelt holiday wishes to all of you, dear friends! Your comments always mean the world to me, and always inform my next piece of writing in one way or another. Always things of YOU. Sending love for Christmas to you.

  7. joanna jenkins on December 24th, 2011 7:24 pm

    High Five Cindy for speaking up! I’m with you about the commercialization of the holidays and spend this time of year tapping my toe, watching the clock, and counting the minutes until it’s over.

    I hope the coming days slow for you a bit so you can take a breath and relax. Sending hugs and the very best wishes to you and your family.

    xoxo jj

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