So, the post-boxing day (week) sales have all ended, brightly coloured lights no longer festoon every eaves trough and living room window, and I’m left in a contemplative mood. Figured I’d throw down some thoughts about the Meaning of X-mas…
When it comes to the ‘holidays’ (aka christmas, winter solstice, boxing day, new year’s, etc. etc.), I think most everyone largely fall into one of three camps:
1) Those who shop;
2) Those who pray; and
3) Those who don’t really know what it’s all about (don’t like to shop; can’t be bothered to pray).
When I was growing up, we’d often spend X-mas’s up in my Dad’s home town (predominantly Catholic; predominantly francophone), and I remember those as some of the best ones I ever experienced. There was a feeling of something special going on at that time of year – the carol singing, the snow, the glowing X-mas trees in every living room, the ubiquitous baked goods, the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins (who often only saw each other at X-mas, despite living in the same town of population 5000). Then, there was midnight mass at the cathedral – all the town’s (good) Catholics in their X-mas best, sitting hushed in the dimly lit church as the priest and choir droned on incoherently (ie: French) – followed by Reveillon – a huge, hot meal served after everyone trudged home from church in the snow and dark.
Now, I am not – nor have I ever been – a Catholic (good or otherwise); nevertheless, when you linked all those events together with a common theme, there was something special – I’d even go so far as to say magical – about the whole affair. Did you notice that I didn’t even mention presents? Well – they were there too. After Reveillon, all the cousins, brothers and sisters (wired to the hilt on sugar and butter) would tear into the presents under the tree, as the adults found a chair somewhere and fell into food-induced comas. However, the presents are not what I remember about those times. Christmas was more than that.
I grew older, and we grew apart from my Dad’s extended family, as families do. X-mas with my folks and my sister was still one of the most special times of the year, but it never seemed quite so magical, in comparison to the ones spent in franco-land. I’m an atheist, as was my sister by default (this was back when she did anything her big brother did), and my parents were devout non-practitioners of their own parents’ faiths, so no element of religiosity ever entered our holiday season. Once I began to earn my own money, I needed to spend it, of course: I vividly remember spending hours in the mall with my secret little list, buying hundreds of dollars of useless junk for each of my family members. And as time went on, that’s what X-mas became for me: buying and receiving junk.
(yes, Mother – it was also about spending time with each other, and enjoying a nice meal. Now get out of my head.)
Now, we come to the present (as in present tense, not presents from Santa). Neither hubby nor I can stand shopping. Yeah, I know – not terribly gay of us. On top of this, we have both adopted a sort of non-materialistic philosophy where we’ve realized that possession of crap just ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. He and I have been purging junk from our attic, garage, closets, etc. for years, and (before we got the boys) we’d reached a good balance in our house of more useful stuff than junk. Yeah, and then came the boys. Baby towels, baby cloths, baby bibs, baby socks, baby onesies, baby sleepers, baby blankets, baby crib sheets, baby powders, baby oils, baby lotions, baby soaps, baby ointments, baby seats, baby soothers, baby toys… then wait one year, replace most of the ‘baby‘s with ‘toddler‘s, and start over. UGH.
So we have a situation where 1) we don’t like to shop (aka: acquire junk); and 2) we don’t pray (and won’t, even for the sake of X-mas). So that leaves us as category 3’ers: we don’t really know what X-mas should be all about (combine that with the fact that we’re still learning how to be a family with two dads, and you can imagine some of the conversations that hubby and I get into late at night).
And finally, we get to our two boys – one of whom has reached the age where Santa and presents and snow make him squeal with toddler delight. What kind of memories do we want our sons to have about X-mas, when they’re all grown up and writing their own blogs? I desperately want X-mas to mean more than just acquisition of
material goods crap, but I’m not interested in following the rituals of one religion or another, simply because they’ve decided that the season is theirs (hey – it’s originally pagan, folks, plus the likelihood of Jesus having been born on the 25th of Dec – much less in the year ‘0’ is next to nil… but who cares about details?).
So what’s left, if you take away traditional rituals and presents? (yes, Mom – a nice meal with family – I KNOW). Ahem… You’re left with a nice meal with family. Which is basically Thanksgiving 2.0. Thanksgiving is nice, but X-mas should mean something… more. Incidentally, Hubby and I have had a no-presents-X-mas (we forced it on his parents one year). It sucked. There was nothing jolly about that X-mas.
SOLUTION: I think the key is in moderation, and variety ==>
1) Rituals and ceremonies add magic to the season, but they don’t have to be religious in nature:
- celebrate the solstice;
- make the Santa Claus parade a yearly event, followed by a nice meal with friends;
- make a yearly ritual out of putting up a tree, some lights and starting to play X-mas music;
- make sure to make a snowman, if it snows enough before X-mas day;
- help out at a food bank over the holidays, or make a donation to a canned food-drive (do this each year);
- establish a special routine for X-mas day – certain meals or events that only happen on that day; and, speaking of meals…
- plan at least one nice meal* with extended family and/or friends (see, Mom – I do listen).
2) Presents are fun and exciting (especially for kids), but quality should be the focus, rather than quantity:
- one special present per kid, with a small stocking stuffer for each adult;
- make present-buying one of the rituals of the holiday season – a time to go into town and enjoy the lights, music and mood of the season; and
- make present-opening another, small ritual, placed between other rituals or events, so that it doesn’t dominate the mood of the day (a family walk with the dogs in the woods, followed by presents, followed by a nice family brunch, for example).
*meals – your X-mas meal can become an elaborate ritual in itself, with multiple courses, courses that only appear on X-mas day, party favours and X-mas crackers, mini-games at the table, taking time to reflect on the year, as you eat, etc. etc.
Anyways – X-mas is over, and nobody likes to dwell on X-mas after the fact, so I’ll stop there. But if you’re so inclined, drop me your thoughts regarding the meaning of the holidays, and about how you might make your own Christmas more meaningful in future years.
Oh… and Happy Belated New Years to you all!!!