Warning: If you are maintaining a Santa-inclusive Christmas with your children, please do not read this blog aloud to them. While reading my blog aloud to a child may not be on your To Do List, in case it was, I wanted to provide the warning.
A friend recently posted on FB: “I’m not much of an Xmas person so here is a poll. Should I put up a tree or no? Let’s hear it.” My initial thought was NO. In fact, hell no! I must let him know it’s OK to NOT decorate for Christmas. You see, I have a long history of ambivalence with Christmas decorations. Here’s why:
This festival of Christmas has “forever” been (in terms of our short lives) about gift giving and Jesus’ birthday, the order of which is determined by many factors for each of us. But the history of the holiday is much more complicated. I direct you to a short video for a brief review of this history: http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas Also at this site is a brief but more detailed written history of the holiday through the years that is a fascinating read.
In my family (me, Dan and Tom), it’s never been about Jesus’ birthday because Jesus was obviously born in the spring. Lord only knows why they didn’t claim the pagan holiday of Ostara for Jesus’ birthday as it is a springtime celebration of hope and renewal. Though, now that I think of it, this is probably why they chose it to instead “celebrate” his death. But no, for Christmas, they claimed Yule, a Germanic solstice festival, and Saturnalia, a Roman festival of banquets, continual partying, and the more affluent providing for those with less. So perhaps we are, in many ways, keeping with the original traditions with not only our decorations but our celebrations and customs. [BTW, if you want to know who was born on December 25th, it was the Persian God, Mithra. http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas/videos/history-of-christmas?cmpid=mrss_int_taboola_video_his]
Yes, as a child and even when Tommy was young, Christmas was, for me, about gift giving, which is another reason I am not a fan of Christmas. From the time I snuck into Mom’s closet and found my beautiful China Dolls that later were under the tree from “Santa”… to the realization of all the wasted money on gifts that were never truly enjoyed… to my increased understanding of the consumer culture in these United States, Christmas has come to evoke mostly sadness and revulsion.
This year, as we pulled out the many boxes of decorations at Mom’s, I was happy to help her but I quickly became overwhelmed by the massive tangle of non-working Christmas lights that ended up filling a 2’ x 2’ x 2’ box that will be going to hazardous waste. The thought of all this plastic and copper and glass going into a landfill sickens me. It almost halted my ability to continue decorating for Mom. But I soldiered on. Thankfully, this allowed me to make her very happy as she loves the Christmas decorations. For her, they are a tradition, a passing through time of family heirlooms, a time of pretty lights and happiness. And it also led to a point where we were able to compile several bags of Christmas decorations to give away. We also listed a couple of things on Alexandria Area Swap & Shop so we will make Christmas happy for a few people who need some new-to-them (and in some cases, simply new and never used) decorations.
While I too see the joy and bittersweet memories of admiring our decorations, I have trouble with the sense of obligation that pervades the entire season, including the giving of new decorations. When Tom was little, his Grandpa and Grandma used to give him annual Hallmark decorations. While they were cool – little metal die-cast figures – they became another collection of things. The good news about these is that they are now in Tom’s Christmas box so he can have his keepsakes. I no longer have the job of storing, cleaning, setting out and re-packing them every year. Dan and I have our own small box of family decorations up at the Harn which won’t see the light of day this Christmas. I’m not sure how much decorating we will do in the future but at this point, our current plan is to decorate for Christmas by taking out the small ceramic Christmas tree that Dan’s mom made years ago and plugging it in. This tree has seen years of wear and tear, has a small hole in one side, and has lost a few lights that we were able to replace with new ones from the Ben Franklin ~ total cost of only a dollar or two as I recall. This fills Dan with happiness that his family heirloom is present, representing his family members who are no longer with us in this plane, and it makes me smile to know we’re honoring his mom. I love too that we’re keeping something out of the landfill, using it past the time when others would have simply thrown it out, and not replacing it with new STUFF. This tree represents the imperfection of life and relationships, but also the beautiful way love dispels all that imperfection. This simple decoration depicts what Christmas is about in our family.
I’m pretty sure Jesus would be appalled to see the mass consumerism that has developed… in His name. To see the humongous piles of waste that are built, usually on the backs of the poor in other countries and often by children who work for pennies to create glam and splendor in the homes of rich, gluttonous Americans. Even some churches seem more about the decorations and consumerism than the true meaning of Jesus’ gift.
This year, we’re focusing on giving gifts of health and service and when we give things, to make them meaningful. We’ve given a sheep to some needy family far away in honor of Tom’s Grammy & Papaw, we’re giving YES! Magazine (Mission Statement: YES! Magazine fuses powerful ideas with practical actions to inspire action for a more just, sustainable, and compassionate world. http://www.yesmagazine.org/) to a couple family members, and we are planning a gift box to some friends who are living a minimal and sustainable life as we see them as doing the work we hope to be doing someday soon.
I’d much rather give gifts than receive them. I’m not a good receiver. It’s always been hard for me. Even when I LOVE something received, I often am still hit by the ramifications for Mamapacha or the thought of having to find a storage space for this new thing. So it’s always bittersweet for me. I’d much rather give. This year, when asked for my “list”, I requested from Mom a GF Scandinavian almond cake that is one of my favorite things to eat at the holiday. I am hoping we keep it pretty simple and focused instead on the time spent together, enjoying old stories and making new memories.
We’ll probably be seeking out the lights as we drive around this season. I do enjoy seeing the Christmas lights, especially those white twinkles, simple and beautiful. I’m not for all the blow-up toys and excessive décor that just seems overwhelming more than cheery. I will say, if you’re going to decorate, it’s nice if it actually looks good. We were leaving the movie theatre the other night and I noticed the strings of lights at the Broadway Ballroom. Simple “Z” patterns of a single light strand in each tree. I just don’t get it. It looks like someone just did this to “Get ‘R Done”. No thoughtfulness, no beauty, just going through the motions. “Got the lights up! Check.” This is a thing that makes me crazy. Mom’s decorating, while more than I would do, is at least done with thoughtfulness and meaningfulness. And it is truly beautiful.
One last reason: Red is my least favorite color. Too much red this time of year… Green is good. I’m really a cool colors girl so prefer the green of the trees as they are, without decoration, and the blue of the sky interspersed with a lovely lavender in the sunrise I watch as I write this. These are the best decorations.
In the end, I replied to Rex on FB: “I’m helping Mom put up her decorations and looking forward to the day when all we do is pull out the 18″ ceramic tree, plug it in, and call it done.” Then I edited it to add: “That’s a “no” vote in case I was not clear.”