The Press Republican

Wiley Wandering

« Responding To The Words “I Love You!” | Main | New Year’s Resolutions and Wishes: Yours and Our World’s »

This Christmas: Is the Best Gift a So-called Christian-like Conversation?

I remember, as if it were yesterday, being genuinely excited about Christmas. I specifically remember one Christmas when I was about six years old. My mother bought me a yellow Yogi Bear record and I thought I had the best gift ever. Why that gift stays in my mind, overriding all other gifts I ever received at Christmas times before I don’t know, but it does. Am I the only one who remembers a certain gift they received?

What is even more interesting about that one Christmas was that I don’t really recall my father’s presence. I had no context of what was really happening in the world around me. Yes, it was all about me! My mother was still in her twenties, my siblings were nine, five, and three. I am sure we were on some type of state-federal assistance, though my mother was working and her sister was watching my non-school age siblings. I’m pretty sure Pops was incarcerated but I only know that in retrospect since Mom isn't interested in revisiting specific aspects of all that drama. I don't blame her!

Holidays are really difficult for me now. I love to see my children excited about receiving gifts. I love to have the opportunity to teach them about giving. But I don’t enjoy knowing that the sentiment behind Christmas is far too often lost in its commercialization. Of course I don’t tell my children this. It would be too Scrooge like. But there is no doubt that they will reach an age where we will talk about it. How many of you are prepared to have that conversation with your children?

I also struggle with the concept of Christmas decorations. Since I am not excited about the conflicting messages of the holiday, my not contributing to the decorating of our home is a clue for my children that something is up with Dad and Christmas. Maybe I am subconsciously planting a seed in my children so that our Christmas conversation happens sooner than later. Of course my conversation about Christmas becomes more complicated because of the black holiday celebration Kwanzaa. My children will no doubt ask me why is it necessary for black people to have a different holiday (as Jewish children are apt to do with their parents, I imagine). That conversation won’t be easy.

My children have asked me about Santa Claus and his decisions. Someone help me answer my little girl’s question: Why does Santa give better gifts to rich kids than poor kids?” Does the Santa Claus story--wherein Santa checks his list to see who is naughty and nice--somehow contribute to a devaluing of the poor, who may be less apt to receive multiple-high end gifts due to the finanicial struggles of their family? The kids know the story and may subconsciously see one another through a Santa Claus influenced, reward-based, constructed lens that at a young age they are incapable of deconstructing (as if all adults have this ability). In other words, is it possible that our society exacerbates the distance between wealth and poverty with holidays that hint at behavioral rewards (gifts) based on merit when in actuality Santa's going to hook you up based on what she/he can afford.

Does the Christmas - Santa Claus story further promote patriarchy? How so? Is the Santa Claus story problematic across socio-economic lines when you consider communities like Plattsburgh and Peru? We live in a community where at any given moment you can be in line at a store sandwiched between a wealthy family and an impoverished one. Since our children go to the same schools, what is the reality after holidays? How many of us/you talk to our/your children about being appreciative of what they receive, but also aware that everyone isn’t having the same type of Christmas that they are? How many of us are overcompensating with our children by giving them a Christmas that we subconsciously wish we had in our youth? How many of you consciously witness how deeply immersed our society is in the marketing of certain holidays to the point of the actual meaning of the day itself being lost in translation? Have we somehow lost sight of the Christ that is supposed to be essential in Christmas?

What do we do about this Christmas holiday? Do we keep the Christmas marketing machine in place with all its flaws, or one by one, family by family, friend to friends/associates do we cautiously, logically, systematically debunk the Christmas hype? What are your thoughts?

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://blog.pressrepublican.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/146

Comments

Wow! Take me places…preferably to a White Christmas.

It’s all about the gifts, the giving, the receiving, rather the deceiving. Whoever created the idea of Santa Claus was a genius. I am not condoning an attempt to further white supremacist capitalistic patriarchal ways of thinking, but whomever collectively came up with a way to leave a permanent mark on this world through one man was…

You can finish the sentence yourself. I’d love to see what everyone comes up with. My previous rant is a setup for this: Santa is a male, like most of our society’s heroes, signifying that he, and all his male reindeer, are the only ones who can make it around the world in one night. This must be an impossible task for women, represented by his wife who stays at the North Pole making cookies and looking after the elves (children?) Santa travels the world, getting fat with Christmas cookies, then comes home to relax and make his list, checking it twice and there’s his year…until next Christmas.

That’s what I can imagine my childhood friends across the street would think. Next Christmas. That’s when I’ll get a gift. Why did Santa forget me?

He didn’t. Remember he checked that list twice and you definitely weren’t on it. Is that you’re fault? Are you naughty because you were born into an underprivileged economic situation? If I was reminded every year how naughty I was because my family didn’t have the funds to monetarily signify their love (when really, we buy things to get more love), I might fall into the trap of acting out the play being handed to me, exactly the way the writer wants. I might just be bad if I’m encouraged to be.

These children grow up into adults and the adults get locked up for crimes because they are “naughty.” Meanwhile on the other side of the class line, children who Santa deems “nice” receive gifts, telling them that no matter what they do, they will be rewarded. This gives them the right to continue doing whatever it is that makes them happy, it’s all good if good is how you feel.

Imagine being the kid who receives then doesn’t, then gets gifts again next year. What’s going through that mind?

I’m not bashing gift giving as a whole. I just believe in unseen gift giving. It’s more productive and unifying if you ask me…so ask.

*** Viatris, you make some very strong points in support of my concerns regarding the holiday. What is your address? I want to mail you a Christmas present to show my appreciation for your support (and to perhaps further manipulate you so that you don't consider the effects of how I am positioning myself to continually exploit you while you gleefully unwrap presents instead of unwrapping the hidden messages underlying those gifts). So, can I get that address? *** -- J.W.

I don't think any holiday can really stand up to close scrutiny. And while I think Christmas is an excellent time to be mindful of people in the world who are poor, lonely, or oppressed ... and maybe do something to improve their lot ... I also think that we should all feel fine about simply enjoying the year-end holidays (whichever ones we celebrate) without analyzing them too much. In that spirit J.W., happy holidays!

*** AP, I can appreciate your position on the holidays, especially Christmas. As I mentioned, I am in conflict about the holiday myself and will be celebrating it in some form and fashion with my family and friends, or as you say "simply enjoying the year-end holidays." As much as I love people and good times I don't want to appear Scrooge like.

On the other hand, with children that are as inquisitive as mine I don't have the privilege of ignoring some of society's contradictions, but instead must be prepared to engage them. For example, I am curious as to what you might have said in response to my daughter's question if she had asked that of Uncle Andrew.

I know you caveated your response by saying "without analyzing them (the holidays) too much," but isn't this what we do Andrew. Aren't we in the business of challenging society's paradigms for how they engage/disengage certain constituents. One could argue that in exempting the holidays because they are the holidays we give marketeers free reign to continue their subtle exploitation of our consumer driven culture. How did Christmas become a day to greet a red suited man, to make him feel welcome judging our children's behavior and rewarding it as he sees fit. Am I analyzing this? Yes! overanalyzing this? Possibly, but that would depend on the person who had/had not considered the perspective I'm offering! If discussions like this inspire even a few to take their heads out of the sand and see the marketing of some of these holidays for what they truly are, I'm sorry AP, but I think it is worth it. I am fortunate enough in my life to be surrounded by such people who enlighten me often about things I had never considered. You have done this often yourself.

I know once my (extended) family started really thinking about the commercialization of certain holidays (especially Christmas) we began to respond to those holidays diffferently. My mother and step father used to give grand gifts and welcome them as well. They modeled for us that they would appreciate if we would not give them gifts any longer, but instead donate whatever amount we would have spent on gifts for them to charities that they designated.

Significant change starts, like the journey of a thousand miles, with a single step! Happy Holidays to you and yours as well my brother! *** -- J.W..

JW-

I always believed that Christmas was supposed to have a “feel” to it: one that gets you in the spirit (or gets the spirits into you). To me the spirit encompasses the joy and wonderment of being a child on Christmas morning. Things have definitely changed from what I knew and loved to what I am seeing now. Like you, I’ve struggled with the commercialization of Christmas and whether there is any meaning left to this holiday. Holidays seem to blend into the next punctuated by the newspaper fliers announcing the NEXT upcoming holiday sale (often months in advance), as if one would blow through a month and forget to celebrate St. Patrick’s march on Tiananmen Square. Obviously this is important to the retailers but not to me. However, we must be ready to “buy” and celebrate. Overall I think that families have lost any sense of traditions. We’re too busy and more focused on the gift and the meal than one another – or let alone the significance of the day. You don’t hear the word “tradition” used any more but rather “Whatcha get me? Bring it on! and Get it over”.

To each of us Christmas has its own meaning be it spiritual, personal or whatever. As a parent I’ve emphasized to my daughter that Christmas, despite its trappings, is an opportunity to recognize the people around you: your immediate family – the ones who surround you each day. Take the time out, be grateful and say “thanks”. Every day should be like this but we know it’s not. My family tradition that has been passed onto my daughter involved not traveling on Christmas day. Rather we tried to regroup, share, kick back, relax and be thankful as a “family” for the many blessing we have received. We’ve been celebrating like this for the past 24 years. When my daughter has a family of her own I expect them to be celebrating together. I’m not expecting my daughter to pull her child away from her toys (or me from mine) just so they can travel for hours on the dreaded sleigh ride to a relative’s house for the “holiday dinner”. This year my wife and her stepdaughters want us to celebrate Christmas day dinner with her family. My daughter and I will be standing in the driveway waving goodbye and wishing them a safe four-hour journey. We’ll then enjoy some father/daughter quality time (even if that means she’s reading a book and I’m outside tossing a ball for the dogs) and cap the day with a special Christmas dinner. This is my one chance to hold my grown daughter in my arms and say, “I love you”. Call it tradition, selfishness, or whatever you like. I’m not missing this moment for the world.

But JW, if you’re struggling with the concept of Christmas decorations then you need to spend some time in south Florida. Christmas trees go on sale by the third week of November, palm trees are festooned with lights, inflatable “snow globes” dot the neighborhoods, Santa is holding a Menorah (or the Menorah is illuminating the nativity scene), temps in the high 80’s, radios blare Christmas carols, the police issue warnings for home owners to make sure they “lock” their doors as the crime rate soars this time of year as throngs of arrogant, pushy shoppers swarm the malls. It’s a sterile holiday feeling for a time of year I used to enjoy so much. Welcome to the new version of Christmas for this former North Country boy.

Meanwhile my $100 (live) Christmas tree is decorated and stands proudly in my living room dropping needles by pound. If the outside temperature stays reasonable I may be able to strings some lights and avoid heat stroke like last year.

This is Christmas???

Hey JW
First things first - hey viatris, who said all of Santa's reindeer were male? I mean, they may be in all the old clay-mation holiday cartoons, but, if you just take the names - I don't really see any that are obviously male or female. And the myth of Santa Claus, or something like him, is thousands of years old and takes many forms in many cultures. The commercialization of the figure is a relatively modern occurance.

Ok - got that off my chest.
You've got a pretty deep girl there, JW. If she's mature enough to ask that question, she's probably mature enough to have the Santa talk. I never thought of how a child might perceive the whole "nice=lots of cool toys" thing. But now that I think of it, I must absolutely admit that I did exactly what you suggest when I was a young boy - I figured the kids that didn't get the same stuff I got for Christmas must have deserved not to. Wow, did that just bring a whole slew of issues into focus for me.
I don't know how old your little girl is, JW, but, if my son ever asked me something like that, I'd think it was time he knew the truth, lest I/he perpetuate the idea that cool toys=merit. What a great opportunity to have an amazing conversation with your daughter - I've always found a coffee shop and some hot chocolate a great setting - maybe after some sledding.

Christmas is almost two holidays for me. For sure, I buy in (no pun intended) to the commercialization of it all. I mean, I don't LIKE that I do it, but, I have to admit that I get a charge out of giving people stuff they want or need, especially my wife and kids. And I will admit I like the anticipation of seeing just what might be under the tree for me too.
But for me, more importantly, is the spiritual nature of the holiday. It's a time of new begining, new chances to get things right. It's a time to celebrate a community of faith, that despite its well-documented imperfections, provides a spiritual and moral base for hundreds of millions of people.
And I'm not so concerned about the patriarchal nature of the holiday. Why does "patriarchal" have to equal "bad" anyway? Holidays remind us that there is something greater than ourselves and allows us to be part of it. Holidays or, holy-days, encourage many to cure old grudges, ease the suffering of others, be the best "us" we can be.
Cynics among us might say I'm just a patsy for a myth perpetrated to keep the serfs in line while the lords of the manor laugh at us. I'm good with that. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

During my childhood I remember my father announcing every year how tough Christmas was going to be. It was seemingly a warning for my brothers and I. In other words, "Don't expect a lot...don't get your hopes up too high." He said it every year. It was a tradition to a certain extent. The funny thing was, I remember waking up each year on Christmas to a living room filled with gifts. I can't remember ever feeling like I didn't get enough. I can't remember ever being disappointed about not getting something I had asked for. But somehow, year after year, I believed his words as he spoke them. To this day, I am not quite sure if in some ways he knew it would be hard, but he also knew he would find a way to provide a decent Christmas for us despite his finances. Maybe it was some what of an exaggeration in order to maximize the element of surprise on Christmas morning. I can't say for sure, but it's something I've never forgotten. I always appreciated how my parents managed to give so much on Christmas, but at the same time I sensed the burden that it placed on them and that stressed me out.

As harsh as this may sound to some, I'll admit I don't look forward to most of what Christmas has to offer. I become annoyed with the TV commercials as well as radio and newspaper ads. Every where you go or look, you are pressured by commercialism. More importantly, as Viatris and J.W note is the need to be concerned with the mixed messages children receive. Far too real to be shrugged off as irrelevant is the fact that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17.4% of American children were impoverished in 2006. Need I say anymore?

Did anyone catch WPTZ's news this morning? There was a story which featured the dangerous stress of the holidays citing December 25, 26, and one other day early in January, as the days people are most likely to suffer, possibly die, from a heart attack. Well, go figure.

And yes, Santa has an aura, that to me, has become synonomous with deceit. At first it seems harmless to entice your little child with the fantasy, but it becomes a tremendous weight to carry year after year. Telling "white" lies to cover up more lies about Santa as they eventually become mature enough to realize you have been lying to them all these years. Usually, an older sibling or a friend becomes the informant as they reveal what a fake Santa's been and that they were lied to by their parents. But it's justified because it was all done in the spirit of Christmas, right?

Even the Christian aspect of Christmas seems ironic. Christians believe Christ came to establish truth yet the day which celebrates his birth,(which isn't even his birthday) is characterized by myth and deceit rooted in ancient Paganism!

The holidays may prove to be a good time with family and friends, but how many people just go through the motions because it is tradition? The most meaningful times I share with my family are those in which we are gathered simply because we want to be together for no specific reason other than to enjoy each other's company.

Although I despise the commercialism of the Holidays, I enjoy some of the traditions our family shares which have become associated with Christmas. Traditions are good in many ways. They are so comforting and reassuring, giving us a sense of balance and security. However, I agree It is important to leave the comfort zone from time to time, peel away the shiny veneer and examine what lies underneath.

I enjoy Christmas...it's one of my favorite times of year. I've always liked the lights, the snow, and yes, the presents.

It bothers me when people around me complain about the commercialization of Christmas. Do these same people complain the rest of the year about commercialization of everything else in our lives? I don't find that to be the case.

It has become vogue to criticize Christmas. We better say Happy Holidays...for fear of offending. Santa's shouldn't say "Ho, Ho, Ho", they should say "Hi, Hi, Hi".

The responsibility for teaching one's kids about the meaning of Christmas falls on each family...not the public...or those institutions promoting Christmas as a commercial event.

Christmas is about the miracle of life...about caring for those closest to you, and for those you don't even know. My parents taught me to act no different toward others at Christmas time than at any other time of year. In other words...why should I act nicer, or more charitable, at Christmas than at any other time of year? Christmas in our house was a time to celebrate the birthday of a special little boy who taught the world how to live with love.

I recognize the difficulty of dealing with the concept of inequity with children. Kids are very aware, and notice things that don't seem fair. But do these kids have parents that instill in them the real meaning of Christmas? Or is it unfair that they didn't get the presents they wanted because everyone is entitled to what they want at Christmas?

I remember asking for a lot of things when I was little. I didn't understand money, and bills, and adult responsibilities. I thought I would get whatever I wanted. But now in hindsight, I know my parents did their best to "prep" me (without ruining the concept of Santa and Christmas) when I wasn't going to get what I wanted. In essence...they TALKED to us...alot. We knew my parents loved us, and that love is what I remember about Christmas more than any particular gift.

1) Still, at age 27, my mother will critize me everytime time I tell her that I told a white lie to someone. My response is that I remember all the white lies she told me when I was a boy, Santa Claus being one them. I don't know if a lie about Santa or the Easter Bunny adds to the level of deceit in this country, but I can say that this thought has crossed my mind on several occasions. Many parents raise kids under the preface that sometimes lying is ok to protect a child. I was told white lies, now I myself tell white lies. Personally, I'm not sure that I will raise my child in the same way I was raised.

2) As for Christmas & family; my extended family is large, and I dont see them very often. This upcoming holiday weekend I have three family xmas parties in three nights. I couldn't be more excited as for the first time in a year we will all be together. For this reason I am thankful.

3)I agree with your point about the capitalistic aspect of gift giving. Exchanging gifts can be pointless, burdensome, and expensive. Also, as the Ipods and other expensive electronics become popular, the gap between the well off and less fortunate may widen. My brother & I have been exchanging gifts for years and essentially we have been exchanging useless stuff that neither of us use. Talk about a waste. I would love to break this tradition. But I must qualify this last point; as someone who works in economics & finance ( not spelling or grammar as you can tell) spending around the holidays is very vital to our economy as a whole as well as our overall level of well being. We as an economy are consumption based and I suspect, sorry to say, all this spending probably benefits the overall ecomic pie in some way. Statistically speaking on average, each person spends about $700 on gifts around the holidays. The spending tends to have a multiplier effect the results in more jobs and opportunity. They dont call it black Friday for nothing.

J.W.- Happy holidays from Albany NY and keep up the good work!

You've certainly asked a lot of questions!

Why should there be any problem with celebrating Christmas and Kwanza? Irish people celebrate St. Pat's (talk about a commercialised holiday), Germans celebrate Steuben Day, Polish-Pulaski Day. Then there's Chinese New Year, Puerto Rico Day, on and on and on.

People like to celebrate their heritage. Of course there are much deeper reasons, too, but you know that better than I.

If your daughter is perspicacious enough to ask that question, you might want to consider coming clean about the Santa question (perhaps with "Yes, Virgiinia, There is a Santa Claus" in hand).

Yes, Christmas can be very hurtful for children who have little or nothing. It's good for children who have more to be shown that giving can be better than receiving.

As for the commercialism, well, we don't have to buy into it. How much or whether we succumb to it is up to us.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

P.S. Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen are all does, and Mrs. Clause is the brains of the operation. She kicks old Santa out to freeze his, er, nose, while she sits back, reads the birth narratives and enjoys a hot toddy.

In response to Viatris –

Is this what you really think? Or is it just a clever, well-written response to support JW’s post?

Do you celebrate Christmas? It sounds to me you that suggest Christmas is about getting whatever you want. Why else would the underprivileged expect to get their Nintendo? If they don’t get it, there’s something wrong with them? You don’t think those kids are dealing with those same issues each and every day at school? Why waste your venom on Santa Claus?

Do you hold the tooth fairy to the same standard you hold Santa Claus to? Only a man could handle Christmas (a white man at that)…so only a woman could possibly care enough to leave a quarter under a child’s pillow after such a dreadful event as losing a tooth?

Santa is family…it’s Mom and Dad. It’s a fun way to celebrate love. Gifts aren’t given to satisfy some entitlement…they’re given to express a feeling. Gifts aren’t necessarily always things we want…they can be things we need…like a ham on the table…or a new coat. It’s about how it’s framed by the child’s parents.

Do you suggest we just get rid of Santa Claus? Write him off as just another insensitive fable forced on us by a long line of capitalistic white men?

Xmas this year was hard for me too, for a different set of reasons. But the questions you raise, about the commercialization of Xmas, and the continuing socio-economic problems of the country we live in, are wonderful questions.

Santa clause as a poster boy for the ultra-wealthy? That seems a bit much, but it's not as if there aren't plenty of other poster-boys for the uber-rich. The entire society we live in is set up to tell people money matters. And it does, but it is not the only thing that matters. Cheesy and cliche as it is, money can't buy you love. But every advertisement will tell you differently. During the holidays the TV, radio, sidewalks, billboards they are all plastered with happy, smiling faces of people who just bought something or just gave somebody else a gift. They are trying to tell us "buy this, you can be this happy too!" but they lie to us, they lie to us constantly. Gifts do not make people happy, nor does money.

I think the greatest Xmas present I ever gave to somebody was a piece of poetry I created. It was to my step-sister, and it was a poem of 1000 words meant to paint a thousand pictures (it began as a discussion of pictures being worth 1000 words, and with 1000 words I could paint 1000 pictures). It cost me nothing to create, and it meant far more than a laptop or a car would have. (not to mention, there's no WAY I could afford to give such presents)

There's no doubt that the spirit of Xmas has been manipulated by the system. Is the proper response to that to boycott the holiday entirely? I don't know. Is giving presents at Xmas wrong? Nah, but there is also no need to wait for an artificial holiday to give somebody a present to show them you love them. I think I'd rather never get any presents on my bday or Xmas, but instead, randomly, people who really care about me, get me something. I prefer getting something random and from the heart, than something done out of obligation.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)