You're destroying Christmas…
Not for me – how could you ruin it? No, you're ruining it for yourself, your family and friends, and everyone who loves you and who loves you back.
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You began in August, when you noticed the first small corner of the Mega-Mart decorated with Christmas bows and dancing Santas. It started out as a few small grumbles, but by Halloween, it had grown into a roar. You took every Christmas decoration, carol, and artificial tree display as a personal affront.
“Are you kidding me? Greedy scumbags!”
“Ugh, Christmas has become so commercialized. “Please wake me up for New Year's!”
“Look at those people fighting like animals over toys. They're repulsive.”
And it goes on and on and on. We understand. You despise Christmas!
What exactly is it? You don't despise Christmas? You say you despise the materialism of it all, how it's devolved from a wonderful tradition into a buying frenzy, the forced gift-giving, the greedy little children waiting to open the latest whiz-bang-o on Christmas morning?
I see what you mean. You despise the fact that everyone else doesn't get it. Not the way you do it.
So, what are you going to do about it now? Because you are the only one who can ruin your Christmas. There aren't a thousand Grinches, a million Scrooges, or a googol saccharine greeting card advertisements.
1. Give gifts as a way to save Christmas
I understand that the whole “mandatory gift-giving” thing is a pain. Why can't you just give gifts when you want to, rather than when society tells you to?
Here's the thing: gift-giving is an obligation in every society on the planet. In fact, it is one of the most serious obligations. It is the foundation of all human economic behavior. Here's why: giving gifts brings us closer together in profound ways. It weaves a web of reciprocity that binds us together.
Consider what a student once told me about his family's gift-giving tradition. He has four brothers, all of whom are scattered across the country, but who all gather in the family home in Queens, New York, every Christmas. They gather around the tree on Christmas morning and each gives the other $100. Cash.
There's a practical reason for this: they don't all want to fly home laden with bulky gifts, then fly away laden with new ones – and they don't want to get home only to discover that the gift they chose is unsuitable. But if you do the math, you'll notice something strange. Each person contributes $100 to the other. That works out to $400 out ($100 to each of the four brothers) and $400 back ($100 from each of the four brothers). It's a tie.
Nonetheless, something happened there. It becomes clearer when you ask yourself, “Why $100?” Why not $20, since no one was going to profit from the transaction? Or how about $1000? What about a million? After all, nothing is coming from anyone's pocket, is it?
They give each other $100 because they are brothers and it feels appropriate for a gift for a brother. You don't give nothing because that would be the same as saying your relationship isn't worth anything. You don't give a ridiculous amount because that would be absurd.
The point is that it is the thought that counts, quite literally. We say it all the time, but they truly believe it.
So you're going to give presents. Because you have high regard for the people around you.
2. Accept materialism
I know you don't mind giving gifts; it's the materialism of it that bothers you. Why do you have to brave the maddening crowds, overflowing parking lots, and bitter winter cold to show your family and friends how much you care?
You can, however, make gifts, and if you are talented in this area, by all means, go ahead and make to your heart's content. But here's the catch: the majority of us aren't. That is, good at making things. We spent years honing a set of skills that help us get by in life, and making things isn't really on that list. You can market just about anything, balance the books, make a global distribution network sing, or serve platters of pasta like nobody's business – but those highly developed skills don't really translate to Christmas morning goodies.
You're good at shopping, that's what you're good at. You do it in order to survive, and you're still alive, right? I know it appears cold and detached to you, but it is, in fact, humanity's oldest skill. 100,000 years ago, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother walked through the savannas, forests, deserts, and river bottoms of Africa, the Middle East, and Indonesia looking for food and raw materials, and every now and then she grabbed a nice melon or a juicy turtle thinking, “You know who would like this?” Sally in accounting would go crazy for this!”
That's what you're doing in the Christmas malls, craft fairs, and boutiques: putting your own survival needs on hold for a moment to consider the needs and desires of the people you care about. Putting your skills to the test in the same way that your woodworker father or candlemaker aunt do.
3. Sing a Christmas carol. Make a tree decoration
It amazes me that people can criticize Christmas materialism in the same breath as they complain about hearing “Silent Night” or “Little Drummer Boy” over the PA.
We say we want to get to the “real meaning” of Christmas by removing the materialism. But here's the thing: those Christmas carols are the essence of the holiday season. They're songs about love, joy, peace, and happiness – all of which we've been taught are stupid. That's right – we're a cold, detached, ironic, cool-seeking people who despise songs about being happy as if it were something anyone could achieve.
Put that in your corn-cob pipe and puff on it.
Christmas carols are a part of our holiday traditions. Some of them date back hundreds of years. They connect us to our parents, and their parents, and their parents' parents, and so on – to people who wouldn't recognize a Tickle-Me Elmo if it bit them on the bellies like bowls of jelly.
Take away the gifts, and we're left with the songs, the red-and-green tinsel, and the soft glow of the tree. Children are laughing. Seriously, you're going to scoff at Christmas carols?
4. Attend church. Alternatively, don't
Christmas is a religious holiday for some of us. We're not all the same. Perhaps not even the majority of us. However, if you are one of the people who believe that this day is significant because it commemorates the birth of Our Lord and Savior, please attend church. Celebrate. Pray. Thank you. Having a messiah is a wondrous thing.
For many of us, however, Christmas is a day off from work, a day filled with tradition and a spirit of giving that allows us to spend time with our families. That is not insignificant! We live dispersed lives; even if we live in the same city as the rest of our family, which is unlikely, there's a good chance we don't see them as frequently as we'd like. We don't celebrate them as frequently as we should. And most emphatically not all at once, with gifts, feasting, and songs.
Let's say you stop giving gifts. You are no longer a materialist! And suppose you abandon the carols. And then there's the tree. I see what you mean. I disagree, but I understand. It's debilitating. It's excessive. I see what you mean.
But then there's your family, who all have the same day off. Who cares why – you're all off today! That is a rare and exceptional occurrence. So, what are your plans?
You could do what Jews have done for the last two millennia: go to the movies with your family and then eat Chinese. It's fantastic: the roads are almost empty, there's always a great selection during Christmas week (as studios rush to get their big Oscar contenders out before the year-end deadline), and Chinese food is delicious. Furthermore, you will spend the entire day relaxing with your family and simply enjoying each other's company.
Alternatively, you can invent your own traditions. Go sledding, hiking, or flying a kite (for our readers in the Southern Hemisphere). Bring out the photo albums and start playing “What was I thinking?!” Play GiftTRAP or a similar party game.
5. Put an end to your whining and have a Merry Christmas!
The world is exactly as it is. We are consumers living in a commercialized society. If that bothers you – and it should – devote yourself to changing the world. However, begin on December 26th and continue until next November, when it is required. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, everyone is a critic, and we do nothing about it.
Becoming a revolutionary for the holidays isn't helping. All it accomplishes is to ruin your holidays for you and everyone who cares about you. Instead of whining about how much Christmas stinks, try applying some positive thinking to finding the special core that makes Christmas work for you, whether it's the social relationships that Christmas gift-giving cements into something solid and enduring, the traditions that allow us to imagine a world where being good to one another isn't an absurdity, or the time you get to spend with your family.
It is entirely up to you. The stores are doing their job by doing what they need to do to make money. The crowds of shoppers are doing everything they can to make Christmas work for them. You are the only one who has the ability to make Christmas memorable. You have a week. Have fun with it!
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