The Meaning of Christmas, Non-Believer Style

29 12 2009

Christmas always seemed like such an arbitrary holiday to me.  I guess they are all pretty much arbitrary, except for the 4th of July, which is one of the only ones I can think of that actually corresponds to an event that happened on that day.  There’s only a one in 365 chance that Jesus was born on December 25, but at some point somebody decided that on that day and for the entire month preceding it, we would sing songs about little drummer boys, dress in hideous red sweaters, spend our year-end bonuses on an obligatory gift for our uncle’s third wife and prop up big evergreen trees in our living rooms.

The Christmas holiday has gotten so folded into our culture and our mentality that it no longer feels like something we repeatedly choose to do– it feels like something that naturally occurs, like a blizzard or a rogue wave.  December is marked by the occurrence of Christmas, which is characterized by holly and reindeer and snowmen.  What must it be like to live in the half of the world where Christmas occurs in the summertime?  Do Bolivians dress their chihuahuas in little elf outfits and reindeer antlers despite the fact that it’s 95 degrees outside?  Because that would be kind of weird.

I digress.

The point is, everyone sort of goes through the motions of Christmas every year, buying gifts for people and putting milk and oreo cookies out for Santa simply because that’s what’s always been done.  I go home to Louisiana for a week, revert to my childhood dynamic with my brothers (hair-pulling, name-calling, etc.) and sit around with my old high school friends for hours while everyone catches up on who’s married, pregnant or in jail.  We tell each other the same stories every year– the one about Peggy Sue getting suspended for flashing the math teacher, the one about Betty Jo convincing everyone in gym class that she had leukemia.

What’s different, as we get older, is that the holidays give us so much more perspective on our lives.  Your friends start to come into focus as adults– John is a 5th grade teacher, Susie is an architect, James is running the first co-ed brothel in Reno– and this forces you to evaluate what kind of adult you’ve become, how your life compares to theirs, how your relationship or lack thereof compares to theirs, and which friends you still want to take with you into adulthood.  Your grandparents are older, your little sibling is becoming more like a real person than a little sibling, and your ex-boyfriend’s toddler has his unibrow.

Single people are made to feel really single at Christmas, and relationships are either broken or fast-forwarded.  That guy Sarah was fine with dating in July suddenly becomes unacceptable in December because it’s clear that he will never marry her, and Jacob realizes that the girl he was so-so about in November is really great with his family and their dogs and has thus become a stronger candidate for life-partnership.

Christmas is an annual emotional upheaval, and it’s all very strange– but by January 1st, you really do feel a sense of closure on the previous year.  You’ve had a chance to reconnect with family and friends, to evaluate your life and relationships, and to get a better idea of what direction you want to steer your life.  It’s a perfect time for the new year to begin, a fresh slate.

So for me, and I think for a lot of people, Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.  In fact, this was the first year of my life that I did not attend Church with my family on Christmas eve, and in lieu of the priest’s homily, I discovered the meaning of Christmas for myself (cue theme music from Miracle on 34th Street).  It’s about seeing your life in a snow globe, figuring out the kind of person you want to be at this time next year, nurturing those relationships that are important to you and shedding the ones the aren’t.

I’m also really excited about my new iPhone, but that’s neither here nor there.

So tell me, friends– what have the holidays done for you lately?

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5 responses

29 12 2009
sara

I’m all about using this time of year for self reflection. I pretty much kicked ass with my new year’s resolutions, and I’m trying to come up with some good ones for 2010…

Obviously my family isn’t Christian. We’re not really anything anymore. We associate more with Iranian culture than anything else. But as a result of my parents assimilating so well about 26ish years ago, we celebrate Christmas every year, put up that fake tree that’s older than I am, decorate the house, bake cookies, eat a lot, fight (tis the season!), etc. To me, Christmas isn’t about religion at all anymore, and it’s not even about presents and decorations and blah blah blah. It’s more about just using this time of year to think about what you have, who you have, and what you want to do in the upcoming year.

Also? Single girls love being asked about their “relationship status” and “love lives” over Thanksgiving, weddings, Christmas, etc. Really.*

*(The number of times I almost went on a murder rampage in the past month is neither here nor there.)

29 12 2009
graber

oh great so I don’t really have a job and no longer acceptable to be dated in December. nice knowing you!

29 12 2009
Geof

Agree. Sounds like you’re calling Christmas a ritual that is accompanied by a pagan sacrifice of a fir tree. Considering that about 50% of americans don’t really believe in evolution, Christmas must be about Jesus for a lot of people still. Weird that they are sacrificing a tree when God didn’t even like Cain’s gift.
The only presents I bought were goats for villagers in India. Shopping this year took 20 minutes on Christmas day. Take that capitalist pigs. It’s interesting that it is capitalism that drives (or meets demand?) the commercialization and resulting secularization of Christmas, people’s desire for dual-incomes and the accompanying movements of people away from family to follow jobs. I think this last results in the weird “going home to get perspective on where I came from and where I am now” phenomenon. What’s this like for chinese factory workers going back to countryside, I wonder. Not for Christmas, of course, but because they were laid off b/c Americans weren’t buying as much soon-to-be trash to distribute to friends and uncles’ third wives.
In response to your query concerning xmas in hot places:
http://player.accuradio.com/player/slipstream/accuholidays/360/

2 01 2010
Milly

I feel like the “rogue wave” comment may have come from one of MY favorite holiday pastimes. Watching 12 straight hours of Discovery channel programing. Worlds Deadliest Catch?? Am I right?

6 01 2010
B

I guess a rogue wave comment was inevitable…

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