Growing up and into the first few years of adulthood I celebrated a more-or-less traditional form of Christmas with my family. I don’t observe it as a religious or secular holiday any longer for several reasons.
Christmas and Religion. I don’t celebrate Eid, Hanukkah or Yule because I’m not Muslim, Jewish or Neopagan. Why, then, continue to celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas when I no longer necessarily identify myself as a Christian?
Simple Living. I’m content to live a fairly simple life, buying only what I genuinely need whenever it is that I need it. A well thought out gift can mean the world to both the giver and to the receiver, of course, and I’m grateful when other people give gifts to me but it has been my experience that most gift exchanges are neither necessary nor discerning of what the receiver actually needs. There’s only so much clothing one can wear at one time, food one can eat, books one can read, gift certificates one can redeem and electronics one can enjoy in an hour or month or year. I’d rather wear out what I already own before I acquire more possessions that aren’t going to be put to good use.
Consumerism. I’m not ethically comfortable with the consumeristic and materialistic values often associated with this season. What should be a loving, joyful time of year often instead becomes busy, expensive and stressful. Showing love for family, friends and your significant other has somehow mutated into a social obligation to prove your feelings by buying them nice stuff. There’s something very wrong about that.
Giving and receiving are wonderful parts of being in a relationship or social group but neither of those things should be boxed into one event a year or limited to what is sold in stores. The best gifts I’ve ever given (and received) have been labours of time and love. Many people are comfortable both giving gifts over the winter holidays and throughout the year. This doesn’t have to be an either/or choice, of course, but giving spontaneous gifts of time, or attention, or advice, or help with a special project, or yes sometimes even actual physical objects throughout the year works better for me.
And then there are the exceptions to this rule. Technically I’m sure that my nephew doesn’t need any more stuff, but I also believe that Christmas is holiday for children. When I was little there was nothing more magical than opening up presents from the grown-ups who loved me on Christmas morning. Even the smallest gifts from them made me giddy. So I do make exceptions for young relatives. I’m slowly learning that I prefer to give special trips or other experiences over adding yet another toy or game for my brother and sister-in-law to trip over…but ultimately I’d give him almost anything that his parents approved of when Christmas or his birthday rolls around.
Occasionally I am able to spend Christmas with my family in the U.S. A few family members absolutely adore Christmas so I’m flexible when we get together during that time of year. So far we’ve had one surprisingly un-observant “Christmas” – we didn’t exchange presents or decorate but we did have home-cooked, sit-down meals together. Over that same trip I also attended a Sunday morning Christmas service at a local Mennonite church with the family. It was a gift of sorts for my grandparents and great-aunts to be surrounded by so many members of their family on one of the most family-oriented Sundays of the year.
Several years ago my grandparents organized donations from teens and adults in our extended family to send two or three care packages to a Mennonite charity in Africa that provides personal care items and some very basic medical supplies to adults who have been diagnosed with AIDS. Assembling those packages is one of my all-time favourite memories of them. If my family wanted to exchange gifts the next time we’re all together over Christmas I might suggest that we do something charitable again but would be willing to go along with the original plan if that was the majority decision. As much of a cliche as this is to type relationships are more important than my preference not to celebrate the commercial aspects of this holiday.
You may be wondering why I’m bringing this topic up in August, months before the average person begins to think about this sort of thing. I have two reasons for doing this. Number one: retail stores are just now or soon will be receiving their first shipments of winter-holiday-themedmerchandise which will so overflow their storage rooms that it will probably ooze onto store shelves within the next month or so. After working in that environment for so long I automatically begin thinking about these things at the end of summer. Only 125 days to go! Number two: If anyone reading decides to change their gift exchange preferences, now is the time to mention it to friends and family.