Friday, November 28, 2008

When you take the Christ out of Christmas...

I am wrestling a bit with my own hypocrisy. We are not a Christian house, so i don't really know how to handle the holidays. We do put up a tree, (a living one, not a dead one) place some stockings around the hearth, and cook up a good meal on Christmas Eve. We even go to church, but it's really only because my parents want us to. When it comes down to it, i am skeptical about overly organized, archaic forms of religion, so i just cannot get into the "Christ-mass" spirit. So if we are not celebrating the birth of Christ, what are we celebrating? And are we just promoting commercialism with this whole Santa gig?

As i said earlier, Santa does come in handy when i'm looking for an authority figure to turn to. But while i may be happy with the change in my daughter's behavior on account of the fat man, i don't know if i believe in the rewards she's getting. Kids all around the world are good all year long, and don't get to look forward to a single My Little Pony when December rolls around, let alone a pile of presents taller than themselves.

I wrestle with the pop culture question all the time. How much do i let her take part in, just to "fit in?" I have friends whose children have never owned a Barbie, and don't get to play with their friends'. One little girl i know somehow earned her own money, then had to negotiate long and hard with her parents to keep the Bratz doll she bought with it. In the end, her parents squirreled it away when she was not looking. I am convinced that child is going to grow up to be a makeup girl, because she has never been allowed to take part in any of that life as a youngster. Thus far i have ascribed to the philosopy -- "all things in moderation" to deal with this stuff. I hate Bratz dolls, can't stand Hannah Montana, don't believe in Barbie... but i feel the more i try to take them away, the more my daughter will want them. So she gets little snippets -- the Hannah Montana lipgloss her grandma bought her gets to stay... but the full-on Hannah Montana bedroom set she wants is waaaay out of the question.

If you take the Christ out of Christmas, what's left is the commercialism that so repels me at all times of the year. So how do i handle the rampant holiday consumerist madness that so many people seem to love and cherish? If we don't pay homage to Christ on this holiday -- is it against the values i try to teach to even celebrate?

For the gift portion of this question, i try to focus, as my Christian parents did, on buying things that i would probably be buying my daughter anyway. This way, needs stand in for wants. To wrap these gifts, i've saved up the gift bags that everyone else has wanted to throw away throughout the years. That way, i am not contributing as much to the mounds of material that get thrown out on Boxing Day.

As for the tree question, a site on religious tolerance imparts some wisdom about the origins of the "Christmas tree," which, while i am not Pagan, does align more with my values of honoring Mother Earth:

"In Europe, Pagans in the past did not cut down evergreen trees, bring them into their homes and decorate them. That would have been far too destructive of nature. But during the Roman celebration of the feast of Saturnalia, Pagans did decorate their houses with clippings of evergreen shrubs. They also decorated living trees with bits of metal and replicas of their God, Bacchus. Tertullian (circa 160 - 230), an early Christian leader and a prolific writer, complained that too many fellow-Christians had copied the Pagan practice of adorning their houses with lamps and with wreathes of laurel at Christmas time.


Many Pagan cultures used to cut boughs of evergreen trees in December, move them into the home or temple, and decorate them. Modern-day Pagans still do. This was to recognize the winter solstice -- the time of the year that had the shortest daylight hours, and longest night of the year. This occurs annually sometime between DEC-20 to 23. They noticed that the days were gradually getting shorter; many feared that the sun would eventually disappear forever, and everyone would freeze. But, even though deciduous trees, bushes, and crops died or hibernated for the winter, the evergreen trees remained green. They seemed to have magical powers that enabled them to withstand the rigors of winter. "

It's exhausting sometimes to invent your own form of worship, all because you are too damn stubborn to believe what other people tell you. And because i believe that, i may find myself shaking my head someday, because my little revolutionary doesn't believe what her mama says either.

But for now, in my house, i will teach the value of honoring the earth, through a living tree this holiday season. I will teach the value of Not Buying Everything, through our use of re-used gift bags, and through buying what my daughter needs, and not everything she wants. (And believe me, the list of Pony gear is long this year) And when we sit down to our Christmas dinner, i will teach the value of looking your loved one in the eyes, and celebrating the time you have to spend.

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