You may have noticed that we’re balls deep in the holiday season, that wonderful time of year when mindless consumerism becomes even more socially acceptable than normal. Traditionally, I’ve opted out of the holiday season, asking that people don’t buy me any gifts. I’m fortunate to have everything I could ever need, and most of what I want.
I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them. ~ John Stuart Mill
But it’s not because I have everything I need that I opt out of the Christmas gift exchange. It’s because I feel like the meaning of the season has been lost. And every year it just seems to get worse. Since I’m not a religious person, it might be ironic or even hypocritical that I complain about the meaning of Christmas being lost. I don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s Jesus’ birthday, the true meaning of the holiday. Like many people, I celebrate because Christmas has become a part of the American culture, whether you’re Christian or not. I can only imagine how Christians feel about the current status of their holiday as an excuse for hordes of shoppers to pepper spray each other over an Xbox 360.
Christmas is about people, though you’d never know from all of the commercials where it’s all about the HDTVs, iPads, Victoria’s Secret lingerie, diamond necklaces…the implication being that to show your love, you must do so with material possessions. Have we really lost all capacity to express our love and affection for one another without the exchange of gifts?
Can you even remember what you got for Christmas last year?
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t exchange gifts. Rather, it’s a plea that we lessen the importance of the gifts by refocusing our energy on the people. Besides, it’s a little too late to thrust it upon your family that there won’t be any presents under the tree this year. It’s hard to change tradition. I know, I’ve tried.
Here are a few ways to lessen the importance of the gifts by refocusing our energy on people:
Open gifts Christmas night instead of in the morning. Instead of opening presents in the morning, and then having everyone absorbed with their new toys for the rest of the day, open them after you’ve eaten dinner.
Spend the day together doing something as a family. If you’re fortunate enough to have a white Christmas, you could have a snowball fight, go ice skating, or you could spend the day sledding, skiing or snowboarding.
Volunteer. What better way to focus your energy on people than to volunteer to help those less fortunate?
Go caroling. Your neighbors will love it!
Watch Christmas movies. Snuggle up on the couch with your family with cups of hot chocolate and candy canes. Some of my favorite movies are National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Changing tradition can be difficult, but it’s worth it. There’s nothing more important than family, not even that new iPad under the tree.
What Christmas traditions do you and your family celebrate?
Steven, some good points here. I grew up with the religious meaning of Christmas, but I feel that part of it is being lost as well. I try to keep some religious traditions going, like watching the Christmas Eve Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica on TV, and also going to a live mass, but for most people the holiday becomes more materialistic every year. I find I’m less fond of the holidays as I grow older.
I did volunteer this year for the Make A Wish foundation, soliciting donations. I did it to support the charity, but in the end, it makes you feel good. And it reminds you how fortunate the majority of us are even if we only have our health. Merry Christmas to you!
Thanks Joe! Merry Christmas to you too!
Great post! It’s less than a week to Christmas now and I haven’t even gotten to watch one Christmas movie because I’ve been working, shopping, baking, cleaning…all for the sake of the ‘most wonderful time of the year.’ I have gotten to spend a little more time with family, which has been nice, but I have yet to enjoy the season. I’m kind of ready for it to be over now…
I feel fortunate that my family manages to keep this in check. My older sister asked that we just do a single gift exchange this year on Christmas eve (just had a new baby and is tight on money) and all my siblings and I agreed… but then all the rest of us still got little gifts for each other because we couldn’t stand not doing so! There are plenty of gifts at my house, but only because all my siblings (most of whom are only in high school) are so very generous and want so much to give gifts to other people. The emphasis is definitely on giving to others (whether the gift is store-bought, homemade, or an experience), which makes the pile of presents a very different story than “Where are MY presents?! Get I get the latest [trendy item]?!” and much more in-line with my secular “meaning of Christmas.” Then we spend the days around it chilling with family and playing games. All in all, good times!