149 - A Need for Christmas

While admitting to a tendency to Scrooge, I have been wondering about the value of Christmas. I am at an impasse, wondering at the extent to which I am prepared to partake.

What does the event celebrate? Well, if you’re religious, it’s Christ’s birthday. That makes it one of the few days in the year that Church is genuinely happy (as distinct from celebratory). It is one of the days that infrequent visitors to church will go and, if you were to choose just one, it is the most accessible of the church festivals. The music is enjoyable - even more so if you’re a performer. Christmas is a good time to be in church and in the Church.

At school, there will be some end-of-term event that may well parallel the church event. This may be done in some non-denominational way if the schools your family uses don’t specifically claim Christianity.

If you don’t have family at school and don’t go to church, you might go to some other event, such as perhaps the turning on of the lights in your local area (village, High Street, an hotel), which is likely to be accompanied by music and singing. During the run-up to the day itself, say from mid-November (and it seems to me that waiting until after the 5th or 11th makes sense) we will be bombarded with music and singing in non-participatory and thoroughly anticipatory ways. Sadly, most of these reflect the commercial side of the festival.

Domestically, Christmas is an excuse for a knees-up. At work, it is a good thing for there to be a social event and we really ought to do more than one a year. The loss of productivity is something some managers will moan about. At home it is good to get family together, if only to show how much we ought to work on relationships. Again, doing this once a year makes little sense in a climate where seasonal travel is not easy. Food supply can be difficult and planning for Christmas is necessary. Having a time of year in which we socialise deliberately is a good thing. It reminds us why we have a society, it helps us appreciate the benefits of our society. For those who feel otherwise, it underscores what is wrong with their lives, as Scrooge was to discover.

For kids, the situation is blurred into a second birthday event, governed by “What am I getting for Christmas?”. I suppose this selfishness is a parental problem to deal with. As parents, T&I ran counter-advertising in an attempt to not only suppress the effect of advertising but to cause critical attention to be applied. Toys that were shown in impossible action, things of brief use and which would soon pall, attempts to persuade into future purchases - the value of the good, indeed.

Of course, giving someone something useful or sensible opens a different box of problems. If the person is well-organised (or just older) there is little they need and, unless they have managed to drop hints in what we might call intelligent self-interest, presents will either be trivial or misunderstood. This pushes us towards two classes of present; the fun which at base says “I love you” and the significant deferred expense1, sometimes with the same message and writ small, “We can’t really afford this”. Which latter case also takes any input of selection away from the recipient.

I have written before at the oddity of having Christmas in China, where it is so very easy to see only the mercantile side of the event. I appreciate that making sales is essential to running a business but I wonder at the extreme sense in which we are apparently striving to keep the economy moving.  I am thinking that the other 364 days of the year each represent opportunity to say how you care and to give presents2.

So, to my impasse this year.

We could very easily ignore Christmas completely, as we did in China. While neither of us is in school or in work, we won’t have an official shindig. We don’t do singing or music at the moment, so we don’t have events in our diary. We do have a break between study sessions, so we can use the opportunity to see family. Thus our choice to participate or not is really quite large.

Those with school-age families have little such choice. School has end-of-term events, work probably has a lunch or dinner. Everyone is ‘home for the holidays’. This rather forces one to fall into line, even if the result is little more than too much of television, food and each other.

Some people avoid this by going on holiday, getting out of the country. We applied this to Chinese New Year more than once, using the argument that it was one of the very few usable breaks in the year and, while flights were more expensive than at others times, little else was. If we timed the flights right, it worked well. For some the same thinking applies in Britain.

Church / not church? I think we probably will3, and it will feel strange to be audience not contributor. Years in Cornwall often resulted in more than ten Christmas concerts once one added together Band appointments, carol singing, church events and school events. Here and now, it will take effort for there to be any. Don’t bridle; the Cornish list took effort of a different sort, where commitment to the activity had Christmas celebration built-in. That dependency is entirely different from choosing to support someone else’s efforts. Yes, I could join a choir and a band, but the several practices are on the same evenings each week and I am forced to limit choice—a dis-benefit of not being in education, where much of the activity came from employment.

As a family, we will get together at Christmas, as much from the use of the opportunity as anything else. We do see each other in the course of a year, and though the frequency is low enough for outsiders to conclude we are at least as dysfunctional as other families, I disagree. We don’t feel the need for chatter and new additions to the family are, I think, surprised how soon we reach depth in any conversation. This may be a feature of individual independence.

Whether we will give presents is a different matter. We tend to reciprocate, but that includes non-aggression pacts (“Can we agree not to bother?”) and not sending presents where the cost of postage exceeds that of the present. This often pushes us to the ‘red envelope’ version, simply sending money4.  That has the advantage of convenience at both ends but usually results in nothing memorable and, after a time, the income becomes anticipated and eventually assumed.

In a world increasingly sensitive to the environment, cards are more often electronic. I find that social media is far better at keeping in touch with remote friends and colleagues and applies all year. I am not saying Facebook has stolen Christmas, though it makes a good headline; it has supplanted the need to send a postcard to say little more than “Remember me? Thinking of you”. Facebook has, I suspect, replaced the Christmas card—and probably with something better. I follow the activities of many people I know and can choose to follow some people who don’t particularly want to send a Christmas card. It allows me to see how someone is doing; if I wish to say ‘Here I am’ all I do is add a comment to a recent posting. Brilliant. Those who choose not to participate are also choosing to be left out. The losers are more those who’d like to be in touch than those who are happy being left alone. This is a good use of social media.

I’m not missing the excitement of planning. I don’t miss that at all and I haven’t for many years, in a ‘been there, done that’ sort of way. I don’t feel a need to live up to the expectations of society, though maybe I do for those of the family. I am questioning why we do things, as my family does tend to do. Even if such thinking results in doing exactly the same as everyone else, we have decided in a positive way to do this thing, not merely to follow.

So, I am currently at sea in deciding what is worthwhile with Christmas. There is a wealth of possibility, but I am no more clear what I want out of the season than I was at the top of the page.

And before you write to tell me what it is I should be feeling, those are your feelings, not mine. I’m questioning what it is about Christmas that I want to be a part of. On the way I question what it is that you do, or don’t, and your reasons for those choices. I’m trying to work a way through choices by finding what it is that is worthwhile for me, for me and the wife, for the family. I am hardly any nearer.

DJS 20141115

small edits 20150131

At 20150104 this page has had four Facebook responses, which is three more than any previous page at that time. This may be due to using FB to announce availability. Highest recorded hits on the stat counter remains the (fairly boring) page on Linear Thinking [72], which I think was accessed by a remote class doing some work.  Oral comments maintain that the Lads’ Weekend [36] is the best tale, followed perhaps by a flight experience [61] . All tales are told as truth as I see it; where I have (rarely) used imagination it is clearly stated.

1 For example the stereotypical kid’s bike, more expensive than intended but deferred until Christmas. Quite possibly the current example would be a mobile phone (though that is the least of what those do, nowadays). Deferred in the the sense of put off until Christmas, significantly expensive and often a bit more expensive than the family as a whole can afford —which last is often unappreciated by the recipient. I have seen too many kids frustrated at the delay, effectively demanding instant satisfaction to a perceived need (really a want). How very selfish; how unappreciative of the family economy. An opportunity for education, parents!

2 Was it not Winnie the Pooh who developed the idea of Unbirthday presents?

3 To my surprise, we didn’t.

4 Red envelopes are used to exchange money in China. Thus at a wedding the presents are mostly red envelopes, which go a long way to paying for the reception. Of course, the money goes back into envelopes for all the events one is invited to, but you might view this as keeping money in circulation in a way that accumulates it where it is needed.



© David Scoins 2017