What’s the big deal about today?

Since I’m not a Christian, I’m not especially excited about a cult holiday celebrating the birth of a god I don’t believe in. But since our allegedly religion-neutral society embraces this one particular myth far more fervently than Kwanzaa or Diwali or Lughnasadh, I get a week of paid holiday from work for this one. I guess I shouldn’t complain.

But I do find myself becoming more and more disillusioned with the whole concept as I become older and more cynical. Although not a devotee of any religion, I certainly endorse the teachings of love for fellow man which are central to Christianity and similar cults. What I don’t understand is the concept that there should be a particular time of year that these principles become more important. When I hear people speak of "the Christmas spirit", I wonder if that means we’re not supposed to love each other the rest of the year.
It also seems that "the Christmas spirit" becomes more of an orgy of festivities and conspicuous over-consumption than a celebration of peace and good will. We become so engrossed in the celebration of our own good fortune as inhabitants of a powerful wealthy nation that we become oblivious to the plight of those less fortunate, even those whose own misfortune is a direct result of our own nation’s actions and policies. As I participated in a candlelight march for peace on a recent rainy night, I found it hard to feel charitable towards the occupants of passing SUVs in their feverish crusades to the malls for the latest gadgets, spending more on unnecessary junk in one night than many families see in a year. At the same time, our leaders are cranking up their war machine, preparing for a military boondoggle that will kill and maim thousands more children. We’re even planning to use land mines in Iraq, unlike civilized nations which have pledged to abandon the use of these weapons which are most famous for their ability to continue blowing the limbs off children long after the war is over. Since I don’t believe in Jesus, I can’t really say he would be disappointed. But it somehow seems contrary to what I think Christians are taught to believe.
My own family (parents and siblings) decided this year to scale back on the gift frenzy. Instead of everybody buying everybody else a present which he either didn’t want or could have bought for himself, we drew names and each exchanged gifts with one other. To make that decision more meaningful, and not just a cop-out, I decided to offset my reduced spending by contributing more to organizations that are working to alleviate some of the problems in the world. I know it’s a stale cliche to wish for world peace for Christmas, and I know peace can’t really be bought. But somehow I feel better buying a heifer for a family on the other side of the world than a Ronco Vegamatic for someone in my own family. I also feel fortunate to be part of a family that shares that sentiment, all year round. Now I’m going to brunch with some of them, to celebrate whatever today is.
Whatever your own beliefs about this time of year are, I hope that you’re blessed with health and happiness, this day and all others.

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