Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas Ramble

The weather here has finally turned winter-y, and it feels holidayish. Last night it even snowed, for about ten minutes. I was finishing up in the cafe when I looked up to see the snow swirling under the parking-lot lights, something I haven't seen since Vermont. Speaking of which, it turns out that my supervisor is from Burlington. Not just Burlington, but the very neighborhood that Don and I lived in. He described the area in such detail (going over his childhood paper-route) that I felt very nostalgic and homesick for a moment. It's funny how easy it is to be homesick for a place I only lived in for 2 years, while Texas still doesn't inspire much of that feeling and I grew up there. I'm sure spending another (6-month-long) winter in Vermont would cure me pretty quick, right Becca?

I'm noticing this year that I've become much mellower and less cynical about "the holidays" than I was in years past. As a non-Christian, Christmas means exactly nothing to me as a holiday, and I've had trouble trying to figure out why it is THE HOLIDAY, the day that controls everything from television to the stock market to travel. "Christmas" seems so far removed from any religious meaning that I actually sympathise with the put-Christ-back-in-Christmas types trying to reclaim what would seem to be the most important (?) holy day of their faith. Christmas is *actually* about the following (according to all T.V. commercials, movies, songs, and other culture-bearers of our time): Family. Spending time with family. Food. Showing love, ideally by buying the right presents. Presents. Santa Claus. Shopping. Chocolate. Shopping. Presents. Family. They keep re-running these awful old Christmas movies from when Don was a kid (probably earlier) that all seem to be clay-mation or puppet-based and feature Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, and various elves.

Don has tried to convince me to have "Christmas spirit" by calling me the Grinch, and by insisting that there's absolutely nothing Christian about it and to see it as a fun excuse to decorate, bake cookies, drink eggnog, light candles. Each time I say, "Spell it, Don. Spell the word Christmas. C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s. " I basically stand by my refusal to celebrate the birth of a religion that has nothing to do with me. But like I said, lately I'm mellowing and trying to take a broader view.

To the marketing executive, government officials, and other powers-that-be, the fact that so many religions have holidays that converge in December must seem like a god-send. It's not so PC in this wonderfully diverse, separate-church-from-state country to make everything Christmas, and so we get "holidays" instead. Holiday greetings, holiday season, season's greetings. Holiday cookies. Wonderful coincidence, that Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa et al coincide like that and give us the generic Holiday, right?

Not much of a coincidence really. We're all celebrating the same thing, and it's not what our respective religions would dictate. More like a primal human urge to fight the darkness and cold that descend each winter, to thumb our noses at the darkest night of the year--the Winter Solstice--with light, noise, and celebration. The most basic of human instinct covered with a thin veneer of religion. The more I consider this, the less annoyed with Christmas I feel; it's just the modern, American version of an ancient tradition. After all, what are the symbols of Christmas? Light, light light... lights on houses, trees, everywhere. Neighborhoods and townscapes lit up at night. Christmas trees, wreaths, and greenery that celebrate the fact that even in the dead of winter, something is green and alive--does a Christmas tree or sprig of holly have anything to do with Christianity? Nope. And there's the feasting and song, gathering together as kin and friend. Chanukah is also celebrated with light, song, and food. So, I think I'll go bake some cookies, and celebrate humanity's triumph over the dark night.

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