This is my first of possibly many posts about the most controversial of all holidays (with possible exceptions for MLK day, Columbus Day and Elmo’s Candy Begging Day). Today I’m talking about Christmas. Specifically we’re talking about the meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is the holiday that we celebrate the spirit of giving. Some people of particular religious leanings will try to tell you it’s when we celebrate some god’s incarnation as a human being, but that’s hogwash. Christmas is about giving. While it may have some of its origins in the legends of Gold, Myrrh and Frankenstein (My wife just bapped my head and told me it was actually Frankincense), the spirit of giving began long before that.
Way back before refrigeration and heat pumps, people survived the winter on dried grains, stored roots, and meat. Animals are an efficient way to store calories for the winter if you don’t have a deep freeze. The meat doesn’t tend to go bad as long as the blood is being pumped through it on a regular basis. Goats and Pigs aren’t picky and will eat the food that spoiled in the root cellars and granaries, turning rotten vegetables into fresh meat. But it was about this time of year that people knew which of their food stores weren’t going to last much longer. One of the things they could do with those apples that were just about to become inedible is give them away to their friends. Maybe the friends would have a bunch of mangos that were on their last legs and give something in return.
The winter solstice was an excellent excuse to get together, sacrifice a goat (and then cook and eat it), and exchange the aforementioned gifts.
So really, it’s a holiday based on giving. It still counts even if the stuff being gifted would have been junk two weeks later. In today’s world we’ve hastened the process a little and ninety percent of gifts are already garbage. I have a Sponge-Bob Chia in my drawer at my office from the gift exchange last year. I am skipping this year’s gift exchange so I’ll re-gift to someone else next year. Sure it’ll be 18 months past its expiration date by then, but its arguably going to be no more worthless at that time that it was when I received it.
The name of the holiday is a bit problematic, as the name has a definite origin in a religious figure. I figure the church adopted the date, so it’s only fair that they relinquish exclusive rights to the name. We could just call it the winter solstice, but why confuse people. Rather than having several holidays about gift giving with all different names, let’s just use the one that most people in this country know. I’m not being shocking here. Lots of people celebrate Christmas without believing that their god gave us his only child to cleanse us of our sins. I’m certainly not going to tell anyone that’s not true. It’s just not undeniably true that he was born anytime close to the winter solstice. So let’s celebrate something that is undeniably true: It’s nice to give and nice to receive. Gift exchanges bring people closer to their friends and neighbors. That’s something to celebrate.