Sunday, December 28, 2008
Christmas and Selfishness
If you listen to the words of the late Eartha Kitt (God rest her soul) it's obvious that Christmas was a holiday created to perpetuate materialism. In fact, Christmas has mainly become a retail-driven holiday disguised as a religious holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Even as I did my research this year in an attempt to have a discussion about Christmas with my family on Christmas morning about the "reason for the season," to celebrate the spirit of giving, and to celebrate the life of Christ I was disappointed to find that at least 2/3 of the holiday isn't even rooted in Christianity.
Most of the rituals that we go through during Christmas (i.e. Decorating trees, mistletoe, gift giving etc.) were taken directly from the Roman week-long pagan Saturnalia festival that culminated on December 25th before Christianity became the religion of the day. The holy day (or holiday) was designed to honor the pagan god Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest.
In memory of the Golden Age of man, a mythical age when Saturn was said to have ruled, a great feast called Saturnalia was held during the winter months around the time of the winter solstice. It was originally only one day long, taking place on December 17, but later lasted one week. It wasn't until 325 A.D. that Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and designated December 25th the date of Jesus' birth. The Saturnalia festival was to continue but was the honor Christ instead of Saturn. Some report that he named the new holiday Christ's Mass which was later known as Christmas. But I digress...
Regardless of the technical origin of the holiday I wanted to take the materialism out of it this year and really just bond with my family. I wanted to take the pressure off of my family to feel obligated to buy me expensive gifts just because the holiday dictates that we do so.
What really got me in the mood to try to make the holiday more meaningful this year was being out and about and hearing parents worry out loud about whether or not their children would be pleased with what they got them. Would the child be upset if they got them an XBox because the Nintendo Wiis were sold out? Would they mind if they got them an 8 Gig iPod Touch instead of the 32 Gig...
How did we create such a monster of a holiday? How did we let mythical pagan figures such as Santa Clause, whom is supposed to represent the spirit of giving, ultimately turn the holiday into the season of getting--with children having no clear concept of what Christmas is supposed to represent?
Realize that I only make such harsh observations of the holiday because I have been a victim of it...
As a child December was the month that became synonymous with the question:
"What do you want Santa to bring you this year?"
I remember waking up on Christmas mornings and finding mountains of gifts and toys under the Christmas tree from the list of things that I requested Santa to bring me. I never thought about reciprocating the kindness to him or to others except for a cup of milk and couple of Oreo cookies.
The danger of this exchange was that as I got older, I began to expect extravagant toys because Santa would bring them whether or not I had been good that particular year. After all, I got my Nintendo system last year even though I had gotten into a fist fight with Dennis down the street a few days before Christmas. I'll just leave Santa a few cookies and he'll leave me lots of presents.
When I as in the 7th grade, I was the son of a single parent with an older brother and sister. Although I did not believe in Santa Clause at this point, I continued the facade because I didn't have the heart to tell my mother... and perhaps because I selfishly felt that if I told her that maybe I wouldn't receive as much.
That particular year what I specifically wanted was a particular pair of black Nike high tops. I told my mom that I wanted them, but downplayed it because I knew that money was tight. When Christmas day came and I found myself opening a box of all black low-top suede Champion shoes, I was visibly upset and single-handedly ruined the mood of a day that was supposed to be about the joy of giving. All she really wanted to get out of that day was to see her children smile. The pain on my mother's face that day is something that I will always remember. I felt small...like an ingrate--and rightfully so.
The myth of Santa Clause, I think, to some degree creates a selfish reasoning in children that negatively affects their outlook on life. Whether children are "naughty or nice" they will probably get the things that they want for Christmas. If they do not get what they want they will likely have a selfish contempt for whomever was responsible for the oversight--for not feeding their desires.
Sometimes I wonder how I will treat Christmas when I have a family. I definitely want them to experience the joy of getting, but I want them to have an even deeper appreciation for the joy of giving and making someone else's life a little better.
Will Santa play a pivotal role in my kids' lives? I am not certain that he will. But I do know that I never want my children to have a sense of entitlement like I developed when I was young--an entitlement that seems to pervade the minds of children, and adults, in our culture.