To the editors:
I was pleased with Patrick Griffin’s reflections on Christmas (“The True Meaning of Xmas,” December 17, 1993). I am a Christian who has despised the holiday for years, though in recent times I have made peace with Yuletide by ignoring it, and allowing my wife to take care of the shopping and decorating. She and the boys like it, and I wouldn’t want to deprive them. But I resent feeling that I am not allowed to hate Christmas or refuse to participate. Thus I was happy to read Mr. Griffin’s article and see that someone else has wondered why we devote so much energy to reminding ourselves about the “real” meaning of Christmas.
I was struck by Mr. Griffin’s observation that we don’t endure such angst over our other holidays. Does anyone even know the origins of Labor Day, or care? I hadn’t thought about it, but I would also agree that the reminders to rebel against commercialism have become part of the religious ritual of the holiday. Most of the Christmas programs I have attended at six or seven different churches in the last 20 years featured some sort of skit that told us not to forget how we were supposed to think and feel. Year after year we sing carols, set up manger scenes, go to church or mass, read the first few chapters of Luke, light advent candles, and remind ourselves not to forget the true meaning of Christmas. With all of these other omnipresent religious rituals, what exactly are we supposed to remember? In fact, we are really trying to forget something.
The real “real meaning of Christmas” is economic. We have added the Charlie Brown Christmas special to our liturgy because this helps us to pretend that there is something more to this holiday than an orgy of credit-card-fueled self-indulgence. Many retailers do 80 to 90 percent of their annual business in December. We expect company festivities, bonuses, and days off, and not-for-profit organizations look for donations. The holiday gives all of us an excuse to spend vast amounts of money on ourselves and others, and to eat and drink and make merry. It is also an excellent excuse to get together with family members, providing you have some and get along with them.
There is nothing wrong with spending a lot of money and having a good time. My complaint is with the silly moralizing and posturing. I also become a grouch because of the truckloads of rural romanticism during the holidays (count your Christmas cards, and see how many of them feature little snowbound country churches and sleigh rides in Iowa), and the false nostalgia about the good old days of Christmas during the Depression or some other suitable lost golden age. But I suppose the main reason why I try to skate past the holidays is because Christmas is really for kids, and I have outgrown it. Hence the value of Mr. Griffin’s point about Xmas. Let my two little boys enjoy their grandparents and cousins, their new Legos, the cookies and chocolate, the trip to the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, and I’ll try to stay out of their way. I enjoyed Christmas too, when I was their age, when I didn’t worry about what it was all for, or supposed to be for.