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I’ve boycotted the last 2 Christmases when it comes to family. They were fine with it.
Last year I participated in the “day” in a way that really didn’t align with me, and afterwards seriously considered why.
Overall, the last 2 years have been a very personal journey of redefining my own values around a lot of things.
I’ve finally figured out where I stand. And why.
The Modern Celebration
Let’s consider a couple of definitions:
- RITUAL – is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence
- CELEBRATION – is an event of ritual significance, performed on a special occasion.
We have created a lot of modern celebrations in the Western world.
If you walk through a typical year here in Australia we have:
New Years Ever, New Years Day, Australia Day, Valentines Day, Anzac Day, Easter, Queens Birthday (why, it’s not even her real birthday), Labor Day, Football Grand Finals, Melbourne Cup, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day.
I know I’ve forgotten a few but you get the ides. There’s a lot of things we stop and “celebrate.”
Add to that your own personal celebrations…
Birthdays, Graduations, Engagements, Weddings, Wedding Anniversaries…
And a tonne of “international days”… International Womens Day, Speak Like a Pirate Day (yes, really, I’ve done it.)
We spend a lot of time, energy and money “celebrating” these events.
The Modern Ritual
Now let’s consider the “ritual” or series of activities around these events or celebrations. The “how” we go about celebrating.
Here’s how we celebrate the majority of the events in Australia (I can only speak for Australia, although from what I have personally experienced in other Western countries, it’s similar):
- We take time to dedicate to the celebration (sometimes individually, in small groups or as a nation.)
- We consume huge amounts of alcohol, often until people can’t physically function.
- We eat huge, gluttonous amounts of food until people feel sick, and put on a few “kilos.”
- We spend a huge amount of money on “stuff” that none of us really need and often gets discarded afterwards – clothes, presents, toys, food, alcohol, decorations, gambling.
- We spend a lot of energy preparing and stressing, maybe fighting?
Overall, the modern ritual is focused on the external, and what I’ve come to realize it’s become a big problem.
There’s A BIG Problem
I personally don’t have an issue with a LOT of these holidays in terms of what they were intended to be, or what they stand for.
Actually, as I re-read that, I realize it’s not entirely true.
There’s a BIG problem with MOST of these celebrations, and the rituals we engage in as part of these celebrations.
The problem is twofold:
- WHAT we are celebrating; and
- HOW we are celebrating.
The heart of the problem is…
There’s no meaning in any of it.
It’s completely mindless.
Mindless spending. Mindless eating. Drinking. Gambling.
There’s no thought as to what we’re doing, and “why” any one is actually doing what they’re doing.
They’re just doing it because every one else is. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
Let’s take Christmas as an example.
What Christmas IS
OK, so I’ve done a bit of research to figure this out, and the details might not be 100% perfect, but look to the bigger picture and the point I’m actually making. Here’s what I discovered:
- Christmas is essentially a day to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth. Where Jesus is a representation of God in the physical or human form. In religious terms…
- Now, if we get a little spiritual here – we are each a physical representation of “God” in human form. “God” being the universe, source, spirit, whatever you want to call it. It’s not religious and it’s not about a baby in a manger or a man on a cloud.
- It’s a metaphor for the fact that we are all spiritual beings derived from something greater, living on the earth in human form.
What Christmas ISN’T
So what the heck does Santa Claus, reindeer, and copious amounts of presents have to do with that?
Here’s what I discovered. Most of the Christmas rituals are derived from pagan celebrations associated with the seasons, harvests and cycles…and Coco-Cola!
These are by no means definitively proven, but worth thinking about.
- Christmas tree – Pagans worshipped trees in the forests. The Christmas tree is often specifically associated with the Winter solstice
- Christmas presents – Offering and gifts to the Gods in gratitude for the harvest.
- Christmas carols – Derived from folk songs during celebrations such as “harvests,”
- Santa Claus – Derived from Saint Nicholas in Turkey, his many pagan followers started giving gifts to celebrate his death on 6th The Catholic Church adopted this ritual in order to win over pagans, and changes the date to the 25th.
Here’s the killer…In 1931, Coca-Cola created an ad with a Coke drinking Santa, and so we were hooked into consumerism of Christmas.
Santa Claus has nothing to do with any thing really. It’s a lie we tell our children – but why?
(Yes, I know this will cause a lot of angst, and by no means will I be telling my 8 year old nephew or any other child my views on the subject – it’s not my place.) But get the point.
Here’s The Thing
Regardless of whether this is right or not. I’m sure there’s a zillion different versions and I am by no means a historian or a religious scholar.
The point being – no-one is actually thinking about WHY you’re doing what you’re doing.
Most people preparing for Christmas don’t want to know the real meaning or origins of Christmas.
They’re just having fun, yeah – and why would they want to think about ruining that?
In a nutshell, the way we celebrate Christmas (and most of our celebrations) is generally mindless, commercialized and devoid of any meaning, purpose or thought.
That’s why I have a problem with ALL these celebrations and rituals.
Here’s How I’m Doing Christmas
This year, I’m heading up North to some sunshine for Christmas. My mum’s away until Christmas Eve doing her own thing (but that’s another blog), and my 8 year old nephew and I have been tasked with “the day.”
It will be the first time that my core family will be under the same roof for Christmas for 3 or 4 years – for a range of reasons. But I’ve decided to do it differently and see what happens.
- Present free – No gifts. Even for the kid. Instead, he gets to spend a week of quality experiences with his Auntie Liz. And, instead of presents, I’m actually going to ask every one to write down one thing they celebrate about each person at the table, and at some stage we’ll share. It’s going to challenge the heck out of some of them, and it can be totally anonymous, but might actually bring out some kind of connection and gratitude and meaning to the day.
- Decoration free – OK. On this one I know I’ll have a bit of angst. BUT, we’re not buying any thing new. No crappy crackers full of shite that gets thrown away. (What the heck does a cracker even mean?) Instead, every thing will be “found” inside or outside the house.
- Alcohol free – Strangely enough, in recent years, we seem to have the same amount of fun if every one’s on the same level, be it intoxicated or otherwise.
- Meat free – Again, a whole other blog but why do people eat turkey when they never do the other 364 days of the year? Where’s the line between a chicken or your pet dog? But I said I wouldn’t go there. People can BYO – I won’t stop them.
- Raw food – I’m ditching the sugar and shit that sends my nephew on a high for 5 hours. Instead, we’ll be making totally raw foods. Best thing ever, you don’t have to cook, and it’s good for you. And he can eat as much as he likes, although when it’s quality food you don’t need to cause it’s actually full of nutrients and fills you up.
The New Way Of Ritual
In other words, I’m starting some new family rituals with the following criteria:
- Meaning and purpose – if you don’t know why, find out, or don’t do it. And create something with some meaning to you instead.
- Sustainable – Do no harm. Is it good for me, other people and the planet. If you’re doing more damage, consuming more resources than normal, then find a different way – hence the no presents.
- Connected – To the meaning of the celebration, how you’re doing it, and to the people you’re celebrating with.
And, I’m taking the “kid” along for the ride.
Cause if the kid’s happy at Christmas, he can convince every one.
PPS…I am by no means a Christmas Scrooge. I intend to fully celebrate Christmas for the first time in years. But in a very different way with some thought and meaning and some new family rituals.
And I challenge you to do the same.