“American shopping malls/Where a product is sold and bought here/Euthanizing the public/While the dead walk the escalators/the drone from the loudspeakers/repeat a subliminal message/that hypnotizes you to consume/and there's no way to fight it.” — Born Frustrated – Rancid
Funny things about the Christmas season we’ve dove headlong into – nearly all religions and beliefs around the world have some sort of holiday that center around this time of year.
Christians celebrate the birth of their savior, for pagans it’s the celebration of Yule. In Charles Panati’s, "Sacred origins of profound things: The stories behind the rites and rituals of the world's religions," we learn in Ancient Egypt, the god-man/savior Osiris died and was entombed on Dec. 21. "At midnight, the priests emerged from an inner shrine crying 'The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing’ and showing the image of a baby to the worshipers," and in Ancient Rome, Saturnalia began as a feast day for Saturn on Dec.17 and of Ops (Dec.19). About 50 BCE, both were later converted into two day celebrations. During the Empire, the festivals were combined to cover a full week: Dec 17 to 23. Hanukkah, Kwanza and a whole slew of others seasonal celebrations make this time of year one of the busiest for all beliefs.
Some value the wide range of December celebrations as evidence of diversity of belief. They respect both their own traditions and those of other faiths for their ability to inspire people to lead better lives. Others reject the importance of all celebrations other than the holy day recognized by their own faith.
Another thing all these beliefs have in common is the presentation of gifts to those we care about as a show of love and acknowledgment to the season.
But have we gone too far? I was recently sitting with my wife and we were scheming what we were going to get the kids for the season. Like most of us, the year hasn’t been to kind to our financial situation and Santa was probably going to be a little light this year. As I contemplated all this, an rising anger grew in me. “What have we done?” I kept asking myself, “What are we turning our kids into? What kind of materialistic monsters are we creating?”
It’s not a pretty picture when you really think about it. Depending on your beliefs, gluttony is a cardinal sin and what could be more gluttonous than piles and piles of presents for just one person? This notion really slammed home to me a few years ago when I was spending Christmas with my family in Texas. One of my distant relatives is very well-off and has two daughters. As the rest of us sit there waiting for the girls to finish opening their presents, the two girls opened each carefully wrapped box with a level of apathy that bordered on the contemptuous. When they finally finished, the youngest daughter, who couldn’t have been more than five or six looked up at her parents and asked “That’s it?”
That’s it. Perhaps along with a few presents and everything else, it high time we start handing down traditions of selfless service, of helping those less fortunate and values more inline with the season. Like most holidays, the origins of the season was with people, it’s time we took this holiday back from Hallmark and make it ours again.