Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas thoughts

Typing this on my new iPad while in bed right now. Technology is amazing. Accelerating at an absurdly rapid pace. Watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tonight and have remained in a bit of a reflective haze afterwards, seeing my life (past, present, future but especially the present) with a bird's-eye view. This led to a realization that Christmas is (for me at least) a marker of time, the conclusion of a chapter and the opening of a new one, more so even than New Year's.

The celebrated birth of baby Jesus in a manger, which by our calendar would have occurred at the exact instant that the year 1 BC turned into Year Zero AD, seems largely forgotten as the mythological meaning behind this yearly winter ritual of ours. The origin of December 25th as the celebration date, adapted by the early Christians so as to draw in followers of the (at that time) popular Mithraic cult, is also completely buried underneath the sands of time. One can make a convincing argument that Christmas is becoming nothing but an extremely powerful and pervasive marketing tool.

Around the age of 18 or 19, I went through a period where I totally rejected Christmas and everything it stood for, told my family not to get anything for me, that there was no reason to go out and have to buy me gifts and that I wouldn't be doing so for them. This lasted a couple years. All the glittery, childish memories of my Christmas past had been stepped on by cold reality, rationale, and reason. I started thinking and talking about how absurd it was that Christmas is always shoved in everybody's faces even though there are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and many more religious groups that don't celebrate the holiday.

It was only very recently, last year in fact, that my perspective on the Christmas season and celebration completely changed. For Christmas in 2008 my parents flew me back home to New York and I enjoyed the opportunity to see and catch up with everyone in my family, but it didn't renew my so-called Christmas spirit at all, really. It just brought back memories. But last year, spending the whole season out here in San Diego and getting a full glimpse of this city's manner of embracing the holidays, plus enjoying my first ever Christmas away from home here with my girlfriend (who made every effort to assure I had a nice Christmas), I came to a new realization.

There is an undeniable beauty to the atmosphere of the Christmas season. Everything seems imbued with a sense of the magical and timeless and this is a good thing, something that has been disappearing in our modern industrial society but which was an integral part of our history. As I said above, the holiday season and Christmas have also transcended the church celebration of Christ's mythological birthday. It's as though the story of Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer in the North Pole has become its own Christmas myth, one that you need not be Christian to celebrate. Yes, of course it's totally fake, but we're talking about the realm of myth here. When considered, I think it's a beautiful thing that the season emphasizes giving and being thoughtful about others, trying to surprise those you love and make them happy. It's especially refreshing that we use this Santa Claus myth to encourage children to "be good for goodness sake" with the promise of reward for it.

The commercialization and overzealous promotion of Christmas is discomforting if not painfully annoying but if you can somehow manage to strip all of that away and see the holiday for what it really is, a season of selflessness, you'll realize there is something very special to this holiday and much potential in it. The glittery timeless realm created by the season lingers for a couple of weeks and when it's over, there's a sense of waking up, of rebirth, closing one chapter and starting a new one. The days will now start getting longer and we all have new tools (gifts) to help us get by with. You can bet this technological wizard wand, the iPad, will be immensely helpful as I continue on my own personal journey.


  1. It's refreshing to read that you've stepped back in from the cold. I'm still out there watching, dismayed.

    Christmas in NZ is the beginning of our summer holidays, and for the last few years, I've annoyed my mother by choosing to take my leave a go far from the city where I grew up, in doing so, also avoiding family.

    This Christmas, I spent in Ahmedabad, India, and while there were a few local Christians who wished me merriness, the day passed as one of the most uneventful of my whole stint here.

    I know full well that India is a secular state, but it was very hard to grasp that museums would be open as normal and that buses ran on their regular schedule.

    As I write this, it forces me to see that I rather enjoy the rejection of Christmas at home far more than the the non event that it is here in the subcontinent.


    Anyway, belated best wishes.

  2. Thanks for commenting Daniel. Enjoy India!