Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thoughts on the Holiday Season

Well, here we go again. The holiday season is one of my least favorite times of the year for many reasons. Let me get a few of them off my chest.

First of all it is the beginning of the winter season, which is dark and cold. The days are short and might be filled with rain, snow or other inclement weather. I love to be outside, in the sun, with very little clothing on. I much prefer summer and spring; even fall, although the weather may be on the colder side, at least has pretty colors to look at.

Secondly it is a season of traditions. The whole concept of traditions rubs me the wrong way as a thinking, sensual, aware person. I abhor herd mentality. I encourage everyone to think and act as if they had free will and were actually living in the present moment. Traditions are the opposite of that; they are “doing something without giving it thought, just because we did it last year.” I can think of no less valid reason for doing something than ‘we always do it’.

And it’s not only that they follow traditions, but they are sometimes offensive traditions. People put up the same, tacky decorations every year. Brightly colored lights and shiny things dominate the outside of people’s homes, yards and living rooms near windows to be seen from the outside. It seems that even otherwise sensible people lose their aesthetic eye and opt for the same garish and outlandish crap they put out every year.





The music is mostly horrible. Obviously most of the seasonal tunes were written for children, but that doesn’t stop many adults from reveling in them. I love a good song! And I love emotions and drama, but I am not a fan of over-sentimentality or cutsie-poo. In the holiday oeuvre, there are very few good ones. Compounding this is the fact that as soon as we put down our napkins on Thanksgiving, these brain-dead songs start up and play relentlessly through the end of the year.

But by far, the biggest thorn in my side is the culturally accepted and encouraged rampant materialism. I am morally offended by Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, Grey Thursday, Shop Small Day, Christmas sales and Holiday Gift-Giving ideas. Stop telling me to buy things! If I want to give a gift to my loved one, I’ll do it when I think of it, not when the calendar says it’s time.







I don’t know why more people don’t see it this way. To me it seems perfectly obvious that if giving a gift is required, (which it is, by tradition) then there is no true sentiment behind it. It is robotically fulfilling an obligation. It is often said, “It’s the thought that counts!”  The only time a gift has any real meaning is when it comes spontaneously from the heart. But looking at the calendar and seeing that it’s almost December 25 so ‘I better start thinking of what I can buy for everyone I know’ is not spontaneous nor is it coming from the heart, it is imposed by society from the outside.


And I can already hear people saying, “but I love to give gifts, my heart is full, and I think it’s a beautiful time to express my love and appreciation for my friends and family and those less fortunate.” To that I say, if you want to celebrate your love for friends and family, you can do that without buying them something. Give them a hug, have dinner with them, sing together. And do it in March, or in August. Do it whenever you think of it, not because it’s the season. Just because you enjoy the taste of swallowing the bait, doesn’t mean you aren’t on the hook being reeled in. I applaud those attempts at ‘feeling’ the season, but I see it as coming around to meet the requirements of societal pressure and not truly heart-inspired.

A good example of the effect believing in the hype of the season has on us is illustrated here in a question a friend of mine recently asked. “In the past, it was customary to tip service providers -- hair stylists, massage therapists, child care providers, housekeepers, etc. -- at the holiday season. I feel it still appropriate to do something special for postal workers, waste removal employees, etc., who do not receive payment directly from me for their services to me during the year. However, I have been feeling like in exchange for providing an 'extra' tip at the end of the year to other service providers, it would also be appropriate and appreciated for service providers to say 'thank you' at the holiday season for the people who have been loyal to them and paid for their services throughout the year.”

Here you can see a perfect example of how there is way too much importance put on 'giving' and 'receiving'. This person is totally of the mindset that because it is Christmas, she is expected to give tips to service people that she might not otherwise tip. She is also suggesting that because it is Christmas, her hair stylist should give her a gift “IN EXCHANGE FOR” the (ahem) thoughtful ‘gift’ she gave to them.

MAKE IT STOP!! Are we truly blind to what this is? Is it “in the spirit” to coerce gifts and tips from each other? What spirit is this in?



There are no 'rules' for tipping or for saying 'thank you' for that matter, even in the holiday season. That's why it is meaningful when it does happen. Putting extra expectations on your behavior or the behavior of others because it is “the holiday’ is unrealistic, unfair and dilutes the meaning of gift-giving. Expecting a gift seems greedy and selfish in any context, but here, since it’s Christmas, it is OK. It is the norm. Blech.



Think about this: If you demanded that someone say, “I love you” to you, would it mean much to you when they said it? Or do you think it would mean more coming from someone who you didn’t apply any pressure to? Similarly, demanding or even expecting a 'thank you' from someone changes the whole meaning of the gesture. Instead of them expressing a true heartfelt sentiment, they are fulfilling a contractual obligation. It all becomes simply ego-driven, materialistic and superficial.  The same applies to gifts, giving and receiving. In the context of all of this required gifting, there is an explicit lack of essence.

I suggest everyone stop giving any sort of tips or gifts to people until you can do so without any expectation of anything in return. Until then, you are coercing payment or gratitude out of someone. And it is meaningless in that case.

It is no secret that the suicide rate climbs during the holiday season. And likely for all of the reasons I have touched on. The darkness and cold can really be hard for some people. The songs alone can drive someone to the grave. There is a commonly held belief that one should spend time with their loved ones around the holiday. For some people, for many reasons, that is simply not possible, but it is such a strong belief that it can cause feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or loneliness. And then there is this whole expectation to give, which can really stress some people out, emotionally and financially.

And one final thing I need to mention about this holiday season. And that is the Christian element. It is obvious to anyone using logic that the stories from the bible are fables. They aren’t even original stories. The virgin birth and the martyr rising from the dead have shown up in several spiritual writings before Christianity was even invented. The Christmas holiday was a pagan celebration of the winter solstice long before it was co-opted to celebrate the ‘birth of Christ’. I’m fine with people having whatever religious beliefs they want, but I would appreciate if they could also understand that they are beliefs, not truths. They are not shared by everyone, and they are certainly not the “true meaning of Christmas.”




Technically the true and original meaning of the holiday is the Winter Solstice; a celebration that the days are going to start getting longer again and soon we can be shirtless and playing in the sunshine. 



So go ahead and enjoy your holiday however you like. If you’re into materialism, go for it. If you believe in celebrating your religion, go for it. If you like bright lights and awful songs, enjoy them. Most of what goes on in the name of Christmas is not my idea of something worthwhile but I don’t want to stop anyone’s fun. Even if you want to invite me to a holiday party, I would probably go, unless it involved a gift exchange. Despite what impressions you might be getting from these confessions, I'm a happy, fun, party guy. I will happily engage in merriment at any time.

I’m not asking for much, but I do humbly request that we all take some time out to stop and think about the implications of what and how we are celebrating this time of year. And verify that the beliefs, values and traditions we are espousing and teaching to our children are what we really intend.

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