When I was in my twenties, I went through the same Christmas-hating phase that every budding free-thinker likely experiences, regardless of belief. Every piece of information I acquired about the history of this monstrosity of a holiday was welcomed by my very skeptical brain in very enjoyable little tasty morsels. My spiritual journey at that time gradually unearthed a never-ending network of broken traditions emanating from believers and non-believers alike.
It started with the surface-level stuff. The influence of paganism, popular culture, and even Coca Cola all chipped away at any sense of grounding that an intelligent person could find in such a bizarre season.
Over time, though, I became more forgiving towards my loved ones that choose to participate in its festivities in their own ways. I’ve come to accept that, to some, it is nothing more than an opportunity to attend an office party or a local dive bar in the probably-unlikely hopes of getting laid.
For others, it is a time of pain. For me, it is more recently associated with loss. It was during this time that my brother passed away from a drug overdose.
Everyday, I feel a sense of guilt about it, and I try not to let it cloud my judgement about Christmas in general. I’ve got to say, though, that I see a new level of fakeness in the holiday that I didn’t see before.
To those like myself that appreciate the religious history and significance of the holiday (including the more esoteric and pagan influences), I’ve often had to make concessions with those I love that do not seem to care about those things at all.
Last year, my Christmas was almost totally devoid of spiritual significance at all. I surrounded myself with those that do not care about any of that, and so it is largely my fault. It gave me an opportunity, though, to try and appreciate the holiday in a different way.
To some, it is nothing more than an opportunity to show your love to those that you care about. The universe of individuals on your radar that get showered with your love can often be counted on one or two hands. It seems depressing, but it makes sense.
Humans can only maintain around 200 human relationships, and that’s about it. Christmas has almost become the modern American’s time to say, “you good?” It is a message reserved for only those we care most deeply about.
And it sure is nice if you have people that care about you, but many people just don’t. They have grown accustomed to a life in which they are never invited to the party. They don’t have someone to give them a home-cooked meal in a home they can call theirs. They don’t seem to have much hope at all.
Everywhere in this rich country of ours, there are those that will only care about their personal lives, and they will spend more energy making Christmas Day as pleasant as they remember it being when they were a child. They will get more upset that certain people were present for their special day than they will about the countless mouths that will go unfed on that very same day.
From far too many people this year, as it is every year, there will be an utter lack of humility, thankfulness, compassion, or even self-awareness.
Despite all of my moralizing, I have to include myself here. Like everyone, I have been swept up in Hallmark syndrome, believing that everything will be alright if white snow falls on my special day, and sweet music plays next to a crackling fireplace.
Yet I know that, on some level, it will all be fake. I will be an imposter enjoying a moment that was never mine to enjoy. I was meant to be humble and eternally grateful for everything I have. I was meant to put aside my dark feelings about others, life, and myself. I was meant to choose love.
What’s been lost in this holiday is nothing cosmetic like tradition or custom. It’s not any particular creed or religion that one must subscribe to, but there is something baked into the season on a fundamental level.
Christmas is celebrated on the 25th for a reason. The 21st is the darkest day of the year, and it is followed by three days in which the sun is at it’s lowest point in the sky. It is a time in which we all should be digging deep into our souls and coming face to face with our demons. It is a time of pain, confession, forgiveness, and serious soul-searching. It is period of greatest darkness before the light re-enters our lives.
This is a time when our souls should be going through the greatest change, yet for most of us, it is a time in which we cling to the familiar with such a fierce grip.
Christmas is seen in the commercialized West as the culmination of a prosperous year. It is the benchmark for success, and all things point towards it like the climax of an incredible film.
But we have it backwards. Christmas is not the end of anything, it just takes us into the third act. It’s the “dark night of the soul” that literary commentators describe, which occurs just before the hero learns what he needs to do.
This is why winter is one of our seasons. It is necessary to go into mental, physical, and even spiritual hibernation. It is essential to our being that we continue to grow, and we cannot do that if we continue to pretend that we don’t need to change at all.
Christmas is an amalgamation of many traditions, but the greatest one is still the Nativity. It is a very dark story about a mad king putting babies to death to prevent one in particular from being born. It is about all the forces in the universe that conspired to prevent even a sliver of hope from being let into this miserable place.
None of this is to say that everyone should go and just be sad this year, of course. To some, change will look that way. Instead, it could be as simple as asking the question: “What is missing?”
Is it a family member, co-worker or friend? Is it some kind of spiritual lesson? Is it some kind of behavior or action on your part? Is it hope?
You always have the freedom to do everything just a little bit differently. Don’t wait until New Year’s to make a promise to yourself that will never be kept. Spend the next three weeks preparing to be a better person, and look for opportunities to do so in your life every day. It’s never too late.