Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So You Don't Want to Celebrate Christmas

I've spoken to a lot of people who don't celebrate Christmas. No, that's not right. I've spoken to a lot of people who say they don't celebrate Christmas. They represent a very diverse group with different backgrounds and beliefs, but they all had two things in common: they all celebrate Christmas, and they all didn't know it.

It's not that they want to celebrate Christmas, nor were they betraying their beliefs. It's simply that Christmas is too big to be ignored, and recognition of Christmas is, by default, a sort of celebration. It's impossible to opt out of Christmas, at least in America, no matter how much someone might want to.

You might not celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas (I certainly don't), but you still celebrate the holiday, whether you want to or not.

There are a lot of people who protest the holiday. There are really only two reasons for doing so: some people fight the holidays because they're not Christian, others do so because they are. The first group generally considers Christmas a Christian holiday imposed on everyone else; the second considers it an ancient pagan holiday that's masquerading as a modern religious celebration.

I'm actually more inclined to agree with the fundamentalist Christians here, but that's a subject for another discussion.

Regardless, both groups opt out of the gift giving, the decorations, the specials, and as much of the holiday as they can avoid. Some of them stay at home in silent contemplation, a peaceful tradition to mark the holiday. Others spend the time with their families, who also don't celebrate Christmas: this is as touching a Christmas tradition as any.

Still others have different rituals. A surprising number involve movies or Chinese food, both of which are popular Christmas activities.

Some people take things further: they'll travel a long distance to try and escape Christmas. There's a good example of this in a 2008 article on Huffington Post offering suggestions for those who don't want to celebrate:
Go where people don't celebrate. The best place is one that doesn't much bother with Christmas and doesn't even remind you of it. Best is South Florida, or southern California, filled with Jewish folks, palm trees and beaches.
Going on an annual Christmas vacation to forget about Christmas sounds like a fantastic Christmas tradition, if you can afford it. However, it's still a way of celebrating Christmas.

But what if you already live in a place where Christmas isn't popular? Can't you avoid it then?

Ha, ha. Of course you can't. If you live in an area where people refuse to recognize the fact they recognize the holiday, you'll have to isolate yourself in that area for the day. You'll find others around you have done the same - it's a fantastic way to come together as a community on Christmas, just as people have done for thousands of years.

Christmas isn't about Jesus. It's not even about Dionysus or Horus: gods were thought to be born around this time because the season was significant, not the other way around. What actually makes it significant is that the days start getting longer instead of shorter. It marks the promise of brighter, warmer times, in the middle of a period too dark and cold to be productive. It's also the time when our ancestors had to eat or throw away a large portion of the food they'd stored, and disposing of food was unheard of.

Put all that together, and you've got a good excuse to have a party. Today, you can't opt out of the festivities that swallow American culture any easier than our ancestors could opt out of the seasonal shift.

But people still try. My favorite two examples are a list of activities for Jewish alternatives to Christmas:
In some cities, Jewish singles organizations sponsor "Matzah Balls," Jewish singles dances, on Christmas Eve or Christmas night.
I really like "Matzah Ball" as an alternate name for a Christmas party, which is the more common term for a dance on Christmas Eve or Christmas. But the next example might be even better:
Jewish people often volunteer to work on Christmas, especially if they work in 24/7 community service jobs like hospitals, newspapers, or police departments. This allows their Christian co-workers to get the day off.... A community in Mexico City organized a group of Jews to cover for Christians who would otherwise have to work on Christmas. This was called "Project Brotherhood."
Just to be clear, these workers, realizing the importance the day has for their coworkers, are working in their place, so they can be with their families on Christmas. It's a gift they're giving others in their community, which means they're not simply celebrating: they're demonstrating what the holiday should mean in a way few others do.


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