The following is a recovered and reclaimed post from a blog I used to write on skepticism and rational parenting. Commenting is permanently closed.
With only a few days until Christmas my mind is aflutter with the nuances of balancing three things: (1) Appeasing an extended family who looks to their own deeply spiritual essence for the holidays, (2) keeping my daughter’s first “Visit from Santa” special, but still low-key and (3) my own skeptical need for some secular seasonal substitutes. For those veering away from superstition, the holidays can be a troubling time; For skeptics with family and kids, it is a heart-wrenching time of year altogether.
When I was growing up Christmas was heavy with tradition and routine. On the twenty-fourth we’d have a family dinner rich with oily foods and tangy sauces just before dressing in our best clothes and piling in the freezing cold car to go to church. The classic concept of a Christmas Eve church service in our chosen congregation was the candlelight service, replete with a nativity skit, plenty of holiday hymns, and an opportunity for my siblings and I to singe each other with the tip of a burning candle. And after church, it was all about making the rounds to family, stopping for treats — and likely drinks for the parents — and ogling the pile of gifts under our cousin’s trees. Ultimately, this escapade would wind us into an overtired frenzy and sleep would come easy, despite the call of the next morning’s guaranteed gift bounty.
I’ve been thinking a lot about holiday traditions lately. Obviously, with that time of year approaching the world is awash in arguing over the ‘true meaning’ of the holidays, and one is torn between something of a False Dichotomy (or Trichotomy) of sides to argue: the Christian Nativity versus Secular Commercialism versus the Spirit of Boundless Generosity. (Maybe this is not all inclusive, but it does reflect my own experience on the matter.)
I was brought up in a ‘reformed’ protestant mentality, so I know this story inside and out. The more reading I do, however, the more I find it odd that Christianity claims such a monopoly on a time of year that history seems to indicate has more to do with the winter solstice and anti-pagan usurping of the season way back in Roman times than with what modern churchgoers claim. Either way, it’s a nice little story with some humanistic reflections for the cold winter months, but like it or not, it’s only one part of the Season.
When the masses are not in Church, apparently they’re shopping. I don’t think I need to add much more to this. Will we ever stop the Christmas buying frenzy? Doubtful, as no one wants to be the first ‘Scrooge’ in their circle of family and friends and show up empty handed.
Spirit of Boundless Generosity
As much as we’d all like to believe in the magic of Santa, I’ve been questioning the validity of this idea for a while now. I saw a ‘subvertising’ campaign a few years ago that (paraphrased, because I don’t recall EXACTLY) had the message below an image of jolly old Saint Nick: ‘Santa likes rich kids more that poor kids!’ Someone over at BlindPrivilege.com [now offline] summed up the unfortunate reality of the Santa Claus myth in this statement:
“It seems to me there\’s a potential for the whole Santa myth to reaffirm for kids the idea that rich people deserve better at such a young age the kids are mentally defenseless against it. Because here\’s an outsider who\’s not supposed to be an asshole bigot, who\’s not constrained by financial limitations, and even he thinks the poor kids should be content with much-needed new underwear while the big kids get giant, flashy, expensive stuff that flaunts wealth through impracticality.”
For our daughter’s first Christmas the only memories she’ll have of this year’s frenzy will be of the photos and stories left behind. But as the years go on, I imagine we’ll need some more practical solutions to simultaneously build her own thoughtful perceptions of the holiday season. As for the coming weeks, I’ll try not to cringe too much when the grandparents inevitably spoil her with gifts, and try and promote the value (and perhaps tradition) of spending time with the family — even above and beyond those other three so-called ‘meanings of the season.