Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'll be home for Christmas

I have been lax, and will continue to be.  I missed posting yesterday and will be away for the whole of the Christmas season from the 24th to the 31st in a place without internet.  As such you must learn to live without my daily dose of whatever it is that I produce until the new year.

I find Christmas to be a very interesting time of year from a psychology perspective.  It is unique among holidays because I have both very strong attachments to it and powerful ideas of how it should take place.  Other holidays are generally met with a 'bah, whatever' from me as I generally find them to be focused around commercial ritual but Christmas is different.  Even birthdays are something I would much rather just erase off the calendar (including my own) since I just don't see the point in celebrating them.  I could be easily persuaded to make an exception for children since they seem to genuinely look forward to their birthdays but most adults either aren't very interested or actually dread the ritual of recording how much older they are.

Our holidays are part of our culture and rely on the idea of tradition to continue.  Many people find a tremendous comfort in tradition and continuing practices from the past but I do not find that a compelling reason to do things.  The idea behind these continuing traditions is to perform rituals on the basis that people in my geographic region or people of similar gene pool did in years past.  Is that really a good organizing principle for our lives and celebrations?  People in my region and who are related to me did all kinds of crazy things that I would not emulate, and yet the standard is to continue the tradition of holidays and observances despite the original reasons for those holidays being completely irrelevant to my life, being actively contrary to my beliefs and principles or just being lost in the muddy waters of history.

It isn't black and white of course, and not just because very few things are.  For example, I very much approve of Remembrance Day.  War is a terrible and tragic thing and it is becoming further and further removed from the consciousness of society as more and more generations are born whose parents never knew their country to be at war.  Taking time to respect the sacrifices of those who went to war is something I deeply respect and feel to have tremendous value, particularly because the price of peace is eternal vigilance.  Remembering how bad things can be helps us to continue to work in other countries to preserve peace and freedom throughout the world.  We are not alone in the world, and it is critically important for us to remember that.

St. Patrick's Day is the opposite end of the spectrum for me.  It is a day we dedicate to a particular colour and to getting drunk.  Whatever the origins of the holiday the modern version is merely an excuse to party too hard and poison ourselves too thoroughly with recreational drugs and I cannot see the value in that.  Not that St. Patrick's Day is something evil... it is just something which I dislike.  I would be perfectly happy if it vanished, never to return.  Of course there are other holidays that are somewhat more complicated like Hallowe'en.  While I think the idea of one night a year where everyone dresses up and takes to the streets to look at decorations and other people's costumes is a fine thing indeed, the incredible mass consumption of manufactured sugary treats is terrible for our dental (and otherwise) health and leads to people focusing purely on the acquisition of said treats during the holiday.  I find it hard to really come to a satisfying conclusion regarding Hallowe'en because it has some things I enjoy and can find no fault in, and some things I wish were different.

Then of course there are the holidays that are religious in nature like Easter.  I find it frustrating that Canada has so many holidays focused around Christianity because we are so very much a multicultural nation.  We have an incredible variety of different beliefs sets, religions and customs and yet our enforced holidays are drawn from only one religion.  Certainly there isn't any good way to correct it at this point because we clearly can't observe all the holidays of all the people within the country... we would never be at work/school.  Removing any holiday with religious overtones would drive many Christians (and many people who aren't religious but like tradition) into a frothing frenzy and since we have no system to replace them with other holidays this is just not a feasible option.  Realistically we are stuck with the holidays we have until our culture changes substantially and the prevailing attitudes towards them shift and I have no reason to think that will occur any time soon.

Christmas though is not a holiday I am ambivalent about, nor one that is really religion based, nor one that has intrinsic value to itself such as Remembrance Day does for me.  Of course many people might argue with some justification that Christmas is a religious holiday, but since Santa Claus, Christmas trees, gift exchanges, snowmen, and many other Christmas traditions are all pagan holidays (or things we made up very recently) it is hard to argue that the nativity display in the corner of the room really makes this a religious holiday.  By and large very little attention is paid to the Christian religion portion of Christmas and a lot is paid to the secular portion of the holiday.  For me Christmas is about travelling home to see family.  I could be perfectly content getting rid of the present exchange, the decorations, the traditional turkey dinner and most other parts of the holiday, but going home to see my family each year is something I place tremendous value in.  The thing is of course that I could go home any time during the year, Christmas is just a very convenient time to do it because many other relatives also travel in during that time and I get to see more people.  I don't *mind* presents and decorations and turkey though.  In fact I do enjoy those things, it is just that they are completely secondary to the main event for me.  The idea of a holiday dedicated to travelling to visit one's family, renewing old relationships and building new ones is wonderful in my eyes, and whether or not that holiday comes with a specific meal or other customs isn't so important.

I did buy a tiny tree for our condo so that we would have a Christmas tree up and I am getting presents for people so clearly I am participating in the balance of the holiday.  Much like Faith though, I am constantly wondering about what we would do if these holidays were removed.  If we did not have tradition but were simply exposed to all of the various holidays celebrated around the world what would we choose for ourselves?  I believe I would choose a holiday that revolved around family gatherings, but the rest of the trappings of Christmas are really random.  Considering that line of thinking I intend to support the parts of holidays that have intrinsic value, things that I would want to have and do regardless of tradition.  I also will continue to participate in parts of holidays that have no particular downside since doing so will please other people I care about.  I will however not support holidays that either are pointless or actually negative in value simply because it is generally the thing that is done.  I suppose I was probably already doing that anyway.

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