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"The sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech." - Lao Tzu

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December 2, 2008

Christmas Philosophy

Iím way behind on my columns. Thanks to all the readers that have stuck with me and kept emailing me to get on task or commented on the archives. Lately, just keeping up with life has been all I can manage.

Locking in on a topic these days is harder than ever. I mean Obama won the election, he chose my bossís wife to be his Secretary of State, Iíve gone digital with iTunes, scooter exploits, sailing timesharesÖ life is just really dense right now.

Iíve probably imported 50 Gig of music into my iPod over the last two months, thatís over 10,000 songs on hundreds of albums. Right now Iím in love with Son Volt, and this is "Bandages and Scars":

ďCanít taste the Holy Water
Canít find it in the well
Been doing a lot of thinking
Thinking about Hell

Thinking about the ozone
Thinking about lead
Thinking about the future
And what to do then

The words of Woody Guthrie ringing in my head

Blame it on the system
Those that came before
Updated consciousness
Knocking on doors
Piecemeal solutions will only leave scars
Bandages for nosebleeds
In this city of artificial starsĒ

I looked back, and Iíve never posted about Christmas. I hardly even mention it; the only post even close was from two years ago when I was just getting started with this series of columns and that entry is completely devoid of opinion. Itís time I put something on my permanent record about Christmas.

First from the secular point of view, gift giving has become the dominant American tradition at all socio-economic levels. Iím not opposed to giving gifts at all, indeed if youíll reference my column on Valentineís youíll see that my stance is typically, ďyou should never feel bad about doing good.Ē I believe that giving gifts is fun and a part of the celebration.

Unfortunately, Christmas is one of the best examples of where the American culture of ďbigger is betterĒ has driven this holiday to extremes. Now we feel obligated to give lots of gifts at high costs regardless of our financial condition. Many families, especially this year, are giving gifts they purchased on credit, which is terribly short term thinking. Iíd rather have food in March, than toys in December.

The solution is to take the cost out of the holiday without taking away the gesture. I think gifts of necessity, food and drinks, used, and hand made items are best. Itís hard to switch to a tradition like this for kids that have had big Christmases in the past, but here again I feel itís better for a kid to suffer on Christmas day than for the family to make dangerous financial choices. The key is to avoid the ambient marketing trap from the beginning.

My other reservation for bigger Christmas giving is the waste in energy. Not personal energy, of course Iím thinking of the non-renewable fossil fuels and the associated pollution. This ranks the worst gifts as those that come from very far away and arenít very useful. Most clothes from Southeast Asia, which is really far away, but this is a useful gift assuming the clothes are worn. Lots of cheap plastic goods come from China and typically these are unwanted junk, making them bad gifts in my book. There are lots of local wineries and food products that make fun, shareable gifts. The conspicuous consumption is what puts me in a bad mood around the holidays.

My other grievances are somewhat miscellaneous. The family gathering part is great if you can get together, but if you donít have a family, I wish there wasnít so much media hype making you feel even more lonely. Why do we celebrate only Christmas? (In school you can call it winter break or something, but in the work world you get Christmas day off only.) The majority of the country is non-Christian, but the biggest group is all the subsets of atheism, such as the Humanists, and they donít care which holiday they get off so there isnít a large enough group to make a fuss. I just donít approve of a government endorsed holiday for a particular religion.

Speaking of the religious side, Iím more of a solstice celebrator. I love the lights and the concept of Santa Claus. I love ďCharlie BrownĒ and ďItís a Wonderful LifeĒ. I love getting together with friends that have been so far away.

The concept of Jesusí birth is mostly forgotten and Iím OK with that. Itís not even the right day of the year anyway. Early Christians realized that it was more important to place a holiday on an already celebrated date, the winter solstice on the Roman calendar, than to celebrate the birth on the correct day.

Christmas, even in religious households, is such a mish-mash of holidays. Does anyone know that Santa Claus (1), Christmas trees, holly wreaths, mistletoe and yule logs all have non-Christian origins (2)? Santa was even banned by 15th century Christians, calling him the ďpagan goblinĒ. I argue that Christmas and the trappings of Christmas are at best 10% Christian. Practically the only Christian element is the name itself. The other 90% of the holiday comes from marketers and pagans. I kind of like those nativity scenes with the little baby Jesus though.

Mostly I keep to myself when people get religious around Xmas. I mean, nothing good will come from me exposing some of their best memories as paganism and I happen to like the paganism. Weíre a modern culture with a wide bandwidth for assimilation and acceptance. I accept all the facets of the holidays and I think everyone should do what they want. People believe a lot of things that arenít true; Christmas exposes a lot of them, but whatís the difference?

My Christmas philosophy is:
1. Avoid the marketing; make sure no marketer gets any money out of me.
2. Enjoy your time off and spend it with the people you want to be with.
3. Spread good will and peace on Earth through random acts of kindness.
4. Traditions should be practiced even if they are without meaning.

Happy Holidays,
Crow