Sunday, December 25, 2016

Taking the Sham Out of Christmas

This is not going to be one of those regularly heard messages about how Christmas has become so commercialized that the true meaning of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Christ, is almost an afterthought.

You know the saying, “Every day should be like Christmas?”  While that is taken by some to mean that we should get presents all the time (hopefully only children), most take it that there should be this feeling of love and brotherhood every day.  Unfortunately, there is not even love and brotherhood on Christmas.  It is just a sham, a facade, that people put on because it’s what one does; it’s expected.

Christmas was originally established as a day to celebrate the birth of Christ and Christians’ devotion to him.   It was a holy day … which in modern times has turned into a holiday.  The change in wording speaks volumes.  Two very different things.

On a holy day, it would be appropriate to immerse oneself in the teachings of Christ and truly ask “What would Jesus do?”  Those wristbands that young people, typically Evangelicals, used to wear were a great idea.  Unfortunately, they had no meaning.  Few really asked the question seriously; it was a fad.  

And those that did usually thought only about the issues of abortion and the culture wars, perhaps feeding the homeless, and then not through the words of Christ but through the words of their local minister.  Unfortunately, I never heard an Evangelical preacher speak about these issues with a tone or with thoughts even approximating what Christ would have said.  But that’s also not the point of this post.

The point is that on Christmas we put a lot of time, effort, and money into making those close to us, our “loved” ones, and perhaps some friends, happy.  We shower people with presents as well as our presence and a good dose of holiday cheer, good spirits.

But unfortunately, as I stated above, it’s just a sham, a facade, even on this one day.  Whether between spouses, siblings, parents and children, adults and their parents, the feelings typically expressed on Christmas just don’t hold water.  There is something there, but it’s mostly passive and confused.  Instead there is a vast reservoir of active memories and feelings about lack of respect, lack of love, lack of caring, envy, and all the other emotions and judgments that make up the typical dynamic between family members.

What most people do on Christmas is, for this one day, try to paper over all these negative feelings and be pleasant and cheerful.  But papering over really never works.  Either hard words are expressed at the time, or afterwards all the negative emotions come spilling out.

If people really immersed themselves in the teachings of Jesus, you would get past all these past slights that are embedded in your ego, you would not attach to these emotions, and you would respect the basic human dignity of all members of your family.  You would understand that we all suffer and anything that someone does that pushes our buttons is a direct expression of that person’s suffering, as well as our own.  That doesn’t change the “facts” but it does open the door to not blaming, to compassion and to loving kindness.

Sometimes, though, there are situations where the facts are so extreme, so bad, so dark, so all-encompassing … and continuing … that there is no way of getting around them spiritually.  One can find compassion perhaps but no spark of loving kindness.  Then it may be best to speak the truth with equanimity, calmly, and cut off relations.  This is extremely painful.  But putting oneself through a yearly charade, and all the negative feelings that arise during the year, is even more painful because it never ends and is denigrating.

The essence of Christmas should return to that of a holy day.  If one wants to exchange simple presents, that would be ok.  But the thrust of the day should be a spiritual observance.  All the excessiveness that have become basic to the commercial success of Xmas should end; it should certainly not be encouraged.  How one could accomplish that on a large scale given the nature of our culture and economy I can’t begin to imagine.  But that is the real meaning of Christmas to me (spoken as a JuBu, a Jewish Buddhist).