Why Do We Celebrate Christmas Anyway? (aka: Holiday Cynicism vs. Idealism)

Sigh.

It’s that time of year again. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The season of peace and joy and goodwill toward men. The time of year when children’s eyes shine as brightly as the mysterious star that appeared over the baby Jesus in his manger (although, I imagine that this is less for the birth of Jesus as it is the anticipation of getting a big sparkly pile of toys).

A Mountain of Presents

First of all, let me just say that I am not a Scrooge. While I may Bah! Humbug! the tinsel and trappings and materialism and hypocrisy surrounding the big day, I am actually very fond of the ideals that embody the true spirit of Christmas.

As a parent to three terrific kids, I know too well how easy it is to get sucked into the self-centered, mind-numbing void of consumerism this time of year. It’s just so much fun to see my children get all excited as the days progress toward Christmas Eve, and such a thrill to hear the laughter and happiness bubbling over on Christmas morning, as they unwrap the special toys they’ve been hoping for. The very idea of their reactions is a huge driving force – so strong that even I, the cynic, race to the stores at the crack of dawn on Black Friday, anxious to find The Perfect Toy and secure my place as Best Mom Ever.

Who can resist this level of excitement and happiness on a child's face?

Who can resist this level of excitement and happiness on a child’s face?

But that is not Christmas. It is not supposed to be about shoving people out of the way in order to grab the last cool toy from the shelf. It is not supposed to be about making my kids feel temporarily happy with a pile of toys they will love for two weeks, then forget about. It is not having the most impressive display of Christmas lights, or the most adorable family photo greeting cards, or being hostess of the perfect holiday party.

But when is anything ever as it is supposed to be?

Underneath this hard, cynical shell lies a soft, sentimental idealist. A daydreamer who wants the impossible. I want Christmas to be a time when people open their hearts wider than their wallets. I want the neighbors holding hands and lighting candles and singing songs together. I want the poor and the needy of our community to be more than just faceless nobodies to whom we throw a dollar or donate a shiny wrapped toy. I want them to be the guests of honor at our tables. I want for people to try a little harder, to reach a little deeper inside themselves, and to be genuinely kind, loving, humble, compassionate, forgiving, and generous. Those are the values that embody this holiday. Those are the values that were supposedly taught by that man who was once a little baby, born in such humble circumstances so long ago – the one about whom so many Christmas carols are sung today. I want that miracle.

The end of It's a Wonderful Life is filled with so many of the best ideals of Christmas. Too bad it's only a movie.

The end of It’s a Wonderful Life is filled with so many of the best ideals of Christmas. Too bad it’s only a movie.

But I keep my idealism safely locked deep inside, where the disappointment of reality cannot destroy them. Because here is the truth: there is no miracle. Many of the same people who sing the carols and claim to believe in the same ideals of Christmas are sucked into the same void of self-centered, mind-numbing commercialism as everyone else. And so, the holiday becomes a pointless blur of shopping and decorations and fancy events. We pretend to pay homage to some cute little baby in a manger, when the truth is that he is not much more important to us than the plastic blinking reindeer our our front lawns.

This.

This.

And so, I sigh. And I spend too much money on expensive toys for my children. And I deck the halls with plastic holly and twinkling lights. And I sing Joy to the World and smile to see my children’s sparkling eyes as we await the big day of celebration. But what do we celebrate?

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2 responses to “Why Do We Celebrate Christmas Anyway? (aka: Holiday Cynicism vs. Idealism)

  1. Things don’t have to be Perfect to be perfect. Don’t expect too much from the Season and the disappointment will fade; after all, much cynicism comes from an hangover on idealism. The world is cold, the world is very dark but only a little light can disperse the darkness. Remember the Light In The Darkness and I hope your Christmas this year is better.

    • Thank you, James. I agree — cynicism often stems from a sense of idealism. I do not feel personally disappointed by the season, as my current mantra has been to “expect nothing, but live frugally on surprise,” as written so beautifully by Alice Walker. I am happy to spend a simple Christmas at home with my children, and never expect gifts or demand anything. Beyond myself, however, I still see the holiday as an overblown, empty occasion, masked by blind tradition and meaningless gift giving and greed. The idealist in me feels a sense of disgust by what I often see in the world around me this time of year, which results in my numb, cynical response.
      Thanks for commenting, and happy holidays!

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