A few weeks before Christmas I participated in an online poll run by a popular British website. The question was: would you cancel Christmas is you could? I was surprised to find that across both genders and several age groups the majority answer was “yes”. The only group that had a majority for keeping Christmas was people with young children. (Of course, if children had a vote they would have voted for Christmas too.)
You can’t place too much faith in online polls but nevertheless it must point to a fact that a lot of people don’t like Christmas. And yet you rarely hear this said. It’s a sort of silent cry. I was pleased because I had thought I was alone in coming to see Christmas as a lot of trouble, meaningless and ultimately destructive.
In its origins Christmas was a Christian festival. It celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. I doubt that a single person who voted to “cancel” Christmas meant that they want to stop Christians from celebrating that day (and neither do I). They meant that for the vast majority Christmas has no connection to religion and is something else altogether – and something undesirable... , in my view.
Even a generation ago, I think that Christmas had some special significance of a non-religious nature. It was a once-a-year feast. People could “eat, drink and be merry”. I loved hearing how my Grandad would buy the biggest turkey he could find and my mum and family would struggle to eat it over the next 2 weeks. There were mince pies! Christmas pudding! Roast potatoes galore!
The difference is that British people now (and I am no exception) eat and drink their fill all year through. You can see that in our expanding waistlines. It’s really far from what we need to try to exceed that in the dark of midwinter, when very few people are doing any physical exercise. And yet that is what we do.
It was also a special time of year when children got new toys (and some sweets). But children today are showered with new stuff all year long. They hardly ever get to feel that special buzz of getting something they really wanted and had to wait for. I know of houses where a whole room is taken up by things that the children own but don’t use (their favourite stuff is kept in their bedrooms). People call it a “playroom” but actually it’s a “storeroom”.
Everyone says the Christmas buying frenzy is “madness”, and then goes out and spends ten percent more than last year.
It’s not just a waste of money, it’s an environmental waste. Worse, I think it gives the wrong message to young people: you can get whatever you want, more stuff is always on the way, you don’t have to feel any particular gratitude for any one thing…
But the absolute worst thing about Christmas is how little people seem to enjoy it. They feel stressed about buying dozens of expensive presents (that quite often go wholly unappreciated) and making sure they have enough (too much!) food. People argue far more over Christmas(because the worst way to have a good time is for it to be compulsory to be together and to have a good time). It actually causes a spike in divorces. I can speak from personal experiences when I say that a lot of people’s lingering grudges stem from things that happened over Christmas.
Many people go into debt for the sake of Christmas, spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds that they cannot really afford. They use credit cards then find they cannot even meet the minimum repayment in February. So when I look at Christmas now, I don’t see it as a Christian festival or even a special time of year when family get together, but a sort of orgy of consumerism in which we train each other to be good little cogs in an environmentally wasteful capitalist machine.
I wish we could cancel it. But far more I wish there were a reset button.