Friday, December 30, 2011

Evaluation of the Christmas just Passed

This is a thinking season. Between Christmas to New Year. Together with cleaning and de-cluttering. Cleaning and Contemplating are like twins hovering on my left and on my right shoulders these days.  Of decisions we have made through the year and will be in the new one. 

Of Christmas that passed, I ask myself. Did I achieve what I set out to do? Did I place God above all ? Did I spread Cheer to my loved ones and to strangers? Did I give enough, especially to Charity? Did I hold all things in good spirit and let the holy spirit do its work in me. To all these questions, I can at best say I tried. I was very tempted to do away with the whole gift idea. It is easy for me, after all, many Singaporean Christmas passed with a family buffet dinner at a restaurant and Home Alone video at home. But my husband feel passionately about a traditional Christmas  for the kids. We talked about the American traditions relentlessly but it is most interestingly summed up in his recent written sparring on his favorite blog - Ricochet. You can read ahead what goes on in the head of this head of the family.

Here is the first comment from a non Christian  whom I will name Mr Mystery Man posted on Christmas. 
 .....I get the holiday, I know the story, I understand (to a certain extent) the importance of Jesus in the Christian faith. But there are many things that disturb me about the holiday as it is celebrated in the modern Western world and the holiday season in general.
What is Christmas all about?
  • Charlie Brown and Co. do a good job (above) explaining why Christmas was moved to the winter season.
  • I've read in several places that Christ was more likely born around April, in the spring, and New Years was around this time as well. This is why April Fool's Day is celebrated; those who continued to celebrate New Years in April were labelled fools.
  • With such historical evidence as to the pagan roots of the timing and celebration-style of Christmas, why do modern Christians continue in celebrating pagan rites?
  • The positive aspects of the concept of Christmas gift-giving escape me. Engaging in materialism and consumerism does not become acceptable when you want to give gifts to those around you and those you love. It being Christmas doesn't take away from the fact that you are still engaging in behavior that in any other time of the year is spat upon as wasteful and gluttonous. 
  • Making a big deal out of giving charity in one particular time of year only highlights how void of such instincts we are for the other 11 months of the year. Needing a holiday to motivate people to give to the needy is a clear sign that the impetus to give charity is lacking in everyday life.
  • This is probably the most controversial thing I will say in this post: Christmas music is awful. Don't even get me started about how silly and tacky Christmas lights and other decorations are.
I just want to put this out there since I am not friends with many practicing Christians who think about this kind of thing (I live in NY guys) and Ricochet seems to best place to get opinions from smart, knowledgeable and serious members of many faiths.

Here is Stew's first response:
OK, taking your specific points in reverse order.
Christmas music is drawn from 2 main sources, pop music and Hymns. Generally, I prefer the hymns as they are an affirmation of faith - since you don't share my faith I can understand if you don't get the hymns.
Who is making the big deal of charity at this time of year, 'the givers' or 'the takers'? I would argue that the takers are capitalizing on the spirit of the season to encourage the givers to give more - in other words, the charities are saying, 'since you are so charitable to those you love, please be more charitable to the poor and needy as well.'
Engaging in 'consumerism' or 'materialism' (as you put it) is not inherently wrong or evil as you imply. Since you just give me the terms and a wink and nudge that I ought to know what you mean, allow me to ask - do you have any luxuries yourself? Because if you have even a single luxury above what you need to exist, then you must have engaged in 'consumerism' and 'materialism' yourself and needn't lecture me about it.
Besides birthdays or other one-off occasions (retirement, marriage, etc), when else is gift giving socially acceptable? Most of my friends would feel uncomfortable if I were to give them gifts outside of the occasions mentioned above - Christmas is wonderful for this. When my daughter was born, several of our friends got together and cooked traditional foods for my wife for the 'confinement period' - 1 month after the birth. Christmas gave us the opportunity to reciprocate for their kindness. 
The last thing I'll mention is that people in the US are the most generous on the planet- look at our per capita giving rates compared with the rest of the world. We do not conspicuously give to charity at Christmas and ignore the poor during rest of the year as you imply.

Mystery Man's reply :
you make a very good point about whether materialism or consumerism are inherent wrongs. I think we first need to define these terms to assess how they relate to the celebration of Christmas in the modern Western world.
What I consider consumerism is gaining satisfaction simply from the act of consuming. For example, the motivation to line up at Best Buy at 3:00am on Black Friday, and the ensuing glee at getting your hands on the last 700" flat screen TV from the clutches of another shopper, in my eyes, is consumerism...
Stew's rebuttal  :
Dissing the joys of full contact shopping? You should try it once, you might like it.
I don't enjoy full contact shopping myself, I prefer to shop on the internet where there is no scarcity for those who start early.
Then again, I don't like shopping at all but in my wife's family (in Singapore) that is one of the things they love - looking for bargains, finding coupons for great deals, enjoying the day browsing with family.
I guess I just count my blessings that I don't live in a country afflicted by scarcity.
I am just not seeing a problem here

To which Mystery Man persisted: 
.......but it's very disturbing to see children go so crazy over a particular toy, or more often an entire list, and either rejoice, then forget about it 5 minutes later, or devolve into enraged hysterics if they don't receive it.
Stew's Reply :
I saw the video and I was more embarrassed than humored. Kids behave inappropriately - so? That is the definition of childhood.
So materialism is when a child exhibits too much joy over a present or pitches a hissy fit when they don't get it. Where I come from we call that 'spoiled' and we are more embarrassed for the parents than angry at the children.
I have a hard time judging anyone for consuming too much - they've earned it and bought it for themselves - more power to them.

Mr Mystery Man fought back:
 To bring it back to the main point, you can't assess your Christmas present, then find an appropriate gift for the person who got it for you. If you haven't spent as much as the other, or if your gift is somehow less sentimental (by no fault of your own) than the other's, then you're the bad friend/brother/cousin/aunt/etc.
Stew's punch :
That is not how gift giving is supposed to work - it is not about equal value (or else you will be judged).
I had an Aunt who struggled with her addictions all her life. We would gift her with nice things and in return, she would give us a $2 engraved ornament. When we got together as a family for Christmas she would be inappropriately loud, or she would disappear for a few hours and then return and demand to be center of the show. We (the rest of the family) would put together a pool based on when she would return or what she would say when she did - it was how we coped.
She died while I was off at war in 2003 - today, I hold her ornaments dear.

Mystery Man's Forward Kick:
And my distaste for Christmas gift-giving stems from the concept as well as the practice. My friends put simply too much effort, time and money (often money that they don't have) into the holiday season. If you only want to spread cheer, goodwill and love, where did this material focus come into the picture?
Stew's Forearm Block:

Unfortunately, sir,  it isn't for you to say, "money they don't have." That is entirely their business as is their effort and time.
I spent a majority of my adult life as a Scrooge - I didn't put up a tree or even lights. I would buy gifts for my family and friends and if I could accept an invitation to be away from my house - I would.
My oldest son had to put up with that, but my scrooge-ness only impacted him every other year. When I remarried in 2003 my wife rekindled my holiday spirit, nothing ostentatious, but we decorate the house, have a nice tree and a full Christmas party schedule. As you say, spreading goodwill, cheer and displaying our love for family and friends.
Why be judgmental and ruin all of that - enjoy the season.

Mystery Man's Karate Chop:
God's greatest gifts to us all cannot be touched, bought or sold. To exchange physical items in commemoration of what he has given us is, in my opinion, insulting to the nature of his blessing.
Stew's Shadow Shift :
Your sentiment is true, generally I guess. I would say "God's greatest gifts to each of us" because they are personal in nature.
The next sentiment I don't get at all, so here is my explanation. God loves us. He expects us to love our neighbor. We show our love for God when we love our neighbor. One of the methods of expressing love is through giving gifts. So we give with a generous spirit.
In the Christian faith, The birth of Christ is announced and the heavenly host sings "Glory to God in the highest..." It is a big deal and cause for celebration.
Merry Christmas  Mystery Man.

And so the Christmas tree was up, lights hung, decor put up, gifts bought and exchanged, Charity given, Cheers and Laughter in abundance. And we all are gifted another great Christmas Memory. Glory be to God.

Now, time to clean up.

Little pieces of left over ribbons, I wrap them around left over plastic forks so it is easy to reuse.

My son's tinker toy pieces are great hold ribbon rolls together.

Keeping all the empty ribbon core for craft like this one made by Weien this year.

All store neatly in this bow box.

lots of straws best kept in a pop corn tin can.

haven's used this cake carrier for years, going to keep ornaments this year.

Plastic cake boxes and trays are great for separating wreaths. I sit them all in a huge plastic bins.

Precious kids art work. I keep them in one of the cardboard boxes. I should frame them at some point.  notice her hand and foot print?

Love this storage case for wrappers. I use them for birthday's presents through the year. Is that really bad. I don't see any mothers doing that. You can get these cases on amazon. Click here.

This is an excellent way to store strings of lights. Or use cardboard pieces cut from gift boxes.

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