Secular Christmas Gifts and Greetings

I wouldn't buy this expensive shirt!!Christmas Day, 2012.  Thus far, eight hours and forty-two minutes in, it has been unremarkable.

Santa Claus did not visit overnight, nor did we expect him.  My wife and I cast the old man out a few years ago, directing him not to ply his particularly offensive trade of glorifying conspicuous consumption at our house any more.  It’s not that we find the exchange of Christmas presents offensive, it’s that we find the obligation to do the exchange tiresome and, in large part, artificial.  We do, however, give a few gifts at Christmas time, but we don’t feel an obligation to give them (and we don’t give them to the same people year after year) and we have no expectation of receiving gifts in return.

That having been said, I really enjoy giving people gifts, but I have been thinking lately that I’d rather do the giving at unexpected times to mark no particular occasion.  I’m not suggesting that the giving should be completely random with regard to person and occasion, but that the giving ought to be divorced entirely from obligation.  My thought process this morning, as I contemplate this matter, suggests the best “gift” is one that involves the giver’s time and a real consideration of what the recipient might want or need or value.  And, speaking of value, the dollar value of the gift is irrelevant.

If my present state of mind holds, I will spend time in the coming months (and years) making gifts that I believe will have special significance to the recipients.  I don’t have a plan as to who the recipients will be; they will be people who mean something to me and for whom my gift might be appreciated.

Christmas gifts.  Hmm.  I’m thinking of Christmas gifts, now, in a broader sense than the usual wrapped presents.  Christmas gifts include the time we spend…either physically or in thought…at this time of year with people who matter to us.  And Christmas gifts include the festivities that come with the season: the decorations, the sounds (though I’m really not a fan of Christmas carols), and the real sense of community that people sometimes feel in the presence of their families and friends.  I can see that sense of community as I watch people, wherever I go, prepare for Christmas.

Though Christmas is, for many, a religious holiday, it is not a religious holiday for me.  It is a secular event that just happens to coincide with a religious celebration.  I happily borrow, though, the spirit of generosity and caring and goodwill that, ostensibly, springs from the religious celebration.  Regardless whence they spring, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, secularly speaking!

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Secular Christmas Gifts and Greetings

  1. Robin, in my household as a child the religious aspect of Christmas was “there,” but by and large ours was a secular holiday with all the trappings of the season…tree, gift exchange, etc. I like the idea of celebrating the solstice. I don’t know the genesis of gift-giving, though I have vague recollections that it may have been explained to me. Your suggestion about the tradition of lighting trees is as good as any I’ve heard! All the best to you and yours, too, Robin. I appreciate and value the friendship I have in you and Roger.

  2. robin andrea says:

    It’s an interesting thing, to watch the Christmas season unfold as an “outsider”– Growing up in a Jewish household, my family never had a Christmas tree, and we did not celebrate Hanukkah. We just watched the chaos of the season from an emotionally safe distance. I like celebrating the solstice, the earth/sun event of the cosmos that truly sparks the holiday. It would be interesting to know how the gift-giving ritual began. Every now and then after days of rain, the sun comes out and lights the raindrops left on the branches and pine needles, and I can imagine how the sparkly tradition of lit trees in winter began.

    Happy holidays to you and yours, John.

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