Modern Christmas Culture
One of the cars had to go back into the shop for a couple of days. The misses had to pick me up from work. It was late and rainy when she finally arrived. The Missouri Department of Transportation has shut down a major route through the heart of the city for at least a year. We decided to take a route home that cut through some residential neighborhoods. And we saw some of the most beautiful Christmas lights on houses that I’ve seen in a long time. Unfortunately, the houses dressed for the season were few and far between. For whatever reason, people just don’t do this holiday like they used to.
Suddenly I started getting nostalgic for the holidays as I knew them as a kid. I remember how my mom and dad used to work all year to prepare for Christmas. Mom would start shopping for the next Christmas the day after Christmas. They would buy things all year so we could have a wonderful Christmas morning. The Christmas tree was relatively bare the night before with just a handful of gifts for decoration purposes. But come Christmas morning the entire living room would be covered in colorful packages with a high toys to practical gifts ratio.
At night, when we were little we would hop in the car and ride through neighborhoods to see the colorful light displays. We would laugh at the house displays with multiple Santa Claus figures in the mix. I remember once we say as many as eight Santa clones in various poses on somebody’s lawn and roof. All the memories of wonderful Christmases past started to well up inside me and I began to feel sad for my son. My boy is never going to wake up to a sea of gifts like my siblings and I did. He’s not going to see his entire neighborhood dressed up in colorful lights.
No one in my neighborhood dressed their house for the season. No time to celebrate the season. No money for gifts. No money for electric bills from Ameren UE driven to exorbitant amounts bordering on extortion by Christmas light displays. No holiday spirit for family let alone strangers. No peace and definitely no harmony. The most my son will know of this season is that retail sales are never what retailers hope for and there will always be some house far away featured in the news with a computerized light display with so many flashing bright lights that they’re bound to induce epileptic seizures in people who never had any sign of the condition before. My son will be lucky to see one Santa let alone eight on a single lawn.
The traditions of Christmas have been railroaded into a corporate retail marketing tool that has little in common with the meaning of the original concept. Christmas was intended to be spiritual counter to pagan rituals that celebrated the transition from fall to winter. Instead of allowing the non believers to exercise their traditions in peace, they were melded into Christian rituals designed to celebrate the birth of the son of man. Is it really just a coincidence that the birth of Jesus is celebrated with a Santa and an evergreen tree dressed up in lights and candy canes and such? What in the world do any of those distractions have with the supposed birth of Christ?
The communal concepts like good will towards all men have given way to shootouts in Macy’s over the last Xbox 360. A man loses his life making the mistake of standing in between a crowd of people and the low priced items at the Wal-Mart. A man’s life isn’t worth a discounted dollar these days, at least not around the holiday season. Any spiritual significance centered on social aspects pale in comparison to the secular characteristics that more closely resemble the what’s in it for me line of thinking that permeates every facet of our culture.
I thought about these things as I drove home with my son in the back seat of the car. At twenty two months he really didn’t seem to pay all that much attention to the few houses that were lit up. He just might be too young to focus. When we passed one set of lights his attention was riveted on the brick wall on the other side of the street. He has no clue as to what’s happening in this sarcastic season of joy. To him, it’s just another day. It saddens me that he won’t know the joy of Christmas like I do, or once did.
But then again, he will not suffer the disappointment of a time where Christmas meant a little more than shopping with credit and more pressure fueled human conflict. Given a choice I would prefer that my son not know Christmas at all than to see it develop into a modern pagan ritual of consumption, narcissism, cynicism and chaos. Christmas used to represent the best of us. It now represents us at our very worst as a culture.