Why, asks David Osborn, should we only encourage generosity and giving at one time of the year?
I believe that Christmas is a shambolic celebration that should be scrapped – and here’s why.
Firstly, the very premise – the birth of Jesus – is flawed. As best as we can tell, Jesus (if he existed) was born in summer, not winter. The reason his birth was moved to December was to Christianise an ancient and very well established pagan celebration, the winter solstice.
What this means is that if you want to celebrate the birth of Christ, you’re doing it six months too late – or six months too early, depending on which way you look at it. If celebrating the birth of Christ has meaning, isn’t it meaningless to do it at the wrong time?
Of course most of us don’t celebrate Christmas to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Modern Christmas is about love, kindness, family, and getting (or rather, giving) presents. So why should that end, you rightly ask?
To me, the idea that there should be a certain time of year when you’re nicer and more loving than you normally are is anathema. If you are capable of being very kind at Christmas, you are capable of being so any time, and to cease being this kind just because a religious holiday – even when it’s held at the wrong time of year – ends shows a lack of thoughtfulness; a sheep-like reaction to an established norm. I don’t treat Christmas any differently from the summer – I am this dour all year round – and when I see people being extra nice in December, I can only wonder why they can’t do that all the time.
Secondly, Christmas isn’t all about love and happiness; it has been hijacked by profiteers, who encourage indiscriminate spending on useless and meaningless junk like Garden Santas and fake snow. In 2006, the National Consumer Agency reported that we would spend €1,300 per household on Christmas that year. If Christmas was really about love and caring, we would be giving this money to those who need it, like those in the third world, instead of to multi-nationals. That would be an expense with real meaning.
Thirdly, Christmas excludes very large sections of both the world and our own society. It has only been celebrated in the west for around 100 years, and is not celebrated elsewhere. Despite the fact that it is a de facto secular holiday, it nonetheless has religious roots, which means that people from other faiths cannot in good conscience celebrate it. It also excludes people who live alone and have no relatives nearby, being a very family-based holiday.
I’m not suggesting we should abandon winter celebrations; far from it. We should revive the celebration of winter solstice. After all, isn’t the beginning of the end of winter and the start of the new harvest something to celebrate? That it is a naturally occurring holiday means all could celebrate it equally. We should take time off and feast and have festivals, just not under the phoney guise of either a fake religious date we don’t celebrate or mindless spending which encourages us to value junk over substance.
Finally, we shouldn’t have a specific time of year when we are more empathetic to our fellow humans; we should always value time spent with our friends and family, we should always be as kind to strangers and acquaintances alike as we are during Christmas, and we should always keep in mind those people who are less fortunate.
David Osborn is the founder and auditor of the UCD Humanist Society.