I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas and the holidays recently. I guess that makes sense. I’ve grown up celebrating Christmas, but like many others who continue to celebrate this holiday, my family has no religious connections to it. These last few years I’ve been pondering what Christmas means to me and how I feel about celebrating it. This post is about those thoughts I’ve been having. And no, I suppose it doesn’t relate directly to education (although I would be the first to say that everything relates to education) but I do think that by unschooling I’ve become a more critical thinker, so this post is also about that. Unschooling has taught me to consider how I spend my time and the choices I make. It’s reminded me to make active choices and to question everything. I think it’s important to highlight that shift because it is one of my favorite parts of the way I learn and live now.
Christmas. When I think of Christmas, the traditions and words I think of fit into two categories in my brain. Things I feel no affiliation with or no desire to continue (at least in the way we do now) and things I want to be an important part of all of my life, not just this time of year. Starting with the former, let me break it down further:
Religion and faith: I suppose I just think it’s a bit weird how I celebrate this idea I feel no connection to. I understand that Christmas in the sense of celebrating of bringing light into dark times of year began as a Pagan holiday, but it’s certainly not considered by most a Pagan holiday now. I already celebrate the Solstice to honor the light during dark times anyways. I don’t like the idea that one faith’s holidays have become the assumed holidays for everyone. I think there are ways that we (as a culture) are moving away from that assumption, but I don’t believe that unquestioningly celebrating these religious holidays is a step in the right direction.
The copious amounts of gifts: I may be in the minority here, but giving and receiving gifts during Christmas time simply doesn’t give me much pleasure. I don’t believe gifts are inherently bad, but I do have some strong objections to this system. I don’t enjoy getting gifts I don’t want. Yet there is this idea that surprising gifts are more exciting than receiving something you genuinely want to own. Sometimes, you know someone really well and you’re able to recognize when you see something they’re really like. But more often than not, someone buys (because unfortunately, it normally is something store-bought) simply hoping the recipient will enjoy it, rather than asking the person what they will be glad to get. And I don’t think anyone finds pleasure in a gift the giver isn’t excited about giving and the receiver isn’t excited about receiving. There is such a prevalent consumer culture in this country, and I think that so much mindless gift exchanging is a big way it manifests during this season.
Again, this is not all to say that gifts are only negative. Surprise gifts (surprise as in “I didn’t think I was going to get anything today” not “I didn’t think I was going to get this thing”) at a random point throughout the year are a wonderful treat. Because one is expected to give and get gifts on Christmas, less pleasure is gained from the process. At an unexpected moment, the gifter gets the joy of giving and the giftee gets the joy of receiving (and even if it’s something they didn’t want, they at least get the thrill of knowing someone was thinking of them enough to give them something nice).
The last (or at least the last I thought of so far) reason I feel less than cheered by the gifting at Christmastime is the impracticality of it. If it’s a gift you truly want to receive, something asked for or that the people close to you simply know you want, why wouldn’t they give it to you when it first becomes useful? Rather than getting something in July to give to someone in December, you could give it to them in July and they’d get a whole six months more pleasure from it.
I suppose what I’m trying to say with all of this is that if it’s a gift they truly want, I think a person gets the same amount of pleasure, and probably more, from receiving it at the point in time when it was first discovered as a gift (be it from a direct request or just a strong inkling). If it’s a gift they don’t want, then everyone (including the planet, excluding the seller) would be better off if it was never given.
And now for the second category, things I want in my life all year. I don’t feel I need to go into as much detail with this section because I think most people believe these values are important and worth bring into one’s whole life. The examples I think of are spending time with family, connecting with nature and serving the wider community. I don’t want the Christmas season to be the only time I focus on things like going on walks, cooking, volunteering and catching up with the people I care about (be it biological family or not).
Holidays are a time to celebrate and to focus your energy in certain places. I want to celebrate the things that are important to me (the changing of the seasons, people I love). I want to wake up each day focusing on the things that matter and if I need to take time away from my regular life to do so, at least do it more frequently than a few times a year.
So, what would be a solution to all of this? I have a number of different ideas, which I think could be kind of mixed together in different ways to create something that worked for you. Certainly I haven’t thought of nearly everything but these all sound like pretty good switches to me:
- Trying to take one day each fortnight or month to focus on a different important thing (reconnecting with the natural world, cooking a big meal with others, meditating) and then trying to bring that with me specifically for the next fortnight/month.
- Choosing one specific thing (something like one of the suggestions above) to focus on for a year+ and spending a day each month (or more frequently) to concentrate on it.
- Having a gift giving time (maybe during the Christmas season if that’s a good time for you/your family) concentrated on solely gifts of love, fun and surprise. The kinds of things you wouldn’t give someone because they needed it. This would be really focused away from things the person doesn’t need and more about homemade and experience gifts.
- Giving people gifts only when you find something you think they’d like or they tell you something they’d like. This would be about spontaneity, demonstrating that you’re always looking out for the people you love, and the practicality of getting things when you need them. It would hopefully be less materialistic as well because you wouldn’t feel pressure to give gifts for no reason but the time of year.
- Creating holidays based around the things you feel are important. Designing them to highlight what you want to notice more and have more of. I really love this idea because I think traditions that are so family (or friend or community) specific are incredibly special and wonderful.
Christmas is just one of the many things I’ve examined anew now that my perception of what is normal and unchanging has shifted so much. I’m eternally grateful that unschooling has allowed me to think deeply about the parts of my life that I haven’t questioned before. I look through the world with different eyes every time I learn something new about the way I see the world.
What do you think about this? Do you celebrate Christmas? Are there parts of this holiday or others that feel really important and special to you? Are there parts that you could do without? I’m really interested in hearing different views on this issue.