How to Own Christmas

13,000 Santas in Londonderry – @Arthur Allison

Over time, the best and worst in people becomes concentrated and specified.  The dual nature of Christmas is a superb example. When I was a kid we had very little money, and our lack of material possessions coalesced into the just the kind of devotion to buying things you don’t need you can observe at your local retail outlet.  For a few years I was into robots, culminating in the appearance one year of a talking, three-foot plastic monster with multiple weapons systems.  My mother must have pawned her engagement ring to get Big Loo.

Big Loo (by Marx, 1963)

Back then I didn’t understand that traditions like celebrating in late December, gift giving, and dancing around a decorated tree existed hundreds of years before Jesus lived.  Long before history was written down, poor people slaughtered livestock in the dead of winter because there wouldn’t be enough grain to feed them until spring.  For many, it was the only time of year they had fresh meat.  Additionally, fermenting beverages sealed away in kegs and bottles at harvest-time would first be drinkable at this time.  These seasonal riches, plus the prudent idea to celebrate your survival when there’s little food and it’s cold outside made for a potent party mix.

The notion of co-opting already well-established celebrations like Yule, Saturnalia and the Feast of Mithra came from the early church.  You must admit it was smarter to encourage people to adopt ANOTHER reason for celebrating than it would have been to try banning non-religious reasons for observances of December 25th.  Despite this initial good idea, there have been some problems courtesy of religious zealots.  Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans tried to cancel Christmas in Britain, but it came back with the restoration of Charles II.  The sacred and secular aspects of the Midwinter holidays eventually fused in the person of Santa Claus.

The Santa we know about is a good illustration of the way history and changing cultures refine legends from pieces of similar good stories and characters.  St. Nicholas, the 4th Century Bishop of Myra, was a rich man known for giving gifts to the poor.  Part of his post-sainthood legend is riding a flying horse, an aspect shared with Odin.  Odin and Nick both had magical servant-helpers and long, white beards.  The Dutch gift-giver Sinterklaas merged with the British Father Christmas.  Then came THE poem (Night Before Christmas) and the Thomas Nast caricatures and the Coca-Cola ads, but that all happened a long time ago.

Christmas is not a pleasant experience for everyone.  Not for those who are hungry or lonely.  It’s a hard time of year for people missing loved ones they can’t be with.  The orgy of buying makes those who can’t keep up feel ashamed.  Children can’t understand why some have so much and some so little.  I understand it, but I don’t like it either.  However, Charles Dickens was right.  It isn’t too late to change.  You can own Christmas, the kind everyone deserves.

The common truth shared with us by Jesus, Scrooge and the Grinch is that being generous in spirit transforms the experience of living.  That’s what’s in Santa’s sack, underneath the boxes.  If you share the best of who you are with others, they will give the same gift back to you.  It doesn’t cost a penny, and it’s priceless.


Filed under Ethics and Morality, Music, photos, symbolism

20 responses to “How to Own Christmas

  1. At least Big Loo doesn’t forget to smile.

    I do think the concept of generosity is becoming lost. Yesterday, a story was posted about a man who stole videogame consoles from a hospital for sick children ( The majority of comments spout righteous anger and a demand that this man be brought to justice and/or various bad things happen to him. It somewhat alarmed me, however, how few people then went back and considered the children, the victims and true subject of this story.

    Luckily, there is an organization, Child’s Play, that deals specifically in providing videogames, books, movies and toys to hospitalized children. It is supported by both industry companies and private donation, and I’m sure they will likely step in should they hear of this situation. Even so, while “Don’t take!” is a sound rule, it shouldn’t absolutely drown out the peal of “Give!”

  2. Great post! It’s a a shame you don’t still have Loo. I want every little toy back I sold at yard sales as a kid.
    I appreciate the message of this post, though, too. Materialism does get in the away of the true giving spirit of Christmas for sure and Christmas can be depressing too.

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  4. I so needed to read your words on this topic. Thank you! Merry Christmas.

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  6. Hi, Mikey
    I’ve been catching up with all your recent posts over breakfast this morning (special delivery airmail still in operation). A wonderful read, as usual. I especially enjoyed this one from last year and tweeted it. The title of the post related to this one. ‘The leavening’ has stayed with me.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed it, Deborah.

      The two weeks Mary and I spent in and around London in 2001, from mid-December to Boxing Day, re-energized us both as we re-learned how to keep Christmas. We sang every day, in places ranging from street corners to the Albert Hall. I’ll never exhaust the gift of that memory.

      God bless us, everyone.

  7. Reblogged this on Invisible Mikey and commented:

    Since I’m getting a number of hits on this old article, I guess it’s time to bring it back!

  8. galenpearl

    I did not know these pre-Christian roots of Christmas. I’m always uplifted and educated when I visit your blog! Also enjoyed and learned a lot from your last post about Iceland. My dad would have loved you. Like you, he liked to learn about, well, everything.

    • It’s such a satisfying punchline to a cosmic joke that took 50 years to set up, my interest in everything. In school it was viewed as a serious flaw, an inability to focus very narrowly. They would try to teach me the details of Civil War battles, and I would ask questions about economic and political context. I remember a lot of teachers shooting me looks of sheer frustration. I can’t count the number of times people have told me some variation of “Wisdom is not a profession. Pick something!” Well, now I never run out of things to write about, only the time in which to do it. I’m gratified you enjoy reading it!

  9. Hi Michael – Nice read. Now I have to find that blog about Iceland. Was it recent? I hear that the women took back control of the country, put the irresponsible bankers in jail, told the bondholders that they were going to take the hit, not the taxpayers, and increased the safety net. Result – Iceland, the country worst off after the deluge of 2008 is now the county whose economy is most recovered. In contract, Ireland did the austerity thing and is still in bad shape.

    • Thanks, Susie. You pretty much summarised the Iceland story, except that it wasn’t a women’s movement. It’s a “people power” movement, begun originally by one man with an open mic in a public square. They did elect a female PM though. For risking their economic stability, they kicked out the government and jailed a bunch of their banksters. The former Prime Minister was convicted of misconduct in office. Then they moved forward to re-write their whole Constitution, which has now been approved by voters and is awaiting ratification by Parliament.

  10. Best wishes for a great holiday-Christmas spirit to you and the missus. Peace be with you!

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