Making sense of Christmas

It’s not that I don’t like the season. In fact I like it very much in some ways. It’s just that, as an adult, I don’t really get Christmas any more; certainly not what it is in 2013 anyway. I get a little melancholy this time of year, and posted my wishes for religion, animals and greed a couple years ago.

However, while there are things I hope will change about the season (though I don’t ever expect them to), that’s not really why I don’t feel all that comfortable with the whole concept any more. Families and friends still share time together, but most of the rest of it just doesn’t make any real sense any more.

In no particular order, I simply can’t reconcile some of the following things in my head, at odds with each other around Christmas.

Seasonal Religion

I’m an atheist. I’m not metaphysical in the slightest and don’t believe strange things can be explained away by karma, guiding universal forces or some netherworld spirit. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and vice-versa; in general, life happens as a result of research and planning or sometimes, randomly. So, there’s no worshipping a Christian deity this, or any other, time of year for me. If God works for you, that’s great, but there’s simply nothing there for me.

The 2011 Canadian census reported that 67% of Canadians claim adherence to Christianity, followed by no religion at 24%, but rates of religious adherence have been steadily decreasing. So, with 25% of us claiming no religious affiliation, why does planned church attendance at Christmas balloon to eclipse Grey Cup and Stanley Cup viewership, combined, this year? I don’t profess an understanding of why people would go to church once a year or even occasionally if there’s any kind of conviction of belief present, but moreover it seems to happen “just because” … This isn’t a judgement, just one of my disconnects with the season. With religion meaning less and less to more and more of us, what is Christmas?

This is all the more strange for me by the fact that I love some seasonal church music. It probably goes back to my quasi-Anglican upbringing, but I guess I just appreciate the melody and mood, and not because the music has any deeper meaning for me. I’d like to say that I prefer secular Christmas tunes, but in truth I’m an equal opportunity music lover in this regard. The Nat King Cole Christmas album is sublime.


I guess you could connect this to greed and ‘getting’ more than ‘giving’ but it’s just really about how a Christian birth celebration has morphed into the make or break season for retailers. Commercial decorations abound, non-stop media ads routinely run prior to Halloween now, and the masses are conditioned to the buying power of the season. I’m no real minimalist and don’t really deprive myself at all, so I understand using a good sale to get something you need. However, while we toss a gift card to each of my adult children, we do absolutely no seasonal shopping, except to fund one nice dinner with a very small amount of imbibing for the family. No gifts and no killing of extra trees by way of greeting card industry support.

However, in addition to Boxing Day sales that begin before Christmas and the ludicrous positioning of things like cars as Christmas gifts, we are conditioned to the notion that we have to buy gifts for all those close to us. I’d hazard a guess that many of these purchases are totally unnecessary and, further, that if most people examined this behaviour they’d see how ridiculous it is. Are we giving gifts to celebrate a 2000 year old birthday to which few of us have any real affiliation? Or, more likely, are we buying a bunch of stuff for loved ones because the media has guilted us into it through generations of messaging?

Why else would Canadians be spending close to $1000 this year?

In fact, shopping bills to date are already higher than the average of $852 in holiday spending Canadians had budgeted for in a similar poll done just last month.

I guess it’s just another thing I don’t understand. Get what you need as you need it throughout the year, but why buy a bunch of stuff you often don’t need because the media tells you to? And, before you say it’s different when you have kids, I wholeheartedly agree, but from an early age there’s nothing wrong with gifting with restraint, as opposed to gusto.

Food and Alcohol

I like treats as much as the next guy, but due to a recent health reading I didn’t like, I’m keeping my seasonal caloric consumption very minimal this year (and probably from now on). Being mostly plant-based in my food choices, the whole thing is another big disconnect for me. I won’t reiterate here my wishes for animals from the earlier linked post, but so many of our food choices have an animal welfare impact that I find it difficult. I can’t reconcile mass consumption of turkey, ham, goose or whatever your preference is, with the amount of suffering it represents.

Based on all the advice on a Google search for Canadian Christmas weight gain, trying to avoid the waistline effects of the season is a big deal. It’s not just weight gain that’s an issue. Between rising blood sugar and blood pressure, many of the foods we go nuts on this time of year spike both those key health indicators.

Taken as a quick bit of partying, I get and enjoy a little indulgence. However, a recently released study suggests that less than 10% of Canadians have ‘ideal’ heart health. Since the study indicates only 17% of kids have decent heart health, less indulgence all the time may be a good idea. I certainly haven’t always been great in that regard with my kids, but the older I’ve become the more restraint I’ve tried to introduce to my seasonal ablutions.

In fact, in the week plus I’ve been off work I’ve been focused on kicking sugar and salt even more than normal through killing off most processed foods and sticking with my training plan better than earlier this year. Truth is, December’s been great as of this writing on Christmas Eve. I’ve dumped a few pounds of unwanted ‘runkilling’ weight and will probably top 450 km of bike/run distance. I now prefer to use the time for improving health than running it down. I don’t think I have to go crazy just because all the messaging I see tells me to.

Lighting and Mood

This another weird one for me. With my feelings on religion, shopping and pigging out, it would be understandable if you thought me a decoration curmudgeon. Wrong. While I don’t go for a lot of bulbs and tinsel, it might be my background in technical theatre, but I love lights. I don’t try to kill the Hydro grid, but I do hang a few strings outside and we put up a small tree in the living room.

While the tree isn’t for placing a bunch of presents under, it does provide some mood while off work and hanging with the family, and makes the meal we share seem more seasonal. Since there isn’t a ton of food being consumed and new ‘stuff’ wrapped, I think there’s some kind of anchor to childhood memories for me, which the tree seems to evoke. It also happens to go nicely with the aforementioned music quite well.

I still ask myself why the lights and small tree, though. It feels nice and conjures warm memories, but isn’t really tied to anything else any more. Is that enough? Thinking about it … Why not?

Friends and Family

This is, perhaps, the easiest thing for me to understand about the season. I truly love the time off work and the quality gatherings that Christmas brings. However, this year in particular, is a more challenging one. My eldest son is having a good time playing bass on a ship in the tropics and we lost our dog of more than a decade three months ago. With my youngest bouncing between his mom’s, his girlfriend’s family and us, we’ll end up with a nice day together on the 25th and a dinner on the 26th.

There used to be far more gatherings for both my wife and me in the past than there is now. We still manage a few visits with friends, but being an only child with both parents deceased and grown children, things are subdued, to say the least. The rest of my extended family, with whom I’m in somewhat regular contact, is in eastern Canada. My wife’s family matters are a little more complicated. As such, we keep it low-key and enjoy the time together. Changes that come with time notwithstanding, this is still THE piece of Christmas I look forward to.

So, there you have it. I like the season for time with family and friends, a few decorations and a nice meal. Nothing else that I observe others doing really resonates for me. Not sure if that makes me odd or more like others than I think.