With a few rare exceptions, I basically haven’t given anyone a Christmas present or sent anyone a Christmas card for a number of years now. And I’m not some miserable miser with no friends, or estranged from my family, I just decided not to bother with Christmas any more a few years back.
I guess this is perhaps a little easier for me since the last few years I’ve spent most of my winters in Asia, away from all the tinsel and panic shopping. But at the end of the day I still “opt-out” the times when I am back home.
The Season of Good Conditioning?
I’ve talked about conditioning before, and I think it totally distorts the our view of reality, and “Christmas” is a great example pre-determined conditioned behavior.
At Christmas people make an annual pilgrimage to their family home for a few days of formalised behavior, obligatory gift giving, Christmas TV, bickering, and over eating. Out of a sense of obligation people buy presents for their ‘loved ones’, many spending more than they can afford, and getting stressed over choosing the right presents.
Some spend hours making a ‘Christmas Card List’ to decide who they are obliged to send or are worthy of receiving a little greetings card, the more efficient of these people will have figured out how to “mail merge” and print all the addresses out on sticky labels.
The retail industry goes into Christmas Warp mode, dazzling everyone with tinsel, the same Christmas music on permanent loop and shitty plastic toys made in Chinese factories which pump smoke and chemicals into the atmosphere unabated.
Millions of turkeys are bred just to be killed for this one day, and often their carcass is thrown away only partially eaten.
For one day people are at least superficially, more friendly to each other – ‘Happy Christmas’ they say.
Sure the small kids love it, eat too much chocolate and go nuts over their excessive presents, but the whole affair is like some predictable soap opera playing the same episode year after year after year, yet everybody still tunes in to watch it.
First Steps Outside the Box
When I was about 14, I remember really struggling to buy presents for my family. I ended up buying a load of shitty books that the people I gave them to didn’t want. “What a waste!” I realised. But at 14, I really lacked the subtlety to know what kind of cookery books my Mum might appreciate, or even whether she needed any more cookery books. But shite, even now it’s hard enough remembering what colour my girlfriend of 4 years likes in order to buy her the right scarf let alone anyone else.
It’s All in the Giving
I remember how upset and guilty my Mum felt a few years back when she bought a cashmere jumper for my brother that was a size too small. She gave it to me instead, then ended up going out of her way to buy him another one a few weeks later. It was a real #win for me and my brother and frankly we both wouldn’t have given a shit if we didn’t get anything anyway, but my Mum seemed flustered by the whole thing all day and kept apologising to my brother for weeks afterwards.
Gift giving culture is a net negative. The joy and happiness from receiving/giving presents is worth far less than the stress, expense and negative feelings it brings. And presents are a crappy way of telling someone you love them or they are important to you – this is determined solely by your long term behavior and in some certain key situations (like helping them when they are in trouble).
Obligation = Commercial Paradise
Even in Japan where nobody is Christian anyway, commerce has somehow hijacked the 25th of December and turned it into a sort of early valentine day where you’re supposed to do something romantic with your partner. There’s Christmas decorations and tedious “festive” music on loop in all the shops from early November, all cashing in on the opportunity to get you to spend more money on something like a bucket of KFC “Christmas” Chicken.
I hate to be a kill joy. I admit when I’m in the country I do enjoy spending time with my family (especially since they have a real fire), I like singing Christmas carols (I usually like improvise my lyrics/melodies). But I’m not going to buy any presents, send any cards or be more friendly to people than usual on one day, just to revert back to “normal” less friendly behavior afterwards.
But for those of you who still feel the Christmas cheer, let me give you a few suggestions for alternative Christmases you might try in order to loosen the tight grip of your conditioning:
Alternative Christmas Ideas
- Buddhist Christmas – rather than give people a present, take something away from them, make them less dependent on material things.
- Tropical Christmas – go to a tropical country away from your family and have a nice time. Don’t buy any presents for anyone, just have a really good time (this is basically what I do every year).
- Non Christmas – go and see your family if you like, but just pretend it’s a normal weekend – don’t say ‘Happy Christmas’, don’t buy any presents.
- ‘Our’ Christmas – still celebrate Christmas, but not on Christmas day, maybe January 25th instead (so you’ll completely skip the ‘Christmas Panic’)
- Charity Christmas – donate all the money you would have spent on presents to some Charity, or give it to someone in need