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Happy Christmas!

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In difference to preceding generations, we live in the age of globalisation. Most of us have gadgets in our homes produced on the other side of the world, we wear clothes made in India or Bangladesh, we eat fruit and vegetable and fish that has been transported from very, very far away. That’s how we can eat tomatoes in winter, avocado all year round and munch our way through a bowl of scampi.
Globalisation also impacts our cultures. I recall the first time I travelled to China on business. The adverts that stared down at me from various billboards promoted stuff I’d never heard of before. (And in Chinese characters, which sort of added to the exoticism) Western food chain eateries were few on the ground and the music blaring from the radio was in Chinese, however modern the beat.
Some years later, and the adverts were for Gillette, McDonald’s, KFC, BMW. The music playing on the radio was no longer exclusively Chinese. In fact, most of it was in English. Not necessarily a bad thing, but how does this affect the local culture? Actually, how does it affect culture, full stop?
Sometimes, I fear we’re mistaking consumerism for culture. Take Valentine’s Day, until recently not much of a thing in Europe. Now we are bombarded with adverts suggesting we buy gifts and flowers and chocolate (yes please) for our loved ones on February 14. But in those countries where Valentine’s is an imported holiday there are no cultural roots to link all these gifts to, no traditions of homemade Valentine cards to somehow mitigate the “buy, buy, buy her stuff if you love her” message.
In Sweden, we’ve seen an upsurge in Halloween celebrations in the last decade. We’ve never celebrated Halloween. We’ve celebrated All Saints, a religious holiday when we’ve visited the graves of our dead and lit a candle for them. These days, we don’t do that anymore. We carve pumpkins into toothy grins and embrace artificial spiderwebs (and spiders), decorating our homes in orange and black. Not because it is part of our cultural identity, but because it is part of the new “global” culture, disseminated through various shows/movies & social media and eagerly spurred on by all those who make money on selling us yet another celebration.
These days, we even have a major Black Friday craze here in Europe. Not because we’ve suddenly started celebrating Thanksgiving, but because the commercial powers that are recognise yet another opportunity to make money. And we, dumb consumers that we are, fall for all those special offers, buying stuff we probably don’t need or much want. Most of us have too much stuff and too little content in our lives.
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Tomorrow it is Christmas Eve, and for the last four weeks or so, we’ve been in the grip of Christmas shopping. From every store blares Christmas music, most of it of the Anglo-Saxon kind. Very little of it is traditional – rarely does one hear Oh Come All ye Faithful, while José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad seems to be on constant repeat. I suspect up-beat music stresses us into buying more stuff, the spiritual message of Christmas (God sending us his Son to deliver us all from evil) submerged by the “All I Want for Christmas” varieties which focuses on the presents. As I write this, the television in the background is informing me I can still buy my Christmas presents—at a bargain price, as this particular store has already started its After Xmas sale. (Most illogical: if it is an After Xmas sale, then how can it start before Christmas?)
It seems to me we’ve lost our way, somehow. For me, the weeks before Christmas should be about lighting candles to brighten the winter gloom while preparing for those few days when our family is reunited. Do I buy presents? Of course I do. But they’re not central to my Christmas and I rarely have a wish-list of my own. After all, I don’t need more things.
For me, the high point of our Christmas celebration is early on the morning of December 24 (In Sweden, Christmas Eve is the thing) All our children lie sleeping and hubby and I tip-toe around, lighting candles and preparing hot cocoa. We whip cream to go with the cocoa, heat the mandatory saffron buns and then, once we’re done, we crank up the volume so that the whole house echoes with “Hosanna, David’s son, blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord” (One of my favourite X-mas psalms). One by one, our children emerge, sleepy-eyed and tousled. And while they are all taller than me, all of them adults, in that precise moment they are all still my babies, for all that they have to bend down for me to kiss them Happy Christmas.
jul Carl_Larsson_Brita_as_IdunaI hope you all have someone to kiss this Christmas. I hope there are moments when you sit in the glow of candles and enjoy the peace and quiet of the winter night, a little bubble of golden light in a world that sometimes feels very scary and dark. With that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Or just Happy Holidays and a fabulous New Year. And when life gets confusing and difficult, may you all have a star to guide you, a little beacon to light your way!

23 thoughts on “Happy Christmas!”

  1. Well said! Consumerism is ruining us with its shallowness and push-spend culture. And we don’t need all that stuff. In the dark winter nights we need more light and less ‘noise’.

  2. A very happy Christmas to you too. I agree that we should not lose sight of the importance of family gatherings during this season although the event itself has continually evolved. In the UK we have gone from the pagan festivals to early Christian religious devotion and through the ages to Georgian feasting and the import of various German traditions in the Victorian age. As I sit here next to a Christmas tree, looking forward to roast turkey with French cheeses and stollen to follow, only the Christmas pudding would probably be recognisable as a part of their Christmas to my ancestors two hundred years ago – apart of course from the gathering of family – and as long as that continues I am happy to roll with the changes! (Pleased to report that Black Friday here is becoming something of a damp squib, so perhaps there is some fightback against the commercialisation.)

  3. Wonderful post! As consumerism increases I/we seem to go the opposite way. The more I am exhorted to buy, buy, buy, the less I want to do that. I cherish traditions and history more than a wrapped gift. I take umbrage at the concept of “going into debt” for a holiday.
    I do love the spirit of the season ….peace, joy and the gradual return of light.

  4. Hey my friend, you’ve given us some really deep food for thought and although I am not an overly religious person, i am grateful to be reminded of the traditional links to this now very consumerist Christmas. You’re right, we have lost our way and that’s sad. It is a now a very deeply rooted sad fact that globalism is swallowing our individuality and also our identities which, depressingly, our diversity is being watered down. Thank you for continuing to remind us of the reasons we are here on this earth and to remember that whilst there are different spiritual paths to God, we are all Gods children and it is our diversity in traditions and cultures that make human beings the vibrant creatures we are

  5. So true. I’d love to adopt your All-Saints Day, and Halloween is indeed a time when I buy candies, even though I never buy those things, on principal (being trained as a naturopathic physician). But culture trumps principals? My Christmas is so centered around presents… Sigh. What a wonderful, thoughtful article. Thank you.

  6. Very nice article, enjoyed reading it. Unfortunately the biggest festivals these days are the shopping-sales or sports-events, given the huge consumerism driving hem in the public narrative. All the more we need to safeguard the real festivals :-) keep writing

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