Why Christmas Is No Longer Special

January 06, 2011 By: erik Category: Family, Parenting, Partying, Spain 416 views

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thumbToday is Kings Day, the traditional gift giving day in Catholic Spain. For people who prefer Christmas to be more about Baby Jesus than the North Pole, it makes more sense to give gifts on Epiphany, when tradition says that the Wise Men allegedly gave gifts to Jesus.

This morning, my mother-in-law articulated a concern I’ve been feeling but had yet to put into words:

Christmas isn’t special anymore. It used to be more special.

When someone says something like this, my immediate reaction is to attribute it to the Golden Age Fallacy, the fallacious idea that life was generally better in the past. Normally this is because we forget just how creative and free and exciting it is to be a child, so, looking back, we see our childhood as a time of simplistic ideals and, gosh, is life complicated now as an adult! That and the fact that the media has built up Christmas as being so incredibly special that the reality can never live up to our expectations.

But I think there’s more.

What happened to Christmas is that the general level of wealth and consumerism has increased. I am a really difficult person to buy a gift for. Why? Because whenever I want something in a reasonable gifting price range, I just buy it for myself. When people have less disposable income, then gift giving is more meaningful.

Whenever my daughter sees her Spanish grandparents, which is about every 2-3 weeks, they always have a new toy and a bunch of candy for her. No wonder Christmas (or Kings Day) morning isn’t special! This is due partly to Nora being an only granddaughter, partly to an increase in availability of cheap Chinese plastic crap, and partly to an increase in disposable income across the Western world. I don’t blame them for seeing a toy in a shopwindow for only 5€, 10€ or 20€ and saying, “Ooh, Nora would like this!” The fact that we all have an extra 20€ to spend on unnecessary luxuries is wonderful, and I wouldn’t change it for anything, but it’s definitely making special gift giving holidays less special.

My daughter is not yet two, so she doesn’t really understand what it is to anticipate future events and possessions, a mental skill upon which much the excitement of Christmas is based. I very much look forward to experiencing the magic of Christmas through her eyes in the coming years.

I still think, however, that for those of us that are lucky enough to not live from paycheck to paycheck, the best gift, for adults, is a goat.

 
  • It has to make a difference that Christendom is a decreasingly religious society. You’re right that in a consumer-driven world it is hard for gift-giving alone to sustain a sense of magic/reverence/wonder/etc. Personally, I get my Christmas warm fuzzies from the fact that it (more or less) marks the winter solstice. I’m not SAD or anything, but several months of the days getting shorter while the world around me dies is pretty damn grim at a very basic level. A little out-of-season bacchanalia seems an appropriate response to the waning of winter’s siege gun fusillade.

    You would not have had to read that if people needed a license to use metaphor. No way would I pass that test.

  • Yeah, I’m with you on this one. I see people buying more and more ridiculous items and spending huge amounts of money, because how else can Christmas be made special, since most of them have everything anyway. I even have trouble buying presents for my kids since they have so much already. Not that they have everything they want, but in my opinion they have way too much, there is no room for any more, and they only see their grandparents once or twice a year…I’d hate to think what our house would look like if they got presents more often. And it all starts with toys and then they move on to makeup and clothes…I think Catgirl has more purses and pairs of shoes than I’ve had in my entire adult life! As for me, I find I want less and less and what I really want is a clutter-free house, but so far no one has gotten me that. Although a goat might be nice…then we wouldn’t have to mow the lawn any more. No, but seriously, giving a goat in someone’s name is an excellent idea…I wonder what my kids would think of that?

  • Oh, the cheap Chinese plastic crap. Don’t get me started. But I am with you on the goat. My mother is big into the goat thing, and I think it makes something of an impression on our boys. SOMEBODY got a goat! This year my mother bought a big package in the name of all of her grandkids (nine at last count), including soil-erosion reducing tree seedlings, (presumably) reproducing rabbits, chicks for fertilizer and insect eradication, and (presumably) busily pollinating bees, as well as the steadfast goat. Go, Heifer Fund!

    I’m happy with a single book to read over the break.