The meaning of Christmas should probably be the same whether you celebrate it or not. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward everyone, a day that ushers in a time to pause and reflect as the daylight finally begins to grow longer and the Gregorian year comes to a close.
But unlike Charlie Brown's buddy Linus, I sometimes find that meaning hard to see this time of year. The traditional observance of Jesus' birth is obscured by many things, past and present.
The many Christmas traditions we observe that have nothing to do with Christianity are nothing new. Decking the halls with wreaths and holly comes from Wiccan traditions, while Santa's eight reindeer were borrowed from Norse mythology. The Yule Tide was a festival celebrated by pagans. The Christmas tree is only related to the New Testament story tangentially, from 15th century Latvia to its spot at the front window of your house.
When I think of Christmas hereabouts, I think about the small Christmas tree and firewood lot across from Sedalia Park Elementary School on Lower Roswell Road, which pops up every year around Thanksgiving like some nostalgic hallucination from an earlier time. Driving past the the little corner lot and its freshly cut evergreens and woodsmoke, you can imagine Appalachia in the 1930s for a brief flash, that it's Christmas Eve and we're all waiting for Pa Walton to return.
But soon enough I drive into a nearby crowded shopping mall parking lot and remember that Christmas has another, entirely different meaning, one based on the uniquely American gospel of buying and accumulating things.
For a season that now stretches from before Thanksgiving through after Christmas sales, we are bombarded daily with news, advertisements and insidious combinations of the two, all driving us to buy, buy, buy. The anticipation of Black Friday and the Soviet-like practice of lining up in the middle of the night for cut-rate consumer goods take up a far greater part of the public mind than the symbolic birth of Jesus, and that seems to be how the majority of us prefer it.
The non-nutritious icing on this year's consumerist Christmas cake is the holiday altercations breaking out across the country with the release of the new Air Jordan athletic shoe. Could there be a better embodiment of the American Christmas Spirit than playing prevent D on a retail aisle, elbowing out someone older or smaller than you to score the item you've been programmed to buy?
It's as though we all watched or read How the Grinch Stole Christmas and processed it in reverse order, deciding that the meaning of Christmas had more to do with things than people.
But lest I come off more like the Grinch himself than a philosophic seeker, I want to wish all of my friends, neighbors and Patch readers a meaningful Christmas, happy Hanukkah, joyous Kwanzaa, and a happy, healthy 2012. For the record, I'm not buyin' the Mayan prophecy. This old world will keep on turning.
As for my own Christmas, we'll be spending it as we have for the 20 years that I've been devoted to my Jewish bride and then later our daughter. We'll be dining out on Chinese and taking in a movie. It's my favorite Christmas tradition of all.