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Blog // Travel
December 2, 2008

The “Spirit” Of Christmas

The man in the Tommorrowland jacket, Tyler Brûlé wrote in this week’s Financial Times about his desire to reconnect with the idea of Christmas. Of course, Christmas and the Christmas Spirit mean very different things to different people, not always connected with the story of humble beginnings in ancient Palestine. Last night I attended one […]

The man in the Tommorrowland jacket, Tyler Brûlé wrote in this week’s Financial Times about his desire to reconnect with the idea of Christmas. Of course, Christmas and the Christmas Spirit mean very different things to different people, not always connected with the story of humble beginnings in ancient Palestine.

Last night I attended one of these charity functions that swarm all over the city like hungry locusts at this time of year. It was fun, festive and in a way unusual for Hong Kong, an opportunity for young and old to mix in a pleasant and well-behaved fashion. Anywhere that lets me sip champagne with C downs her Hot Chocolate is fine by me.

The MC was doing his best to drum up business for the charity in question – put your money in the envelope, that sort of thing. He repeatedly commented that generous charitable giving was a sign of the “Christmas Spirit.” I found myself wondering what that meant. Enjoy the entertainment but remember to make a donation, or you’ll feel guilty later?

It’s not that the idea of charitable giving doesn’t connect with Christmas for me. Rather, it’s that I worry about how well we explain the connection. One theme that I’ve come back to again and again this year is the decline in Christianity in the West and, in particular, the extent to which that might be connected with the inarticularity of the church – the collective failure not just to explain our faith, doctrine and symbolism, but the progressive inability of regular church-goers to be able to talk about such things in regular everyday language with resorting to populist slogans, oversimplifications or sales-pitches.

Which, brings me back to our Porter-bag carrying FT correspondent. He’s making it a point in his travels to look for signs of Christmas-y-ness, or perhaps more specifically, the commercial spirit of Christmas. This is something I connect with, since I do love the ritual and aesthetic of Christmas – the music, the decoration and the festivity.

Tyler makes the point that a lot of current decorations are pretty abstract – there’s probably no better example than the surreal Ferris Wheel in Hong Kong’s IFC mall. Yes, it’s kitschy and festooned with Christmas “symbols” (presents, Santa, Nutcracker soldiers and gingerbread men). But, what does it really have to do with Christmas?

“New York used to do a brilliant job at Christmas. Over the past two decades, however, corporate-fuelled political correctness has done a wonderfully efficient job of extinguishing one of the biggest holidays on western calendars. And so, paradoxically, in their drive to avoid offending some customers, they’ve managed to forget that many of the trappings that have been stripped from the retail experience have also left stores feeling rather dull and flat. What consumers have been left with is a sort of holiday mush that doesn’t mean much to anybody and results in a lot of very confused window-dressers and visual merchandisers.”

Of course, all the cool kids in church circles will be wanting to reject these commercial aspects of the Christmas season – to make the same tired moves about the evils of consumerism, the way we’ve forgotten the “reason for the season” and the need to colonise every last piece of symbolism and metaphor till we have strangled the life, passion and mystery from them.

That’s not the direction my thinking about Christmas and Advent has been going in recent years. Tommorrow, I’ll explore that a little bit more…

Responses
Toni 14 years ago

When I grew up in a traditional Christian home although there was a verbal connection with faith, there did not seem to be a practical one.

As a truly born again believer in my late teens I consigned christmas to the bin as an adopted pagan ceremony. I have a particularly good friend who refers to it as crimbo still, and won’t do the full-on christmas thing.

My position now is that it’s a bit of fun, looks pretty and it’s nice that people get together like this. That is all. I don’t have a connect between the festivity and Jesus in my heart – it forgets too much of the pain, blood, anguish and struggle. There’s probably still a place to grow, but for me it misses the fact that Jesus IS ALIVE NOW. This is the biggest disconnect for me, that it’s about a baby and a stable and angels and shepherds and all the rest, trees, baubles and whatnot, not a living and PRESENT saviour.

I’m still undecided whether it really is just a ‘human invention’ or whether the Father is behind the inspiration for it. My expectation is strongly the former, but there’s enough doubt to give it a little benefit.

Phil Wyman 14 years ago

“Of course, all the cool kids in church circles will be wanting to reject these commercial aspects of the Christmas season – to make the same tired moves about the evils of consumerism, the way we’ve forgotten the “reason for the season” and the need to colonise every last piece of symbolism and metaphor till we have strangled the life, passion and mystery from them.”

Dang! Can I quote you, steal your words, or do something cool with your thoughts here. On the one hand I don’t want to be all greedy capitalistic, but on the other, the coolness of being counter-Christmas is getting to me as well.

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Phil – feel free. Quote or steal, but better yet remix the idea and go somewhere interesting with it!

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Toni – My feeling is that we learn best from people who can do it and explain what they are doing. People who are all talk are less helpful, as a people who do and can’t expound.

I was also a Christmas curmudgeon for a number of years during my twenties. Perhaps it is no coincidence those were also the unhappiest years of my life?

There’s plenty wrong with Christmas, plenty wrong with the perpetual infantalisation of Jesus, without doubt. But, my feeling is that there is also something else here if we don’t let our expectations and our need to “pump up the meaning” get the better of us.

Toni 14 years ago

Ah, but those years were some of my happiest.

If you didn’t know already, I’m not a times and seasons person anyway – I tend to be the same all the time, so that may help explain my ‘tolerance’ of pagan christmas now. 😉

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