This post started as a comment to this post by LJ Witch
Many, many people over the last 4 years have expressed emotions over the fact that my family doesn’t do gifts anymore for holidays. I guess my “less is more” and/or “anti-consumption” explanations weren’t cutting the mustard. Now, I’m going to have to bring out the big guns.
I recommend everyone go read it, both to boost her blog, and so they can possibly get more of what I’m talking about below. Though this post does veer off away from her post, so don’t take it as a straight response to ljwitch.
Fact is, yes, there are reasons, other than being anti-consumption but still related, for why we have scaled back how we do holiday gifts in the last 10 years.
I think, really, we have forgotten why we give and receive gifts, especially at Yule.
I’m not sure what you mean by consumption, so I’m not going to get into that.
But the practice of gift giving (at least for those in the west) can be traced back to the Germanic and Norse peoples. Our ancestors gave gifts as a sign of being bonded with each other. Often these gifts would be items needed to survive, weapons, wealth, or entertainment. It is from these ancient sources that we now give gifts to each other.
Perhaps 70+ presents is…a bit much. The child in me screams awesome, but I know that’s not for everyone. Then again, I’m the guy who goes for Yule because it means twelve nights of presents (if small ones). As for one’s family not knowing the person they’re giving the gift too, well, in my case I really didn’t know my family. And my parents, they let me pick my gifts, generally with a budget.
Is giving a child lots of presents on Christmas spoiling them? I don’t know about that. Certainly, there are spoiled children out there. But I also don’t know if Christmas is the time to teach them the object lesson about humility, limits, and responsibilities. Yule was about having 12 days of peace, of plenty in the cold winter, of surviving the end of one year and celebrating the unconquered sun for the start of the next. It was about forgetting the strain and lack of everyday life, not about reminding everyone about it. We can, and should, teach responsibility to our children.
But too much responsibility can crush the spirit. I know this from life. And I think that’s why we try to have the Christmas spirit and why we go a bit overboard when it comes to presents and especially to children. Because we want to shelter them from the horror and devastation of life as it is. We want to keep the wonder and magic alive in them, when all to often it has been crushed out of us. This Yule, I’m going to be broke beyond anything I’ve ever been, and I’ve been pretty broke before. I’ve got myself to support, and my gf, and a store, and possibly her kid. My paychecks are gone before I get them.
But I know that somewhere I will try to find them gifts. For 12 days of Yule I will try to push aside the stress and the fear and seek only the joy of life with family. Maybe my family doesn’t know me. Maybe it’s shrunk. Maybe the holidays are all about consumption and materialism, but that’s okay for me. The world is a material world. Our ancestors were material people.
We give gifts to each other, and especially children, because we want them to believe. I think this is especially important for those of us who are Pagan and Heathen. We should be teaching our children to believe in the “spirits” of the Holidays. Spirits like Santa (who I likely will talk about later). Ironically, it is Pagans who tend to go the most about not buying into the consumerism of the holiday and skipping the presents, at least that’s how it seems (I get the impression that Pagans are not too far behind the Atheists in terms of anti-Christmas spirit). I’ve talked about the power, the need, of belief before.
If we do not believe, how can things become?
In my life, I attach power to my possessions. The reasons behind this are complicated, but the easiest way to have belief, and to keep belief, is to attach it to something. Belief in Santa comes in the presents we receive. Santa brought these gifts, at least to children raised with that, before the crushing and depressing reality of “mommy and daddy” did it comes in and removes the magic. I don’t care how old any kids I have get, I’m still probably going to give them a present “From” Santa. Why? Because just as I see a storm cloud and I know that Thor is real, every time I see war or hear a poem and know that Odin is existent, because every time I see the bounty of the earth and know that Freya, Freyr, and all the other Gods and Goddesses of fertility are walking about.
Because in every present, there is Santa.
Because in every gift, there is our ancestors.
I suppose I can understand why some do not wish to be consumptive or commercial. They’ve had bad experiences with money, or they have things that “need” the money “more.” They feel it takes away from the holy, or that it’s just crass. I think though, that we’ve lived to long with the Unseen Faith. We’ve been raised to believe that something holy can’t be something material. It’s a problem I see with Pagans. They might say that nature and the world are holy, but they still view the municipalities of life as something…bad.
But that’s the problem with the Abrahamic faith. You can’t see any of it. It’s all in another world, not here. Paganism is supposed to be different. It is Material. When an Atheist asks where the Christian god is, and how to show it in scientific terms, the Christian can’t. But when an Atheist asks me the same thing, I can point to the clouds and say “There is Thor.” I can point to the fields and say “There is Freya.”
I can point to the present and say “There is Santa.”
Everyone can do the holidays in their own way. But if we’re going to make them an object lesson, let it be one in belief, in faith, and in that we need not turn our backs on the materialism of the world. We have jobs, money, and lives because of that materialism, and a lot of businesses only survive the year because of the materialism of the holidays, and My store, my hope and my dream, needs that materialism, and I don’t see it like there needs to be. And if it fails…will I not suffer a loss? Will not my dreams be a little darker? My store is built around serving my faith. Materialistic or not.
So be careful the lessons we teach our children. Because depending on what you teach them, you can effect they lives and lessons of many other children other than your own.