Onkar Ghate published an excellent essay on the joy of Christmas in US News and World Report. It begins:
I’m an atheist, and I love Christmas. If you think that’s a contradiction, think again.
Do you remember as a child composing wish lists of things you genuinely valued, thought you deserved, and knew would bring you pleasure? Do you remember eagerly awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning and the new bike, book, or chemistry set you were hoping for? That childhood feeling captures the spirit of Christmas and explains why so many of us look forward to the season each year.
That joyful spirit of Christmas, Ghate argues, is part and parcel of a commercial Christmas. It’s nowhere to be found in a truly Christian Christmas.
As someone who felt rather overwhelmed this holiday season, I appreciated Ghate’s explicit rejection of the all-too-common duty-based approach to Christmas toward the end of his essay:
It’s not uncommon today to hear people say Christmas is their most stressful period. Pressed for time (and this year probably for money, too), they feel there are just too many lights to put up, meals to cook, and gifts to buy. Seeking something to blame, they blame the commercialism of the season. But there is no commandment, “Thou shall buy a present for everyone you know.” This is the religious mentality of duty rearing its ugly head again. Do and buy only that which you can truly afford and enjoy; there are myriad ways to celebrate with loved ones without spending a cent.
Take some time to enjoy a mug of hot cocoa while staring at the pretty lights and decorations on your Christmas tree. Enjoy time with beloved family members and friends. Reflect on your accomplishments for the year. Look forward to 2010. Most of all, take a deep breath and enjoy your holidays in the most selfish way you can!