December 24, 2008

The Meaning of Christmas

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

Christmas celebrations as we know them have a long and varied history. And even today, Christmas is celebrated in many different ways around the world. For a taste of Christmas worldwide, have a look at the CBS photo essay about Christmas in several countries.

When I lived in Antigua, I learned that one tradition there on Christmas Eve is for people to hang out downtown until late at night, many doing last minute Christmas shopping. Throngs of people—mostly teenagers, I think—would line a few major streets. It reminded me of Carnival. In Guyana, the entire Christmas Season (and that’s what it was referred to as) meant it was time for masquerade bands. These clip_image002groups of merrymaking bands wander neighborhoods, drawing crowds.

They feature stilt walkers, Mother Sally and a Mad Bull or Mad Cow. The Mad Bull or Cow is really two people costumed to look like a cow, with the person in front wearing a cow head mask, using the horns to butt people, and the other person serving as the back of the cow, kicking at their audience. I found them frightening as a child, and the heavy drums and flutes that accompanied them heightened my terror. Christmas in Guyana also meant “putting away the house” an expression meaning redecorating. New furniture (or at least spruced up furniture), new curtains, along with heavy cleaning are all essential at Christmastime. In fact, most people are awake past midnight decorating so that everything is fresh for the unveiling of their newly “put away” house on Christmas Day.

Special food and drinks like Pepperpot, Garlic Pork, sorrel, mauby and ginger beer are all enjoyed at this time. And as in many other countries, special decorations, Father Christmas and gift gifting are central to Christmas in Guyana.

But when I was in graduate school, I asked myself why I celebrate Christmas. At the time, I laid claim to no religion in particular, although I was not anti-religious. I attended no church and don’t recall praying on a regular basis. So, I wondered why celebrate Christmas? I had, and still have, wonderful memories of Christmas from my childhood. Apart from the special food and drink, spying the dollhouse that was to be a surprise for me is a treasured memory, as is saving to buy my parents gifts, and successfully hiding gifts for my Mum. I also remember having visitors and helping Mum to serve hors d’oeuvres on special trays. Having soda! And Nat King Cole’s voice. All of these are part of my Christmas memory book.

But fast forward to the days when I was in graduate school and had my own over-priced apartment in Los Angeles. Thinking about the reason for doing so, rather than simply doing it because I always had, why was I celebrating Christmas? The question for me hinged on with what other particularly Christian activities was I involved? Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the principal figure in Christianity. And so given that I was not involved with anything particularly Christian, I was trying to take part in Christmas merely to enjoy its goodies—food and fun. Since moving to the U.S., I had been spending hundreds of dollars on Christmas presents for lots of friends and relatives. Each year, there was a feeling of uncontrollable spending and gift exchanges. (Don’t misunderstand. I was living what seemed like a fairly decent life but that didn’t make me a practicing Christian; people of the major world religions and even those without are doing the same too.) 

J0354720 As a baby, I was baptized Christian and while I did not grow up attending church, I had become rather interested in the institution when I was about eight, and took up Sunday school in earnest. I don’t remember how long that interest lasted but in my late teens I became interested in religion and started going to church again. All of my church-going up to that point had been in Guyana and Antigua, but when I came to the U.S. for college I stopped going to church—that was yet another area of life to try to navigate in a new society, and I let it go.

I didn’t really know much about Christianity actually. So why was I celebrating Christmas? How much of my Christmas celebration was based on the purely consumer aspects of it? It’s clear why Christmas is beloved by retailers; they earn as much as three-quarters of their annual profit at this time! But why should I love it or celebrate it? And why do you celebrate Christmas, if you do?

What meaning is there in your celebrations, if any at this time of year? Is it important to you to know the origins of traditions? Does it matter if they are related in a traceable way to that which you are celebrating? Left to your own devices—can you imagine not having the advertising blitz that we see late in the year that direct us to the “must buy” gifts of the season—how might you and your family celebrate? Consumption has become a part of the Christmas ritual in North America. How much of the meaning of Christmas is tied to shared consumerism and the objects we consume?


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I agree with you when you say that the meaning of Christmas is often tied up in consumerism. Many people do not believe in the true meaning of Christmas. Celebrating Jesus birth. They do however participate in the consuming part. Our family, celebrating Christmas for what it is, a time to remember and reflect on Jesus' birth. We do exchange gifts but nothing big and expensive and definitely not always the latest and greatest that the consuming world has to offer. We try to keep our focus on what we consider the main thing. I also think Christmas is a time for family and friends to gather and a time of sharing and giving. It's hard to do that in an environment that is being overcome with greed and consumption. We need to get back to the main thing, whatever your main reason for celebrating Christmas is.

I believe Christmas does not have to be someting about religion. Obviously it is based on christianity, at least here in the U.S..But thousands of people prove you do not need to have a religion to celebrate Christmas. To me it is just a time of year where you can be with one's family and do all the traditions you are use to doing on Christmas.

Of course the ties between Christmas and consumerism are obvious. Growing up my dad would start buying Christmas presents in January and hide them until December when he would brag that his shopping was done months ago.
Unlike my dad, I enjoy Christmas shopping and finding just the right presents for people I care about. Its nice to give them something that lets them know I know enough about them to stray from anything generic. Of course anyone who complains about receiving presents is lying as well, since there's always that one gift you didn't have the money to buy yourself, but are grateful to receive for Christmas.
However Christmas in America is certainly different than any other culture. Even Jewish families have invented Christmakkuh, in order to celebrate their religion and the Christmas season. My dad grew up in Sweden, and Christmas there was very different. Although there was plenty of celebration, it was for St. Lucia and gifts were given mostly to children and one to the family as a whole.
Today Christmas represents the American standard of living. Santa no longer makes dolls and trains for children, but instead ipods and Wiis. Christmas plays into the dominant culture by no longer seperating the good and the bad kids, but the rich and the poor. High culture has extravagent Christmas parties, complete with visits from Santa himself and a numerous number of presents for children who are just learning how to add. In most cases, the counterculture are those who reject Christmas because of its correlation to consumerism, usually just because they aren't the ones invited to the huge parties.
Still, there are those that still believe in the message of Christmas and those who even if they do not have significant faith, recognize its meaning. Christmas has become more centered around family than religion in a lot of cases, and I dont think that is a problem.

CHRISTmas is a time to thank the lord for what he has done for the people on this earth and the day that he was born in Bethlehem. Christmas think that it is all about presents and material things. This is a time to forget all worries and the hatred that you have against people. For me and my family its about Jesus and prasing him. Christmas was about Jesus and his birthday and spending time with love ones. However, its not like that any more it has became a day about how much money can be spent and how quick you can open one present to get to the next. I believe the meaning of Christmas has been lost through out the years instead of being about love and sharing and family. Its all about how many hours you can spend in a store and how much money can you spend. It is so sad that we have got away from the true meaning of Christmas. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to give one gift and have a wonderful dinner and enjoy just being with your family instead of over spending and going in debt. well that is is my out look on what Christmas has became and most of you probably understand agree!

Nothing has meaning until you put meaning to it; all knowledge is transitory. People will put whatever meaning to this day. I have celebrated Christmas since I was born, not because I am religious (I have actually never been to Church) but because it is almost a folkway. People are expected to celebrate Christmas as long as you’re not part of a different religion. The religious day has now become a commercial holiday. There are ads on television, Christmas trees in lots, and stores filled with Christmas crap the day after Thanksgiving.
Along with Inniss, I really don’t know the whole story behind the holiday. I celebrate, if you can call it that, because I feel like I have to. However, my family doesn’t really do anything special. My dad may get me a little trinket and I give a hug (he never wanted me or my brother to get him anything.) The holiday still excites me as it did when I was a kid. I think of all reasons why my family celebrates it is, it gives us an excuse to all get together and eat dinner. I rreally can’t complain that the holiday does exist, I love the Christmas spirit around that time.

I completely agree when Janis says our country and world has twisted the true meaning of Christmas. I believe that this is a time that the Lord wanted us to focus on Jesus Christ's birthday celebration. It is a time to be with those you love, give, and celebrate Jesus' birth. Many have forgotten what the true meaning of christmas is. Just a few weeks ago in my sociology class, we were talking about how now people who live here in California are trying to decorate like they live in the UK. Decorations of trees that don't grow here, snow that doesn't fall here, and unchristian animals are set next to mangers. To me it seems like people now days get too caught up in the material life and forget why the day was made a holiday. I think we all need to rethink what the holiday means to us; whether it's about religion or just love we still need to think about what we portray it as.

I realize that many people celebrate holidays, for example Christmas, not for religious purposes. I think though that it is fine to celebrate Christmas without any religious ceremonies. I feel the main reason why we celebrate Christmas is to be with family and spread the love and joy. Christmas for some people is a time to relax and be in peace with your loved ones. I think people should be able to celebrate however they wish as long as they are happy and are not interferring with other's happiness.

In this text, i liked it very much because it went in the meaning and how she felt deep inside how she truly sees Christmas. I think we all have given in to what the false meaning of this holiday is truly. I become to know that a Christmas is not about the gifts but there is a true meaning of Gods birth. I do agree with Janis when you say that the meaning of Christmas about consumerism between the USA and the world. Though there are people that do not believe in god. That does not mean we need to give in to jut the gifts. It is about the meaning of being with family and the time spent with each other. Showing love and being there for are love ones but not just with gifts.
My family is always doing something big and tradition is the main thing. For my family and me we do believe in God and to give honor to God and to celebrate his birth. So that is a big part of my Christmas. This shows that we need to think more about are family and love ones and celebrate Christmas by showing love and not by the buying and the amazing gifts we must get.

Ariana m k00340946, CRN#31652

Christmas is not just another holiday, at least for my family. We also celebrate it to celebrate not just Jesus' birth, but also to be thankful for what He has done in our lives. It is also a great time to appreciate and enjoy family, not at all about the gifts, but more about showing our appreciation for the people in our lives, gifts just being only one way. I think that it is very important for people to realize WHAT they are celebrating, by celebrating Christmas, because it does have significance and meaning--it isn't just another holiday, it's a time to be thankful that we have a savior.

To answer your main questions, yes as a Roman Catholic I do think that it is important to know the meaning of certain holidays, especially Christmas. I also certainly agree with you when you talk about how much consumerism has become so central to the celebration of Christmas. While I do think that consumerism is not the "true meaning" of Christmas, I do think that the consumer culture is important in one way - to help families stay in close contact with each other. True, money and gifts are only material things, and Christmas is not just about materialism, but from my experience, hanving gifts and presents over the holidays can, in turn, help people appreciate non-material aspects of life,like family religion and love.

i agree with some of the feedback. Christmas is a holdiay. Its souppose to be a celebration of Jesus Christ's birth. I often think that as people, we tend to forget what Christmas is because we get so side-tracked by the gifts etc. In my opinion During Christmas, your suppose to spend time with your family and/or loved ones and reminisce on the birth of Jesus Christ and all the things he endured. Its a holdiay where your suppose to give thanks. Im not saying that you cant recieve presents and gifts, but thats not what Christmas was made for. I feel like we need to also remember why we have Christmas. Me and my family are very relgious and we believe in Jesus Christ, God and the Holy Spirit, but at the same time we have gifts during this holiday, we dont base the holiday just on the opening of gifts though. All im stating is that dont forget the real reason why we have Christmas, its not for presents or gifts, but celebrating the day Jesus Christ was born.

I absolutely agree with this post. growing up and coming into college i ask myself the same thing, being more analytical i suppose; Why do we celebrate Christmas? i dont think that there is the right answer, maybe to me. What i do know is that i celebrate it and that i like celebrating it. Eating with the family, shopping for gifts and receiving gifts, and being all together, is one of the reasons why i think that we celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is not soley a Christian event, and many of the elements of the occassion come from elsewhere. The "celebration" element of it; dinners, parties, etc, come from Pagan festivals when the winter solstice was celebrated. The "Christmas" we celebrate today is a mixture of pagan, christian and other influences, including what you have mentioned: consumerism.
Consumerism plays a HUGE role in Christmas, as you mentioned a large portion of stores income come from this time of year and there is always that 'Christmas rush' that takes over big stores every year.
If you take out the presents and the religious elements of it...really it should be about family and friends. Coming together to spend some quality time together. Honestly I think people also just enjoy the time off work or away from school.
Christmas means a lot of different things to a lot of different people...depending on what influences them. If they are religious they will probably see it as a religious occassion just as well as if they are not they will see it as something else: important for family, gifts...whatever.
For me, Christmas has been a time when I get to see my family...and I wouldn't say that it has brought us closer together or anything as we still ONLY see them at that time. Really, it IS a lot about the presents. When I was younger it might've been the 'magic' of it...Santa Claus and the lot...but now, sadly, I would say the magic of Christmas has dwindled and mostly...its just another day that I don't have to be in school for.

I celebrate this not because of religious reasons but because of traditional reasons my family and I share. It's just how I grow up having a tree and buy gifts for one another. It's just something we do and that I pass along to my children.

I believe in the celebration of the life of Jesus Christ, Christmas is an will always be to me a joyful day of being with ones family and the observance of the birth of Christ,

Last minute crowds shopping for Christmas can be fun for some people and just annoying to other people. Some people see the crowds as a challenge to see if they can get what they want and get out in a timely fashion. Though other people just want for everyone to get out of there way and if they don't there will be a fight. Though Christmas crowds want several things in common to get what their person wanted, get a sale, and get out before Christmas morning.

My family and I celebrate Christmas because we are Christian and so we celebrate the birth of Jesus. If Jesus was never born we would'nt be here. We all exchange gifts, praise God with songs and prayer, and then have a family dinner. Thats been our tradition for years and thats how we celebrate Christmas. Christmas is about giving not getting.People get confused all the time exspecting to get gifts and not having a heart the whole year.Its not all about buying gifts either its about being thankful for the people in your lives and showing them how much you appreciate them.

Christmas is a very special time and my family has always embraced and celebrated the occassion with every fiber of their being so to say. Christmas is a time of giving and gifts are share among relatives and many times with the public in general. A great occassion and really fantastic time indeed.

y not celebrate christmas based on religion? christmas is celebrated by most of us to respect jesus and spend time with family and friends thanking jesus our lord for letting us live one more day with our loved once.

Christmas is a holiday which I celebrate every year, its origin does not matter to me. It is a day in which my family and I can get together. We share stories of what we did all year and what we plan to do next year. Christmas is a day which brings joy to many people throughout the world. People reunite and just have a good time.

Another holiday besides Christmas that I celebrate is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a holiday that we celebrate to give thanks to our ancestors for what we are blessed with now. Our founding fathers of this country started celebrating this holiday in respects for the Native Indians that were here. It is important to trace why we celebrate this holiday to truly pay respects to our ancestors. I think Thanksgiving is good holiday but we must know why we celebrate. In my perspective, the pilgrims killed the natives in return for welcoming them. So why give thanks to the pilgrims? We must give thanks to the Natives who gave aid to the pilgrims. If advertisers did not tell us how to celebrate thanksgiving, my family would still celebrate in the same way. The only difference would be to pray for and give thanks to the natives.

It is important to know the origins of the traditions behind the holidays one celebrates because traditions and customs change with time. The holiday that one celebrates now may derive from a tradition that you may not agree with. For example, Thanksgiving is a holiday when me and my family gather around the table for dinner and eat turkey and drink wine. We also say what we are thankful for this year and that is all its significance to me. Remarkably the holiday was originally created to celebrate the pilgrims coming to America and the murder of millions of Native Americans. It does not matter to me because it allows me and my family to spend quality time together. Me and my family do not condone or support the origins of the holiday but we still celebrate it. If advertisers did not give me specific cues on how to celebrate thanksgiving I would not celebrate it at all because the origin of the tradition is demented.

Another holiday i celebrate is thanksgiving, i personally love thanksgiving because that day all my family comes together in harmony and tell each other what we are thankful for, know i think its great to now the historical background of each holiday even, if we might not agree on some things its good to know why were celebrating that specific holiday, know if we didn't know the background to a holiday there wouldn't be no reunion to thanksgiving with my family and give thanks. Each holiday we might might celebrate a little different from how we should be celebrating it. But i think that in that way we build more bond and were still celebrating the same holiday but each family has its own ways of doing everything in between themselves.Therefore, i believe its a good thing that advertisers give us specific cues about how a hoilday should be celebrated.

Dr. Pih,

Christmas is a culture. Everyone views culture differently, whether that be religiously or not. Christmas is celebrated in many ways possible. My family in the US celebrates it on the 24th but my family in Russia celebrates it on Jan 7th and my boyfriend who is also Russian celebrates it on New years Eve. Christmas is not made to be specific. It is as flexible as YOU want it to be. Majority of people are not interested in the historical concepts of Christmas unless they may be religious or that is just their culture. Christmas is the time of year where literally "joy to world" comes! If marketing companies use Christmas as a cheat way to sell, sell and sell, then let them! Society does not buy presents because they are forced. We buy presents because we want to do something special for someone, want to feel good about donating some extra money to the homeless and finally want to feel great about working hard during the season to buy amazing gifts for your family. Christmas can be perceived in anyway, as long as you make it your own Christmas.

Everyone comes from different areas and we all have different values and cultures. Im jewish but my family and I still celebrate christmas, but because we are jewish I was never taught the meaning behind the holiday. Unlike a jewish holiday for example, Hanukkah is one of our main holidays and i was taught the meaning behind it because thats what my family values. Usually for the younger generation, the educational factor of these holidays never is clearly understood because we are so into what is at the holiday not what its about. I feel it is very important to know the traditions behind holidays because why celebrate a day that you know nothing about. Everyone was also raised differently and the values we carry on to the younger generation is everything we were once taught by our parents.

Another holiday my family celebrates besides Christmas is Thanksgiving. The traditional procedure of the Thanksgiving celebration has little in common with the historical event when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock and the Native Americans helped to feed them. To my family, Thanksgiving is a time we can all get together and simply enjoy each others company and reflect on how we are thankful for each other. The connection to the historical day has little value to us and our celebration. If we were to celebrate it differently that advertisers portray it we might prepare foods of our specific ethnicity rather than the traditional turkey and potatoes.

My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving a little bit differently. We don't like turkey or ham so we usually substitute with something else, but we keep a lot of the other traditional sides such as mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing. We don't have any specific traditions for this holiday because we didn't grow up celebrating it since we moved to America 13 years ago. I think when people grow up with specific traditions, sometimes they forget how those traditions came to be, but when someone enters into a culture with these traditions, they can understand exactly what the source of these traditions are.

my family has many different customs and traditions , another holiday that wee celebrate faithfully is Easter. My family is a christian family so we do many things to celebrate Jesus Christ and his rise from the grave. We always go to church and have an extra long ceremony just for Easter, and we also get together with friends and family to have dinner and talk. While growing up it was not important for me to know the origins of the holiday or why did we even go to church. I just did what i was told and what was apart of my culture. At first i thought we were just celebrating a special day for rabbits, my parent would have us paint eggs and hide money in them and give us baskets full of candy. It was not in till i got older that i realized that this did not have anything to do with the true meaning of Easter. I believe if we didn't have advertisements selling things or the media and television then the way we celebrate Easter would be a lot more religious and Jesus Christ orientated. Before reading this article I had no ideal how much specific clues influenced me and the way my family celebrated.

To professor PIH ( sociology 150 )
Because Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated year after year, and is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation, I feel that it may be alter a little bit because everything changes, but it wont be, because of advertisements on television.

It is important to know the origins of the traditions behind different holidays. It doesn't matter the way that you celebrate but, to just be thankful for what you have to to respect your family and friends and be even more grateful for them on that day. Holidays can not only be religious but, they are family and friend oriented. I might not buy as many expensive gifts if advertisers didn't emphasize on purchasing certain things. It's not about receiving its about giving.

I have to agree that a lot of the idea of Christmas is tied too much into consumerism. I myself do not celebrate Christmas, as I feel there is no definitive date on Christ's birth and because I choose to teach my children the truth and to always be thankful for what they have, and for those that fought for that. I feel that too much money is put into the holiday meanwhile there are millions of children across the globe that cannot even sleep in a bed at night or eat a decent meal while we shop for Christmas like our lives depend upon it. I think like many things, Christmas is something people "do" simply because they were taught to by their parents or family.

I am a mature student and I still love Christmas. I was born and raised in S.C, and I learned the meaning of Christmas simply because of the emotions and religious aspect of it. We had nothing so It was not a situation where we were expecting gifts. My family still get together each Christmas to enjoy each other and enjoy the season.

I have decorated outside a little and will put a few things out inside, too. I will have a charcuterie board for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and nice dinners for Christmas day and January first. I have decorated outside a little and will put a few things out inside, too. I will have a charcuterie board for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and nice dinners for Christmas day and January first.

Today Christmas represents the American standard of living. Santa no longer makes dolls and trains for children, but instead ipods and Wiis. Christmas plays into the dominant culture by no longer seperating the good and the bad kids, but the rich and the poor. High culture has extravagent Christmas parties, complete with visits from Santa himself and a numerous number of presents for children who are just learning how to add. In most cases, the counterculture are those who reject Christmas because of its correlation to consumerism, usually just because they aren't the ones invited to the huge parties.

We set aside some art time this week to take the class. All the materials are things we have in abundance of at our house, so gathering supplies for this was a breeze.

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