Yes, I have a problem with Christmas. If that offends your sensibilities then this this isn’t going to be a fun post for you. Not that you shouldn’t read it – arguably you SHOULD, more than others. Just sayin – we’re not going to hold hands and take a garden stroll through this topic. First of all let’s start with an important term of reference:
By Christmas – I mean the celebration that marks the birth of Jesus Christ (that didn’t happen on 25 Dec anyway), and started up (for political reasons) in Rome some 400 years after the recorded death of Jesus. I mean the celebration that starts being marketed some time around August, and I refer to the season which extends to and includes post Christmas sales, holiday road tolls and the settlement of christmas expenditure (and the resulting effects). So yeah… the celebration that affects us for roughly half the year, culminating on December 25th. It’s a machine, which I will often refer to as “The Construct”. It gets capitals because, amongst the plethora of social constructs that we adhere to from day to day… this is a pretty big one (and also because I enjoy the visual metaphor for Capitalism).
Yes we celebrated Christmas in my family as we grew up – and Mum, you and Dad did a wonderful job of it too. But you raised me to question things (I often wonder if you regret that from time to time) – and this is one of the things (as Mum knows) that I’ve questioned for quite some time, now. Believe me, I am going to go into why I don’t celebrate Christmas… but first I want to question why we DO celebrate it. How many of us, especially those who don’t feel the religious need to celebrate the birth of Christ (regardless of the date inconsistency) actually consider WHY we celebrate Christmas? I don’t mean at the level of “oh it’s a day to be with family and friends and appreciate them”. I mean at the level of why do you choose to appreciate family on that day, rather than any other day… and attribute it to Christmas? “Christmas is a day to be with my family and friends” – is still attributing family values to a machine that, as I’m about to point out – is actually quite socially and morally destructive. I LOVE my family – every day of the year. I resent any inference that my love for them is linked in any way to December 25 – either by way of gift giving, or visit, or phonecall. Anyone who suggests that my family mean less to me because I don’t call them on the the day of The Construct can naff off. Christmas DOESN’T mean family. We’ve made it mean that, and we’re encouraged to do so (with or without gifting) in order to accord greater perceived value to The Construct.
Don’t get me wrong – of COURSE simply being with family is preferable to the fevered present-mania production that The Construct would ideally prefer – but nevertheless – The Construct still benefits from your contribution to it’s guise as the day of family togetherness, from the petrol you consume in travel, from the unnecessarily extravagant meal that is prepared (because somehow, Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you’ve distended your stomach). The Construct is particularly thankful if you have shopped for said food from a centralised, commercial foodsource such as PaknSave or Countdown.
But people still do something ‘spesh’ because hey we gotta recognise it SOME way, right? Wait… why? Why does it HAVE to be acknowledged? I used to drop gifts off at the charity box but have decided to stop (while still continuting to contribute to charities throughout the year of course). Charity gifting is nice, of course (on any day), but as a Christmas practice it’s still contributing to the larger capitalist philosopy (and social control mechanism) that you are inadequate unless you get something or gift something. Of course – recycled gifting is even better again but still – why do we have to equate adequacy, or care, with any kind of material gift at all? If others want to do it, that’s fine (and if they’re aware of the systems that they perpetuate by way of their participation and have legitimised it to themselves then even better). Personally I’d rather sit at home and smile to myself knowing that my family have all got a day off and are enjoying it themselves, doing whatever the hell they want to do, without any social pressure that will drain their resources in order to conform to an introduced set of rules about a manufactured birthday celebration of a religious figure that the majority of them find irrelevant through the rest of the year.
I’d vastly prefer that to them spending money that, lets face it – in this economic climate, most of them don’t have. I’d vastly prefer that to them going through the stress of crowded Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, worrying whether they have enough for everyone, or if they’ve forgotten anyone and placing themselves in danger on congested roads. And I’m not actually talking about austerity either – I’m talking about chilling the hell out. Our rush to consume and provide for others to consume is a stressful affair that amounts to a very short burst of gluttony – that’s NOT treating ourselves. Let’s consider this idea of “treating ourselves” through over consumption. In our every day levels of unnecessarily high consumption, the waste that we create, the daily way in which we prioritise our own comfort and indugences above sustainability for future generations – we ALREADY live as hedonists. We’re not treating ourselves at Christmas, we’re going into rabid overdrive in an already unnecessarily wasteful culture.
Our lives are hectic these days – people are BUSY. End of year holidays should be a time for reflecting, restoring and resetting – so that we can GIVE OF OURSELVES to our family and others throughout the rest of the year to come. How can we do that if we’re fretting over everything that The Construct tells us we MUST fret over?
So no, I don’t charity gift for those who are alone or poor over Christmas – but I DO do something for them – and that is my choice to NOT participate in the system that tells them they should feel inadequate. I resent the fact that people who would normally see this as any other day (were it not for the machine that tell them differently) are made to feel more alone because The Construct tells them they should not be – and as a single woman I recognise that voice because it’s the same voice that constantly tells me I should feel alone and somehow less fulfilled because I’m not in a romantic relationship and socially arranging myself according to the established norm (and I have the same response to that voice too). I resent the fact that those who do not have much are economically cornered into feeling ashamed because The Construct tells them they should give and receive on this day. My heart breaks for the children who are too young to get that this is all just a ploy, and are receiving all sorts of media and social messages about how they are valued, and that what you give is a reflection of your worth. Christmas is celebrated by BILLIONS – it’s the most widely promoted celebration around the world, yet every second child in this world lives in poverty and is unable to give or receive presents. You do the math on how many children are receiving the message, through Christmas, that they are devalued. So I don’t participate – I don’t contribute to the larger system of belief about this day that not only devalues their reality, but, through it’s economy, exacerbates their poverty. That’s what I do for them.
I also do something for Papatuanuku at this time of year as well (as I do throughout the rest of the year) – but particularly now, because this is the time of year that she suffers the most from our neglect. Our waste management, consumption and travel at this year burden her terribly. Purchasing gift paper is possibly the most frivolous contribution to the pine industry I can think of (shout out to Horowai Parker who has ALWAYS wrapped in junkmail). Production lines go into overdrive in preparation for the giftathon. Electronic devices legitimise oil and gas extraction and create HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF TONNES of greenhouse gas pollution, simply in their production and transport to the Christmas shelves. An Australian report on the environmental impact of Christmas estimates that every dollar spent on chocolate, lollies, and crisps creates half a kilo of greenhouse gas, uses 30 litres of water and 0.7kg of material and disturbs a meter square of land. So $30 of confectionary for Christmas, will result in the use of 20kg of materials, 940 litres of water and creating 16kg of greenhouse gas. The same report showed that clothing purchased for one Christmas produced 720,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution and used 38,000 megalitres of water. The vast majority of what we purchase will come with plastic packaging, only a portion of which will be recycled – the remainder of which will wind up in landfill, contributing to toxic leachate that poisons Papatuanuku, or on the beaches and in the ocean where it will continue to contribute to the acidification of Hine Moana and the toxification of her children, and ourselves. The same report pointed out that alcohol production over this period accounted for the use of enough water to fill 42000 olympic sized swimming pools. Papatuanuku, Ranginui, and Tangaroa are NOT in a position to be indulging our inability to critically examine our own behaviour in relation to this social institution. In contributing to The Construct we also perpetuate a model of behaviour that abuses them, and is in direct conflict to all we purport to be and value on the paepae.
That same level of alcohol consumption also directly relates to the very solemn figures of domestic violence that prevail over the peak season of The Construct. The dangerous combination of tight budgets, stress, and alcohol lead to an average of 9 domestic violence crisis calls per minute over the Christmas period for Women’s Refuge – and in a period that reaches a national average of 450 arrests for violent crime, Hamilton had nearly reached half that already by last week. Those figures will continue well into next year as people continue to suffer from stress of meeting the exhorbitant bills involved in keeping up with everyone playing their part in The Construct.
The Construct that paints over the pagan rite of Litha or Yule (depending on which hemisphere you’re in) – which most of us are aware of yet I can’t help but think that if the christian church decided to take Matariki and paint it over with a Christian paintbrush, claim it as their holiday and claim all related traditions as their own that we would be up in arms. If I am to encourage and support my friends of European heritage to reclaim and explore their own earth-based heritage then I’d prefer not to contribute to the machinery that oppresses it… in the same way that our own has been oppressed.
And just like all measures of social control – there are the accompanying mechanisms of social typecasting that accompany it and in my case it’s that of The Grinch. Not only are you not given space to do what you like – But if you DON’T contribute to The Construct you’re the pariah, the ugly green killjoy that wants to ruin the party for everyone else. Nevermind that The Construct’s party is ruining it for the planet, contributing to social woes, and exacerbating poverty whilst simultaneously mocking it. I spend the majority of the year talking about the value of critical reflection of social issues and environmental impacts – and I’m not prepared to throw that all away because of the construct of the Christmas Grinch. I absolutely believe in the joy of giving – give your mind to the contemplation and reflection of what you participate in and the implications of your choices and actions. Give your heart to the people around you and most certainly TO YOURSELF – love yourself for who you are – nevermind who you are told you are meant to be. Give your energy to higher purposes – your life’s calling, sustainable practices, your community and whanau – whatever your passion is. Ironically – this Grinch doesn’t JUST want to give that on one day – I want to give that every day of the year, I STRIVE to give that every day of the year (not always successfully but that’s the aim). In order to do that, I take what little time I get at the end of the year and call my rahui so that I can regenerate and give of myself throughout the year to come.
There, I think that about covers it. Feel free to PM me your invites to Christmas dinner – I’m a blast at the table, really… 😀
xo The Grinch