When considering what Christmas means to me, there are three aspects I feel inclined to address: the religious, the celebratory and the reflective.
Christmas, the season so bizarre
I am not a religious man. That said, I recognise the religious significance of Christmas to maybe 15 percent of Australians.
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What I am not clear on, from a Christian perspective, is why the birth of Christ is celebrated on a pagan holiday, three or four months later than Christ would have been born. It is bizarre that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on the birthdate variously associated with Apollo, Attis, Bacchus, Dionysus, Hellos, Hercules, Horus, Jupiter, Mithras, Nimrod, Perseus, Sol Invictus and Tammuz. Perhaps it's because the date was chosen by a non-Christian.
The only thing I find more bizarre than this, is the fact that most Christians do not know this.
I am not really a man of celebration, either. But I certainly recognise that Christmas, and the equally man-selected date of New Year's Eve (Anglo new year, anyway) is a time of celebration for those who can afford to, and have something to celebrate.
Christmas is perhaps best represented as a season of excess, undertaken in the name of celebration.
That said, there are so many bizarre contradictions in this celebratory season.
There is the getting together with family, whose company is not always welcome. Sure, it is great to see the kids, but what about lecherous Uncle Bill, drunken Aunty Mary, the brother you never wanted to see again, the sister that bores you shitless and the others that you just tolerate.
How often do you lie back in bed on Christmas night without complaining about various interactions during the day? Did you really enjoy driving from place to place and enduring tortuous conversation, just so that you can catch up with the five or six people you really enjoy seeing -- and should probably catch up with more during the year.
The celebrations also involve gift giving: all that stress as you try to work out what to buy; agonise over whether they will like it or not after it is purchased; all those gifts you receive and wonder what to do with; and the mountain of paper and packaging you have to dispose of so that it can pollute the climate in a less obvious way. This excess also extends to eating and drinking too much.
When it''s all over, there is the hangover, which takes many forms: in the short term, a headache and dehydration; in the medium term, excess weight to lose; and in the longer term, that credit card you have to pay off.
All great fun, but necessary outcomes of a western-style celebration. Hopefully, it does not also involve drinking after that excess consumption.
There are also those bizarre expressions of Christmas celebrations in Australia, including European decorations in the streets and the house, conifer Christmas trees with fake snow, European Christmas carols that no one really understands, and B-grade American movies that present Christmas in an obscenely idealistic way. We can't even make Christmas our own!
I am a reflective man. For me, Christmas is a time of considerable reflection.
As a director of Foodbank, I reflect on the number of Western Australians who will not get enough to eat over Christmas, despite the excess of others. As a human being, I reflect on the 10,000 children in Africa who will die of starvation at Christmas, and the Christians who suggest that a loving God would allow this to happen.
I begin the day having breakfast with my father, his girlfriend, my son, my sister, my brother-inaw and my nieces.
The first thing I do after walking into my sister’s home and greeting everyone, is to look around and think of all the people I have loved who are no longer at these gatherings. I am not a sentimental man, but I find this overwhelming and symbolic of how short life is.
After breakfast, I get in my car and head south to my farm, where I stay well away from people until after the new year.
This is a very reflective time, spent considering what has and hasn't been achieved, what must happen in the new year, what I can be proud of and make amends for, what is right with the world and what I can help to change.
This lays the foundation for the year ahead, and in that sense, is the best aspect of Christmas.
For me, the religious side of Christmas is never an issue. I don't believe in it.
As for celebration, that occurs for me when there is a reason, not an artificially constructed, commercially driven season between Christmas and new year.
For me, Christmas is a time for reflection -- and of drawing strength and direction from that.
What is it for you?