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Presents are kind of the point

Presents are kind of the point

Sarah Ditum hits the nail on the head in an essay about Christmas on the Guardian website:

Christmas, a time of being patronisingly berated for your failure to grasp the real meaning of the season. If it hasn’t happened to you in some form by the 24th, you might as well knock down the tree and use the cinnamon-scented candle to set fire to your wreath: you’re just not having a proper Noël without a bit of sanctimony to spice the joyeux. …

I don’t think your gifts have to be particularly lavish or spectacular.

But they are essential, and not just to Christmas but to the foundations of human civilisation. Think about this: out of all the animals to have evolved, humans are the only ones to understand and practise generosity. Sure, some species ritually offer prey to a potential mate, but as anthopologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy says, “humans stand out for their chronic readiness to exchange small favours and give gifts”. …

If Christmas is all about God becoming man – one entity living and feeling as another – then it’s the ultimate celebration of intersubjectivity, the trait that induces our special powers of present-giving. So slap on the bows and write out the name tags with a clear conscience: you’re not just embodying the real real meaning of Christmas with every selection box you hand out – your ability to give is the beating heart of humanity.

Ditum expresses in scholarly terms a complaint about moralizing Christmas killjoys I made last year in explaining my ambivalence about Advent Conspiracy. Today’s Daily Episcopalian touches on a similar theme.


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Kurt Wiesner


That wasn’t a gift: it was a message!




Um, anyone who’s ever had a cat leave a mouse or bird (deceased!) on their doorstep would have to question whether we’re the only species which gives gifts. ;-/

JC Fisher

Kurt Wiesner

I really like Ditum’s essay, and I agree with its tone and content.

This does not keep me from appreciating the basics of Advent Conspiracy and similar points of view that attempt to look closely at the season. I know many people who get stressed by the madness of the Christmas preparation season, dominating by getting what they think they “need” for themselves and others for Christmas. I know many people who spend more than they can afford to on Christmas because they think they “ought to”.

This mindset has, in the hearts of minds of many, replaced any concept of Advent. Does that matter? Would Christians serve the world better with transformation around Advent?

Certainly it would be better than the misguided “Keep Christ in Christmas” mindset, seen in those obsessed with something like getting everyone at stores to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”.

I think there is something in addressing the commercialization of Christmas, and perhaps it is found in embracing Advent. And yet I would agree wholeheartedly that the point is not to focus on making people feel bad about the giving of gifts. As the author says: “your ability to give is the beating heart of humanity.”

Kurt Wiesner

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