07 December, 2000
A question that has been repeated until, like a word spoken too often out of context, it loses sense and purpose, is "What is the meaning of Xmas?" Magazines and movies, newspapers and television shows, greeting cards and carols, friends and family; each will, at some point in the next few weeks, attempt to convince us that they know the "real" meaning of Xmas. For some it will be the trite and easy answers of family, togetherness and home, while others will find its true value in the latest plastic wonder from the leading toy maker. It all seems to be so subjective, and for anyone who has the need to really understand why we do the things we do, it is also very confusing.
I have a daughter who is right now just beginning to really appreciate Xmas....Which is to say that she is just beginning to have the capacity to apreciate Xmas. What aspects of it she learns to appreciate will largely depend on what aspects I emphasize as being of value. What do I tell her that will justify the faith she has in the answers I give to her questions? What lesson can I teach that she will not only hold for the moment, but also be able to carry all her life and hopefully eventually pass on to her own children, and they to theirs?
When she asks me about Xmas, do I tell her about the Christ myth and the Nativity story, knowing that she will try to fit this legend into her vision of life? Do I tell her about the omnipresent Santa Claus, and threaten her with him when she misbehaves, as so many parents do? Do I only focus on the gift-giving and gormandizing characteristic of the season, to the end result that the lesson learned is one of greed? Or do I tell her that Xmas is just about a family being together, when the rest of our family is so far away and relatively inaccessible to her?
Perhaps the reason the "real" meaning of Xmas is so subjective is because it is necessary for it to be so: large families get to celebrate their unity; small families get to celebrate their riches; good children get rewarded by their parents, and bad parents gain a temporary measure of control; lovers get to dive into their romance, and the deperately lonely can turn to the solitary comfort of god or greed. Perhaps each person needs to make something of it that is true for themselves, and allows them a moment of peace in their lives.
I don't think that's good enough for me, however. I need to know for myself, and to pass the knowledge to my daughter, that there can be a reason for this annual event that is not only good for me as an individual, but is also reflective of an objective truth that can be carried to every person I meet. I am not enough of a materialist to hawk goods and greed, nor enough of a hypocrite to hawk gods and myths. I cannot feel close for a day to a family to whom I have always been distant.
What I can do, however, is recognize that in all the personal interpretations of its meaning, there lies a vision that is possibly as common to all as it is powerful to the individual; a vision that for a brief span of time the human animal is better than its pettiness and prejudice, and the possibility exists that a perfect world, whatever each person perceives that to be, can exist. For just a little while, even if it is only a revelatory moment, we make it exist, and that moment is enough to carry each of us a little further through our lives, and further along the road to a world which, though it may never be perfect, can at least be considered "Good". Xmas, then, is the recognition of personal value, and the extending of that value to a positive world vision. It takes many forms in its extension, but maybe that just brightens the colors a little.
Yes, I think that is as good a lesson as any, and probably better than most. So, there you have it: another lesson on the "real" meaning of Xmas. Take it for what it's worth, or leave it where it lies. Whatever your personal vision of the best is, I hope this Xmas brings you a little closer to it. I know that I have come a little closer just by being here.
Merry Xmas, All, from Dominic and family.
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