Black Cat

Going not gentle into that middle age.

Why this Grinch Hates Christmas

Filed under: Expat,Holidays,Religion — 15 December 2006 @ 7:05 pm

On 7 December, 2006, a tornado appeared suddenly in a residential street in northern London, severely damaging more than 100 houses. Fortunately, only 6 people were hurt, one seriously. No one died, but 34 of the houses were uninhabitable, and all of the residents had to be rehoused until inspections could be made regarding the safety of their buildings. The BBC reported:

Scores of families face a bleak run-up to Christmas after a tornado wrecked their north-west London homes, forcing them to be rehoused….

Irfan Malik, of Brent Council, said: “We really do appreciate that this has been a terrible thing to happen to people just before Christmas and that people will be pretty upset.”

On 27 March, 2006, a tornado appeared suddenly in a downtown area of southern Hamburg, Germany, and two men had the misfortune to be in the cabin of a falling crane. They were killed. Lots of buildings were severely damaged and thousands of people were without electricity. The German news media said that it was tragic, but didn’t mention that it was particularly tragic at this time of year.

A tornado causes immense damage and two deaths in March. It’s a tragedy. A tornado causes immense damage and 6 injuries in December. It’s “a terrible thing to happen to people just before Christmas”. It would appear that tragedies aren’t supposed to happen just before Christmas. I’m not sure what the cut-off date is. Perhaps it’s merely tragic on November 30, but it’s “particularly tragic at this time of year” if the same thing happens on December 1.

I don’t think that the difference in description is because these tragedies occurred in different countries. People in Germany are just as likely to feel betrayed by their illusion that this month somehow confers on them a protective bubble, a glow of well-being.

It has been the custom here that many companies give their employees “Weihnachts Geld” (Christmas money), an extra month’s pay at the end of December. It isn’t officially a part of their job contract, although they have to pay taxes on it as part of their income. In recent years, more and more companies have tried to plead economic hardships as their reason for wanting to do away with Weihnachts Geld. From the company’s point of view, this probably makes good business sense, as this extra pay is a way of rewarding their employees for a successful year, and should be withdrawn when the economy is doing poorly. From the employees’ point of view, this is a disaster, because they are expecting every year to have an extra month’s income to spend on Christmas presents and feasting and house decorations. The news media is full of the tragedy of families who go into major debt in December, only to discover just before Christmas that they aren’t getting the Weihnachts Geld that they were expecting. No one in the media suggests that spending vast quantities of money in December might not be a necessary part of a full and happy life.

Natural disasters and financial misfortunes and major illnesses befall people all year long. The organizations which aid people in distress need donations all year long. However, we tend to notice those unfortunate people and feel sorry for them and donate to them only during the “season of giving”.

Most of us are fortunate to have loved ones in our lives all year long. We have 365 days a year to communicate to them how much we care. But somehow our society has declared that unless we give our loved ones a lavish present for Christmas, they will feel insulted and hurt and unloved and they will hate us forever. Our families may love us on December 24 (OK, that depends on the family). But if they don’t receive a really special prezzie on December 25 (or on Christmas Eve here in Germany), they’ll be convinced that we don’t love them. The prezzie is what counts, not how we treat them the other 364 days of the year.

The stores are recognising Christmas earlier and earlier every year. I saw the first Christmas cookies in September this year — a new record. Any one who waits until mid-December to purchase their Christmas cookies and Stollen will have to wait until next year. They’ll all be sold out. A few stores had set up their Christmas departments before Halloween this year, and all of them had followed suit by the beginning of November. For many decades it has been against the law for stores to be open on Sundays in Germany. Communities have to pass special laws every year to allow their retail stores to be open for business on the four Advent Sundays before Christmas. Most communities do pass these laws, because the spending frenzy in the month of December is a large part of the city’s business income.

All over the western world the downtown streets are filled with the biggest trees and flashiest decorations that the city can afford. All those decorations are supposed to make us cheerful and generous to the poor and eager to spend money. During winter time many religions and cultures celebrate holidays. Many of these holidays are not Christmas. Or Christian. But when have you seen public funds (levied on all the citizens of a city or county or state or country regardless of religious belief) being used to put up decorations for Channukkah or Solstice or Islamic New Year or (forgive my own ignorance) other religious holidays?

I don’t understand why, in countries with a sizable population of people who celebrate non-Christian holidays, the only holidays which are publicly acknowledged are Christian. The United Sates is known as a vast melting pot of peoples from all over the world. Many of them are not Christians. Germany has a sizable population of people from Africa and eastern Europe. In the 60’s Germany invited workers from Turkey to come and live and work. Those people are raising their third and fourth generation of children here as Germans. Most of them are not Christians. Germany is proud that they recently celebrated the first graduation ceremony of new rabbis here since before World War II. The new rabbis are not Christians. But only Christian holidays are celebrated with public funds. Politicians pass laws and spend public money and refer in their speeches to a religious holiday that not all of their citizens celebrate.

Apparently there are Christians in America who feel that they are being discriminated against because many businesses and retail establishments choose to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. (–cough– excuse me???) Those businesses are in the business of making money. Most of them are glad to receive money from people of any or no faith. I am at a loss to understand how the wording at a retail establishment has anything to do with the religious aspect of any holiday.

I am not religious, but I have no problem with believers celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace. It seems to me that very few people make a real effort to emulate such an emissary of peace, but at least the sentiments are laudable. However, the social pressures to spend vast amounts of money and act cheerful and suddenly notice that there are people less fortunate than ourselves seem false and hypocritical and completely at odds with the supposed message of the season.

For the last several years, I have been NOT celebrating Christmas. I have purchased no presents for anyone over the age of 10. I have put up no tree or sparkly lights or red candles. I don’t celebrate Christmas. But the entire season, which lasts longer and longer each year, depresses me. I breathe a sigh of relief on December 27. (I used to breathe that sigh of relief on December 26 in America, but Germany celebrates Christmas Eve and the Two Days of Christmas. So I have to wait an extra day here.)

Bah Humbug.

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  1. PJ:

    Bah Humbug! This seems to be the Wyatt holiday greeting. Bah Humbug, I say to one and all!

    I, like you, refuse to celebrate the holiday of Christmas. I don’t decorate, I don’t buy gifts for friends, and I’ve trained all my friends not to buy gifts for me. There is the occasional slippage — just the other day, a friend gave me a funny calendar, claiming that it wasn’t technically a Christmas gift because it isn’t Christmas yet. I’m still working on her…

    I work for a non-profit agency that provides shelter and services for people who are homeless. I was having a conversation just yesterday with the woman who runs our drop-in shelter. She was saying how great it was that all these volunteers were coming forward to help out, but she knew they’d all be gone by December 26. She’s been doing this long enough to know.

    Come to think of it, I was planning to work the food line at our shelter over the Christmas weekend. New Year’s Resolution for PJ Wyatt: I will work the food line one day every month for the coming year. Why deny myself that pleasure just because there’s no holiday in sight? They don’t need my help this month. They will in January. And February. And…

    Bah Humbug!

  2. PJ:

    OK, I have more to say.

    You know what really chaps my ass? It’s this whole gift thing. When did this all start? And why? And how did the whole success or failure of the retail industry come to hang on the thread of Christmas? Sometimes I’m forced by overewhelming circumstances (Lord knows I’d never do it otherwise) to go into shopping malls this time of year. There are countless displays of things to buy for “the people on your list.” They’re not things that anybody needs or wants. But Chirstmas gifts are not about the receiver, I’m convinced. They’re all about the gifter being able to have something, anything, to give. Preferrably, it will come in a nice square box so that it can be wrapped nicely. Because it’s got to be wrapped. Not only do you have to spend money giving somebody something they don’t need or want, but you have to spend money on pretty wrapping paper that will be torn, discarded and relegated to the landfills by December 26. And the debt — oh, my word, the debt. Every week the financial section of the newspaper has an article about how to “budget” all these gifts so that you don’t go into debt. Debt — for stuff that nobody needs or wants just so that you can have something, anything, to give. How crazy is that?! And then if people give you stuff (that you don’t need or want) you have to put it someplace. And pretend you loved it. Even if you hate it, which you probably will, because it’s for sure not something you need or want, because the gifter is more interested in having a gift, any gift, to give you than in pleasing you. And this whole cycle is created, run by, and perpetuated by ADVERTISING!!!!!

    Repeat after me: No More Gifts! No More Gifts!

    And you can’t even turn on the radio without being innundated with Christmas carols. (Oh, sorry, another rant.)

    OK, I feel better now.

  3. PJ:

    Just for the record, I feel the same way about birthday gifts. Just don’t do it!

    OK, I think I’m done now.

  4. PJ:

    This from my friend Bob in Idaho. He asked how I was doing around the holidays (he’s one of us) so I steered him to your blog and my comments. Bless his bah-humbug heart, he just couldn’t stay out of the fracas:

    “OK, I took a look at your comments on the blog. You might want to do a rant about how this isn’t the time of year that Jesus was allegedly born, anyway. This is a continuation of the pagan winter solstice celebration – co-opted by the early church to better con the pagans into shifting over…..

    Christmas trees – Germanic and Celtic in origin based on nature worship
    Lights – banish the darkness and welcome the light of longer days – pagan
    Yule Logs – Germanic in origin – pagan

    Bless the pagans.

    Suggested rant – how did death and resurrection get turned into bunnies and colored eggs?”

  5. Janne:

    Dear Bah Humbug, 22Dec.
    This year my daughers & son in law are fortunate enough to be spending Christmas in Norway. I felt a loss but decided to do something we used to do together as a family.
    So together with my 7 year old grandaughter who we are raising,we bought gifts, & made cards.We have been spending every day this week visiting those living in less fortunate circumstances than ourselves.
    Our friut tree has mass produced, so we have been able to include apricots as well.
    It is such a joy to be able to give into the lives of others & see the change that takes place.
    Most invite us into their places,they want to just talk as they are so lonely,& shocked that someone would come & visit them & give to them. Their faces light up with joy & thankfulness.
    Some live in such sad circumstances that I come home quite disturbed, to think that my fellow Australians live like this.
    Some will spend Christmas alone, their Families dont speak to them.
    We are having open house for those who want to come to our home, some are coming, some are too shy.
    Christmas Day we will take to the streets after lunch, & those who are not with family or friends will also receive gifts.
    For me Christmas is a wonderful time of the year when I can do something so simple,to bring a little bit of joy into the life of another.
    I also do the same at Easter.

    Someone taught me many years ago by their own Life that giving to others is a very wonderful thing to do.


  6. judy:


    You sound like a very generous person. Your granddaughter and your neighbors are fortunate that you are widening your circle to bring cheer to as many people as possible. You miss your children, who are on the other side of the world at the moment, but you are thinking of others instead of feeling sorry for yourself. That is a lesson that we could all take to heart.


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