|Santa Claus as illustrated in |
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Warning: This article contains some adult language that is not suitable for children
What is Christmas? For me, Christmas is a curious season for irony and paradoxes. In fact, like many people, I have noticed that Christmas has less to do with the humble man who was supposedly born on December 25. Instead, another man dominates the scenes. Santa Claus in his iconic red suit is the real king. He is the real Christmas symbolic deity that drives us to spend, and we comply blindly. If we do not, we feel guilty. “Oh dear, I have nothing to give this Christmas,” we secretly tell ourselves. Jesus of Nazarene is just the afterthought, maybe, after we feel guilty spending more than we should and consuming more than we need. So we say, “Praise the Lord” or “Peace on Earth.” These simple cliché phrases are enough to justify our over-consumption. Perhaps, it is only fitting that Santa, and all that he represents, overshadows the son of a carpenter because, after all, a beverage company originally designed and peddled this jolly overweight white man to the public. Business comes first, above all else. Everywhere you go, we are encouraged to buy.
I have to admit though that the idea of giving a gift to people you like is heart-warming. This month, I went to many stores in the mall to buy obligatory gifts for clients and so forth. Every now and then, I come across a nice token that would be perfect for close friends and family members. I thought to myself, “Oh wow, X would love this. This is her favorite, and it’s on sale.” Then, I see another item. “This would be perfect for Y; this would cheer him up with all the stress he has at work. This is also on sale!” But then again, do I have to wait for Christmas to give these items to them? What if they die before December 25? Would it be all right if I just place these gifts on top of their graves? They will look down on me from heaven, or look up at me from hell, and say, “Oh, that is so sweet. He remembers.” But what if your friend is a non-theist? Surely, belated gifts would not matter. What if your friend believes in reincarnation? Maybe I would just say, “I’m sorry you passed away before I could give you this gift. Anyway, I’ll give it to you on your next life. I’m sure we’ll meet again.”
I wonder, “Why didn’t I think about giving this to X earlier, especially on regular days when malls aren’t littered with people or when X needed it the most?”
Someone asked me, “What will you give your friends this Christmas?”
I answered, “Nothing really.”
“Well, my friends and I see each other every week. Sometimes, one friend treats me. At other times, I treat them, depending on who has extra money to spend on that particular day. We spend much time together, sharing joys and pains. We laugh; we bicker; we reconcile; we spend many mundane moments together sandwiched between moments of wild joy.”
“That doesn’t count.”
“On the contrary, that counts the most. Those expensive Christmas gifts or obligatory gifts that are obviously chosen without much thought are the ones that do not count. They are fake. We give one gift a year and that absolves us from ignoring friends and family members for the rest of the year.”
“You’re just cheap, and you’re using this Zen Buddhist shit as a cover.”
“You know, when Jesus was born in a manger, three wise men or kings brought him three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. I’m sure that Mary was thinking at that time. ‘Thank you for these lovely gifts but personally speaking as a woman who just delivered a small human being from her vagina, I could really use a warm blanket, a room in a simple inexpensive hotel and my best friend Martha by my side instead of a donkey. Would anyone of you be a darling and fetch her?”
I often wonder what gifts would Mary and Joseph have gotten if they had been visited by three wise middle-aged women.
On a funny note, if I were Mary, I would say, “Oh now you male bitches give me gifts? Where were you when I was being threatened to be stoned to death by the patriarchal establishment when I chose to have this baby out of wedlock? What changed your mind? Don’t tell me, you heard he’s going to be king? Take those damn gifts away and get me Madonna!”
But I digress.
Christmas gifts are wonderful and I would be a hypocrite if I refuse a gift from anyone, but I do not really like being compelled by society to give gifts on a particular season. Obviously, Christmas has ceased to become a celebration of love, peace and the birth of a so-called savior. It is all business. Ultimately, big businesses are the real winners. They capitalize on our faith and joy to earn money and we accept that all purchases this Christmas season are acts of giving and love, and all charitable donations are gestures of sharing. It is true that we donate much to charities at Christmas. But, do we really ask why poverty continues to exist? Are we part of a system that continues to create poverty and events like Christmas are just distractions so that we do not ask the right questions?
I used to be a Christian and I remember my devout Catholic grandmother telling me that Jesus came to this world to spread love to everyone, regardless of the color of skin, gender and so on. God is love. Today, I saw a hired overweight Caucasian-looking man dressed as Santa Claus in a mall. Children fell in line and waited for their turn to sit on Santa’s lap as their parents took pictures of them. As soon as one kid finished, the mall Santa kindly gestured to the next kid to come forward. I looked at this hired Santa’s eyes; he looked tired. (How much is he getting paid?) Instead of real elves, mall employees dressed as elves stood by his side. One of them looked indifferent. (Is she worried that her contract will not be renewed after the Christmas season?)
I thought to myself, “Well grandma, if that bearded man in a red suit is Jesus, he certainly put on a lot of weight after he came down from the cross.”
December 25 is actually not Jesus’ birthday. In fact, no one is certain about the exact date of his birth. Considering that Jesus is supposed to be God, you would think he would have reminded at least one of his disciples or angels to jot down his birthday. Perhaps, Jesus intentionally kept his birthday a secret so Christians should celebrate it any day of the year, sharing love and goodwill to all humankind all year round instead of just one day.
If we really need to be historically accurate, December 25 was originally part of the Saturnalia, a non-working festival when slaves and masters dined together, and freeborn women were allowed to mingle with men. Everyone was treated equally. The poet Horace called Saturnalia "December liberty" because free speech was allowed temporarily. Slaves could criticize their masters. People gave gifts and attended public religious rituals. All these were temporary. After the long festival, the status quo was restored. Slaves returned as slaves. Masters remained masters and women stayed in their designated places. Do these sound familiar?
On the other hand, people also got drunk, overate and, reportedly, some had wild orgies. That gives “love to all mankind” a new meaning, doesn’t it?
Perhaps conversations before December 25 in the past went like this:
“Maximus, are you going to Luxius’ Saturnalia party?”
“Oh no! I attended three orgies just this week. My butt needs a rest.”
“Suit yourself, I just bought a new synthesis  from Aphrodite’s boutique, and I’m just dying to take them off.”
“Enjoy then, and Merry Saturnalia!”
To end, Merry Saturnalia to all and to Jesus, I sent you a p.m.
 Horaces, Satires 2.7.4, libertas Decembri; Mueller, "Saturn," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, pp. 221–222.