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November 29, 2008

The True Meaning of Christmas

Category: Observations – Tom Harrison – 6:04 pm

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Live Better

“Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death” read a headline in Friday’s papers. To me, this epitomizes where we are as a country: a mad dash to the store to find things “on sale” to get “holiday bargains” and a thinly veiled excuse to get what we want. In the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost?

Ok, I’ll admit that this is not a new observation made for the very first time. But I think it’s important to look at what we do, and perhaps given some of the things that may be new this year, to reflect a little on why we do them, and what they reveal about us.

Christmas is about consumption, and feeling good about ourselves as a result. Here in the US, and I suspect in some other parts of the world, it’s not about religion (Christian or otherwise). I know many, many people who have come to believe that Christmas is what the marketers would have us believe.

In other words, we have manipulated ourselves, over decades into a view of this holiday that aligns well with our true beliefs.

And so what I write about here is how we need to become aware of our habits — of the things we have come to believe are “necessary”. If we become aware of how we utilize resources like food, water, energy, air and so on, one can gradually recognize how little of what we say we need are things we actually do need. I fear many people, and perhaps even me and my wife, will be forced to come to grips with that reality as unemployment rates increase.

We have a lot of problems to contend with in the US these days: energy dependence, climate change, and of course the financial crisis. These issues, and several other are all wound up together. And the incident at Wal-Mart seems somehow symbolic, to me. Even in this severe downturn, we’re expected to buy only about 3% less stuff than we did last year at this time. We’re acting like our consumption during the holiday season is a necessity, or a right, or perhaps an obligation of one sort or another.

So let’s take a deep breath, and wonder not how we can buy green gifts this holiday season, but instead how we can start to step away from teaching this wildly destructive habit of over-consumption and greed to our children. There have to be other ways for us to show our appreciation and love for family and friends than in buying stuff. In fact, just buying stuff for others is a little shallow by way of showing appreciation, isn’t it?

Sorry for getting all preachy and stuff, but take a look at that headline: “Wal-mart Employee Trampled to Death” and think hard about what we have become. It ain’t pretty. Nor is it sustainable.


  1. A Creche

    The earth circles the sun in an elliptical orbit, taking us near and far. And I imagine there comes a special singular moment at the extreme of our trajectory around the sun.

    Yes I know December 25th does not coincide with this moment. But beneath my consciousness of this planet’s revolution, and our rotation on it, is the moment we are at a standstill, like children on an amusement ride, before we continue our journey to sun’s other side.

    I did the oddest thing: I set up a creche. I am a middle aged professor with two young children and I installed a creche. I do not sanction close ties between religion and government; I believe that the word “God” should not be in the pledge or on our currency and our freedom does not derive from religion.

    Yet I will be telling my children that Christmas is when we remember the birth of someone we murdered because he suggested we love each other.

    Did something happen that night, over 2000 years ago?

    Yes I know if something happened, it was not in winter, but I will not let the coldness of facts obscure the beauty of a deeper truth’s light. Early Christians appropriated a pagan culture of the solstice, yet that same culture evolved from the spirit of this philosophy of love lingering on the decaying vines of the Roman Empire: what goes around comes around.

    So what happened that night? A woman gave birth to a baby whose paternity was unknown.

    My own paternity is removed from the moment my children were born; nine months before their birth. Maternity, however, is bloody certain – I saw it with my eyes. So I imagine a perfect force in this universe that is unseen and I sense a majestic magnetic maleness to it. And I imagine a force that is visible; and majestically, electrically female – Mother Earth. And I imagine a higher power not as God the Father, nor God the Mother, but the perfection of their Love.

    On December 25th, we say a child was born who suggested that we love one another. And the earth stopped – it simply stopped spinning for just a moment, I believe, from the shock of this thought’s simplicity.

    It is known that when electric and magnetic waves are in harmony, the result is light. I imagine what physics suggests: from String Theory to the Big Bang. My reason sees the perfection of electricity and magnetism pulsing in harmony – a seen force infused with a force unseen – becoming light and cracking open the heavens. From this vibrating portal pour forth shimmering sub-atomic particles glittering in the winter night’s angelic snowfall. And I imagine a universe expanding and collapsing with an explosive Love that shepherds us to be greater if we can love unconditionally. I imagine earthly Kings bowing down before this power of Love. I imagine a family as the chrysalis of humanity: a father that pulls to an unknown place and a mother who pushes from her center. And I fuel this nativity with a musical memory: with the quiescence of a Silent Night, the spirit of a Holy Night and the simplicity of the First Noel.

    Now I have two children. I want them to know this not antecedent to Judaism or precedent to Islam, but an end in itself – an extreme of an orbit. I want them to know we murdered an innocent person because he suggested we love one another. This individual so much believed in Love that he became Love. And when he said “the path back home to the unknown – the Father – is through me,” he had become Love, living; he had become light. When my kids say “Merry Christmas,” I want them to transcend the gifts and sales and understand this. I won’t dissuade them from the common images: I want them to experience Santa, Rudolph and Frosty; for these images rest on the surface of a turbulent lake. And when that lake calms, these distractions dissolve to reveal what is lies beneath – images of a baby, that night, and that Love.

    Yes, deep within my consciousness is the Earth hurtling through the blackness of space, with all of us hanging on by a string. And for a moment, in the darkness of this solar system – just as we swing sharply to the other side of the ride – everything comes to a stop. All my confusion, fear, anxiety, anger, greed, selfishness and worry that far too often permeates my life, comes to stop and dissolves at the extreme of earth’s motion when I try, just a bit more, to move beyond myself, to live his suggestion. This night a child was born of the love between what we see and what we know and has fused both into a spirit whose Love lights the world with perfection.

    Comment by Tom Impelluso — December 21, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

  2. Wow, this is by far the most poetic comment I have read in the years I have been writing this blog. It is certainly a though closer to the true meaning of Christmas than a 47″ LCD Flatscreen HD 1080p TV.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — December 21, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

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