The Meaning Of Christmas

The Knot Garden wonders how the meaning of Christmas has changed in modern times with the advent of a different type of miracle – technological innovation powered by Moore’s law. The traditional trappings of the religious celebration remain in some diminished way but what do people actually think about during the festive times?

We found ourselves sitting in a local pub yesterday, enjoying a meal in an intimate, well-furnished space. The small dining room was quiet and so, even though we are not eavesdroppers, it was hard to avoid hearing the conversation of the well-to-do couple who sat nearby. Snippets drifted through to our ears in spite of our attempts to shut them out.

I am often struck by how commonplace it is to find that people who exude charm, self-assurance and sophistication spend so much of their time, while ensconced in attractive social settings, discussing matters that are mundane, trivial and unimportant.

The couple’s discourse was of particular interest because it was concerned with Christmas. Their dialogue conveyed, through the manner and tone in which it was conducted, a sense that something profound was being explored. The illusion was shattered, however, when one listened to the actual words.

The confident, well-spoken man and woman were debating nothing more than the buying of Christmas presents, by and for their various family members – and especially their children. The banal intercourse occupied the entire duration of our stay at the inn. At times it became intense, heated even, verging on outright criticism and threatening to degenerate into an argument.

These apparently intelligent, accomplished people were spending their evening trying to figure out who should buy what for whom. Was it acceptable for a daughter to buy such and such a gift for her father? The lady at one point stated petulantly that she would buy the jumper she wanted herself – presumably because nobody else could be persuaded to buy it for her. The talk was highly judgemental and possibly a little manipulative.

That is what Christmas meant for these people. Getting what they wanted and imposing their will on others. If they had placed a proper value on their time they would surely have realised that the cost of their discussions would far exceed the value of the presents that they would receive.

What has happened to the idea of dispensing goodwill to all mankind? This creed surely still finds expression in isolated pockets of humanity but appears to be swamped by commercially-driven considerations. Perhaps, in an inversion of values, the idea of truly giving to others has been replaced by one of egotism and selfishness.

Even as a non-worshipper I can appreciate the generosity of spirit that Christmas should, and sometimes does, bring forth. As I write this I am once again listening to the opening part of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, performed by John Eliot Gardiner and the Moteverdi Choir, which truly engenders feelings of joy and exaltation. And so I say unto you, in this season of celebration and compassion, Jauchzet Frohlocket!

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