The Holiday Spirit

Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday. I’m not alone, it’s popular with many people, whether or not they actually adhere to the Christian faith. In my family, with its blended background of faiths, we see Christmas as a symbol of what is holy in every child.

But, putting aside, the religious significance, the Christmas season has more stuff associated with it than any other holiday I know of.

Sure, the Fourth of July has fireworks, flags and picnics, and Thanksgiving has a big meal and a football game. New Year has the ball on Times Square and a big party at midnight and one song that most people only know a couple of lines of, anyway.

Chinese New Year is a pretty good holiday, too, with fireworks, red envelopes full of cash, gifts, and bright red decorations.

But Christmas is a whole industry. There’s the tree and the presents. The decorations. The proximity to New Year. Plus a million Christmas songs and carols, movies, cartoons, books and poems. You’ve got the Santa Claus legend with the sleigh and the reindeer and the elves and the costumes. The North Pole village, Rudolph and Frosty, the Grinch. There’s a Santa in every major mall and shopping center in the US and many countries around the globe – and now, in China as well.

It can be overwhelming for some, sure. People who are living alone, without friends or families, can feel even more isolated during the holidays.

And then there’s the spectre of consumerism and commercialism that haunts the holiday – almost as bad, in my opinion, as the spectre of self-righteous religiosity that can make those of other faiths feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

But, on the whole, the Christmas season brings people together. I’m glad to see that the holiday is becoming more and more secular. The gifts, Santa Claus, many of the songs and movies, are not specifically religious. But even the secular aspects of this holiday are about family, about giving and sharing, about shared traditions.

Those of us who celebrate this season in all its trappings, whether as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, or even simply as a secular New Year, are participating in a shared international event. Even more than the Olympics, Christmas reaches directly into homes and public gathering places.

Many countries have contributed to Christmas traditions, and there are regional variations on this holiday. The best holiday practices spread quickly, by word of mouth, from family to family, by businesses, and by the media.

As countries like China embrace globalization, they adapt this holiday and make it their own – and add their own touches.

You can track the pace of globalization through China by tracking the Santa Clauses and the decorations in public squares and the carols playing in the shopping centers.

Foreign firms are in the vanguard, with chain restaurants like KFC putting up holiday banners and playing holiday music.

But even Chinese stores, like the national supermarket chains, are playing Christmas music in a variety of languages. Most of the popular Christmas carols now have Chinese versions, and they sound as pretty as they do in the original.

Others may bemoan the secularization of Christmas. But, to me, a secular Christmas is an inclusive holiday that brings people together into one global family.

Given the choice between bonding over competitive, national-pride events like the Olympics, and shopping and eating centered holidays like Christmas, I’ll take the food and presents anytime.