Holidays 2009

December 25

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Rethinking Holidays

Holidays are reflections of the cultures which created them. All cultures have holidays, but whatever their initial purpose, they incorporate elements of the culture. Here in the United States, we have a Christian holiday (Christmas), 2 military holidays (Memorial Day and Veterans Day), Thanksgiving, a holiday which celebrates the survival of early European immigrants with the help of a native tribe which the pilgrims -- along with European diseases -- eventually pretty much wiped out, plus Independence Day (July 4), Presidents Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Labor Day. We also have Mother's Day and Father's Day, but these are not formal holidays. In my usual sacrilegious way, I say it is high time to rethink our holidays.

The nature of these holidays explains much about my objections to holidays in general. People do need holidays, but what they represent influences society, often in ways which are ultimately harmful. Regarding today's holiday, Christmas, many people have complained about its commercialism, which contributes to the personal debts and even bankruptcy of many individuals, and also, contributes to the United States' exploitation of poorly paid workers -- some might even say slave labor -- and excessive use of natural resources. However, I have a more fundamental objection to Christmas. It seem to me, a violation of the separation of church and state. It gives all Christians a government sponsored opportunity to promote their religion, an opportunity which does not exist for non-Christians, whether followers of another religion, or no religion. Before concluding that I am basically saying "Bah, Humbug!" keep in mind that I like giving and receiving presents, and think that is a good tradition as a whole. In fact, I know of no family who gives so much while having so little, as ours. My wife donates $400-$500 per month to charities year around. People are not in need only around Christmas time, but year around. Giving to others should also be year around, not only around Christmas. Christmas does give a socially sanctioned opportunity (or obligation) to give presents to those we care about, but after childhood, the value of presents in my experience and that of my family, seems to lose its value, if not meaning. I remember when we started making sure to ask each other, in my family, what we wanted for Christmas, in order to ensure that there were no unwelcome Christmas surprises. Eventually, we started just sending cards, or asking for money, so that we could buy what we wanted, or needed. Just knowing that we still love and care about each other is all that is really important, and like giving, that should be done year around.

I have mentioned the 2 military holidays in my Myth of War series, during the writing of which I discovered that I am actually a pacifist, although I already knew I was a peace lover. I believe that our U.S. government uses these holidays as part of its propagandizing efforts -- once again, sort of a free chance to promote and idealize all things military, playing an important role in creating the national war mythology of the United States. Thanksgiving seems well intentioned, but also mixes Christianity somewhat with government, obligating a great many people to say or listen to Christian prayers of thanks, although I suppose other prayers or expressions of thanks would be appropriate, if less traditional. The ironic thing about Thanksgiving is the history of relations between Euro-Americans and Native Americans. The Pilgrims at the original Thannksgiving did give thanks to Native Americans, without whom they might not have survived, along with God at the time, but eventually, diseases and conflicts between the Pilgrims and the native peoples of the area largely resulted in the demise of these tribes. I am okay with Independence Day, except that it lead to a war which could have been avoided had the revolutionaries been more patient. Eventually, the British would have been compelled to give up their colonies. I am okay with President's Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, except that I think people of ideas and inventions deserve these holidays more than our political leaders do. Why don't we have legal holidays honoring scientists, teachers, etc? They deserve it more than politicians do, in my humble opinion. At least we have Labor Day. That is a good one. I think Father's Day and Mother's Day should be turned into legal holidays, perhaps replacing some of these other holidays. Think of all the work, and the good, that responsible parents do! Aside from that, they need a break once in a while. Holidays should serve the people, not serve the aggrandizement of the government. Most importantly, we should live life with a sense of charity, gratefulness, and reverence always. Every day should be a Holy Day, and every place should be a Holy place.