The Calculus of Christmas
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The Calculus of Christmas • Posted: Dec 24, 2010 11:41:15Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

It is interesting to note that end of year secular gift giving and the supposed birth of Jesus are two very separate things. End of year gift giving is an extremely ancient custom of Northern European cultures that corresponds with and celebrates both the end of season harvest and the Winter Solstice, or longest night of the year and beginning of Winter. The symbolism of such gift giving likely had many layers of meaning, but the one undeniable thread is that the acceptance of a gift served to bind people together with unspoken allegiance and obligation. No one wanted to face the rigors of winter alone. Friendly offerings to those around one helped insure the possibility of assistance during coming times of need. Presents to unruly children helped garner their cooperation, patience, and good behavior during coming difficult times. Gifts to spirits and deities were made in hopes of securing grace from their capricious wrath.

No one is sure exactly when Jesus was born, but the date December 25th for his birth first appeared on a Roman calendar in the year 336 A.D., not long after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Given the symbolism of Jesus' birth as a gift from God and the subsequent stories of his teachings wherein the binding and healing powers of love and benevolence figure prominently, the perhaps arbitrary choice of placement within the secular season of giving seems today like a public relations stroke of genius. (See the previous post "Consonance and Confluence".)

Curiously, Protestants during the Reformation of the 1500's and 1600's rejected and outlawed the celebration of Christmas as unholy pagan secularism. But by the 1800's the old traditions of feasting, singing, and gift giving had returned.

Today, though we seldom completely forget the story and teachings of Jesus, our attention is very much bound up in the calculus of gift giving. Free this and discounted that are all gifts to us from merchants hoping to elicit our patronage. We puzzle long hours over what to give and to whom, least we offend or fail to honor and secure friendship from those we know will figure prominently in our future. Then there are our children, grand-children, and spouses whom we would never break trust with by overlooking in our gift giving.

Each gift we give represents a wishful calculation. And each gift we accept requires a calculation of allegiance and obligation. Through gift giving we fabricate a web of pledged solidarity that we hope will sustain us through the rigors of winter and the uncertainty of the coming year.

There is one rather disturbing aspect to this season of giving, however. And that is the belief by some that wealth and privilege, no matter how achieved, is a sign of God's approval, a sign that He has chosen and bestowed His gifts. That short-circuited belief is disturbing because it is used as perverted justification for all kinds of divisive and abusive behavior toward fellow humans.

May your uncorrupted calculations this season of giving yield you much deserved and sustaining support throughout the coming new year.

Monday, November 1st, 2010