Tasting the Acorn

Christmas for cynics

December 28, 2011

Christmas has passed once more. Each year goes by, punctuated by this "holiday season," yet it feels so inconsequential. So empty.

Family you say? A time when you get together to celebrate… what? The birth of Christ? The arrival of Santa Claus? The love and joy you experience through giving and receiving gifts?

A family is for life, not just for Christmas.

Other than the hour you spend in a church once a year, and the nativity scene you might habitually display in your home with the other decorations, how exactly does your Christmas experience relate to the birth of Christ? How many of the seven deadly sins did you commit this Christmas?

And Santa Claus? A lie we gleefully tell our children in the hope that it serves to bribe them into being good all year so the Coca-Cola-branded jolly fat bloke will bring them something nice which has been made in a North Pole sweat shop by an army of elves? I'd much rather my kids were good all year because they wanted to be good all year, not because they wanted to be rewarded. Hang on, I think I've just made the connection between Christmas and the birth of Christ!

Ahh, the joy of giving gifts. Granted, this happens. There are a number of gifts I've given to people over the years through which I have experienced great joy. Equally I have received several gifts through which I have experienced some very strong positive feelings. But in the grand scheme of all the gifts I have sent and received we're talking molecules in the ocean.

Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful for everything I have received, but I dread to think how big the pile would be if I gathered the gifts I have received over the years that I didn't need or have any use for. Worse still is the thought that I've given gifts that were received with a similar thought. Is it just me or is the signal-to-noise ratio massively skewed in the wrong direction.

I can already hear a large number of people shouting about lists being the way to avoid this. As a child I was encouraged each year to make a list of the things I wanted and to stick it up the chimney with those of my sisters. The next day we'd check the chimney and the lists would be gone, supposedly floated away to the North Pole by the magic of Christmas. Lovely.

Do you know what present wish lists are? The birth of disappointments.

When you're a kid and you think you're asking Santa to provide your presents, the thing you're told is that you'll get what you want if you've been good all year. So what happens when the kid asks for something that's beyond the financial reach of their family? What goes on in a kid's head when they think they've been good all year but they still don't get what they asked for? There is an obvious implication in the above questions, but, as always, there is another side. What if the kid gets exactly what they want every time?

Entitlement is an ugly word that has been applied to many things in recent years. Entitlement to a well-paid, steady job. Entitlement to a safe and secure environment. Entitlement to a new bike at Christmas because I've been a good boy all year. Entitlement to my basic human rights.

Obviously I'm not blaming Christmas or Santa for all of the problems of the world, though no doubt they have played a role. I am suggesting that we need a reality check, starting with this…

You are not entitled to anything

You are not entitled to a job. You are not entitled to privacy. You are not entitled to breathe in and out. If you want these things… fight for them!

You are not inherently entitled to benefit payments that enable you to live while looking for work. Yes the government provides them, but it's their choice to do so, not your right to have that facility available.

You are not inherently entitled to breathe in and out. You are not entitled to live. If you need the world to wrap you in cotton wool, to provide safety instructions with a packet of toothpicks, or to compensate you because you tripped over in the street, please remember that these things only happen because someone (usually more than one person) has decided to provide that to you, not because you're entitled to it.

If another person ends your life they should be punished, but don't mistake that point of view for some absolute truth. That person should be punished because people have decided, and continue to assert, that they should be punished. Wherever you think your morality comes from, ultimately it comes from within. Your internal morality has been formed through indoctrination (i.e. your parent's and society's morality), your life experience and potentially some amount of logical thought. I've started straying into another topic (something I may come back to in the future) but suffice to say that when I say you are not entitled to anything I mean it.

I'm no politician, and I certainly wouldn't describe myself as particularly well-informed about the way the world works, but there seem to be some fundamentals that have gone horribly wrong. Politics cannot fix them because fixing them requires people to accept challenges to their expectations and their way of life, and when those people decide whether you have a job it's a near-impossible task.

I don't pretend to know how we can course-correct these changes in attitudes, nor do I presume to know whether we can or even should. What I do know is what I can see, and what I can see is that this is starting to become a beast that feeds itself. A sense of entitlement leads to a position of no responsibility which leads to misplaced blame which when collectively adopted (usually via the media) reinforces the sense of entitlement.

Anyway, where was I? Ahh, yes… Christmas.

Don't get me wrong, I like Christmas.

I like giving and receiving presents, especially when I give or receive something that just feels right and isn't accompanied by obligation, expectation or guilt!

I like spending time with my family, and all that entails.

I like eating and drinking too much, despite the guilt I usually feel about that, not to mention the sore belly!

I think Christmas is great for kids, ideally without the bribery and lies, but great either way.

I think people expect too much from Christmas, and that leads to disappointment.

I think we spend 51 weeks building up to a single day that has no hope of meeting our expectations, and the more effort we put into trying to make it great the less great it is. The best Christmases I've had have been the simplest, I just hope I remember that 51 weeks from now.

Merry Christmas everybody.

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