by P.R.Banks

Welcome to Christmas, that time of the year when families come together and peace and harmony is allegedly spread through the world. But what a time it is, such a curious blend of contradictions and good ideas mixed into one ceremony that, in the final analysis, ends up being and meaning very little anymore.

I mean take a look around you at the world. Will the fighting in Russia stop? Will there actually be a period in human history were we all stop fighting for just one month and actually co-operate for a time? Will the crime rate abate as the criminals experience a month of extreme shame and remorce for their deeds? I doubt it.

Perhaps I am being a little unfair in the scope of change I am expecting so lets look a little closer to home. When you look around Wellington during Christmas you see three major changes present :- people try to be 'pleasant' to you and wish you the seasons greetings, the sales hype and glitz try to get you to spend in a consumer hype & finally we see a brief upsurge in donations to charity organisations. But what a sham all that is.

Take the business of seasons greetings. I am guilty of mouthing the usual socially expected phrases in order to remain, at least mildly, inconspicuous. (And even my minor rebellion of 'compensatory' evil was kept in a seasonal vein for the most part.) But does the phrase "Merry Christmas" really mean anything to you anymore? And with the variety of people who say it to you can you really claim that the majority have more than a superficial interest in actually wishing you well?

Due to this hijacking of the phrase we have now cunningly rendered it useless. It no longer means anything much when said to us by a stranger because we know it to be merely an expected social obligation. And we enforce that obligation, in a fairly relaxed fashion, with humour and 'wit' by casting those few social rebels as the modern day Scrooges of the world. (Never before has one author had so much to answer for, for so little work. To paraphrase somewhat sarcasticly. )

And the very attitude of it repels me. For, at most, one month of the year we go through this business of wishing people we really have no major ties to seasonal greetings that echo fine sentiments but are usually hollowly mouthed. But why do we do it for just one month? Why have we become so inured to not doing this at any other time of the year? Wouldn't it be nice to, completely randomly during the year, to part with a 'Farethee well!' (or the parting of your choice) and actually mean something by saying it when it isn't expected?

The same goes for the whole ideal of Christmas, namely of bringing peace and goodwill to all the world. Fine tales are told of Christmas' during World War II when the Turks and Allied forces stopped fighting for a day to play a game of soccer on Christmas day. There they were, enemies in one of the largest conflicts the globe has seen thus far and they took the time out to play a friendly game of soccer with their enemy.

Some could argue that the good nature of humanity was simply shining through. But I believe it could be argued that merely a degree of conscience salving was occuring. Rather than simply, en masse, refuse to fight for a cause they didn't believe to be right or refuse to fight when they believed a better solution could be found they instead choose to fight and then show that they actually have compassion for their fellow human by playing a game with the enemy on the requisite day of the year.

Two days later it was back to business as usual as they tried to kill each other again. (It would be wrong to think I don't appreciate that the fighting was neccesary. My point here is to not be hypocritical about it. If you are going to try and wage war then wage war, don't play games with them on one day of the year to show your "humanity".)

In much the same way we watch donations to charities rise during the Christmas season. Again conscience salving is occuring and quite possibly a degree of Machevallian 'tidying' is occuring to allow the inhabitants to feel that everybody is being treated well so that no embarrasing incidents can occur to disturb our 'showcase' month. And as soon as the season ends and the brief pangs of conscience wear off, what happens? Donations drop back to their regular levels.

Again instead of doing a brief and useless burst during one month of the year why aren't we working to combat this problem the whole year round? Why do we only donate our time to it once a year? I'll nominate a new years resolution for you. Pick a charity, each of you, - just the one - and then use the next year to donate to that charity. It doesn't matter how you donate, be it time, goods, money but just donate that resource for the whole year instead of this flash in the pan stuff. And if we all do that, great things can be acheived and we might actually stop having to have this annoying and embarrasing ritual of the once yearly conscience stroke.

And the final segment of Christmas that irks me is the religious segment of it. As an athiest I really have virtually no interest in the deeds of the three wise men, Mary, Jesus, Angels or some mythical higher-power-come-thug who runs the show. But try escaping it. Carols dog your every move, Angels are flourished in storefronts and nativity scenes dot the landscape like gin traps for the unwary.

Now I will admit to a heavy degree of cynicism here, my view is tainted by my atheistic leanings, but do we really need the religious overtones to this? Can't we shift Christmas into simply being a traditional time to try and appreciate our family without the rest of it? Simply leave the rest of us non-Christian types the peace and choice to celebrate the event in our own way and with our own Gods, those that we choose.

All in all, as I said at the begining, this is an event that is filled with the right ideas, simply concentrated into too small an area. Perhaps it is time we made a few changes...

Philip R. Banks
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