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In which Hank talks about why Christmas (and the Holiday Giving Season) often come under such significant fire (from apparently all sides) during this time of the year.

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Good morning, John, and merry Christmas!  So in the last few years, I couldn't help but notice that in the lead-up to Christmas there is this very strong desire among some people to try and define exactly what Christmas is, and then complain that it isn't being done right.  We're focusing too much on consumption, on the worship of the acquisition of material things, we're not considering the religious importance of the holiday, we're not focusing on the historical roots of the holiday, and all of these traditions are co-opted from cultures that we kind of helped destroy.  Santa is a weird omniscient magical demi-god that clearly anagrams to Satan, and the madness of Christmas Eve consumerism is indicative of everything wrong with Western culture.

Here's what I think about all this.  Culture is like light: it's all around us, it makes our lives possible, it shows us where to go, it defines how we see things, and it helps us not stub our toes on weird institutions, like the fact that you shouldn't feed ramen noodles to your parents when they come visit, and women can wear skirts but men have to put each individual leg into a separate leg prison, but you can't actually see light.  You can only see what light hits.  In the same way, even though culture informs every bit of our lives, it's really difficult to see.  

Holidays and rites of passage are lenses that focus that cultural light into forms that we can actually see and hold and understand and critique, and since Christmas, or more broadly like, the holiday giving season, is our culture's biggest holiday.  It is a time when our culture is very visible, and so too are all of the bits of our culture that don't quite jive with our worldview.  But unlike a lens that just focuses the light, holidays actually give us an opportunity to change the nature of the light, change the nature of culture.  It's an opportunity to look at what our society is made of, and maybe say, I don't want that bit.  

We can give charitable contributions instead of gifts, we can focus on the happy wonder of children or the Solstice or Jesus or whatever tradition feels deepest and richest to you, while doing our very best not to whine about the fact that other people are doing it differently, because the things that they value and the culture that they live in is different from ours, because they're different people.

For me this time of year, it's friends, it's video games, it's Christmas trees, it's Ella Fitzgerald, it's Buddy the Elf's breathless enthusiasm infecting the whole world, it's cats on Christmas trees.  This holiday season, whatever you want to call it, has a really deep and diverse group of traditions to draw on, because our culture is made up of a really deep and diverse group of people, and in the end, what shines through all of these traditions is giving.  Wanting to make the lives of other people richer and better so that they know that we care about them, and that's a bit of our culture that I have a hard time having a problem with.  

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.