A Postmodern Christmas

22 December 2014 Jacob Harris

A Postmodern Christmas

As I push through the heaving Christmas throng in a department store, I am possessed with a sudden urge to hunt down and maim Michael Bublé. Damn his silver tonsils! What is it about updated Christmas songs that cause them to adhere so securely to one’s grey matter? Is it the simple, cheerful melodies? The sickly sweet sentimentality? Or the nausea induced by the thinly veiled attempt to cash in on the ‘spirit’ of Christmas? Whatever the reason, once heard, they are almost impossible to dismiss.

It could be argued that the rise of the light-hearted, cheesy Christmas song and the subsequent demise of the traditional, reverent carol, is indicative of our relationship with Christmas overall. In a nation where it’s estimated only 9% of the population regularly attend church services, the idea of a religious holiday seems more and more like something that belongs to the annals of history. Though we cling fast to Christmas, the same cannot be said for Christianity. So have we replaced giving thanks for the life and death of Jesus with supermarket Santas? Have we all fallen victim to the bewitching fairy lights of consumerism?

Or perhaps it’s just not that straightforward.

I suspect we extract the bits that suit us from the plethora of Christmas traditions, tailoring the festive season to meet our own personal desires and agendas, making it a kind of postmodern celebration. And why shouldn’t we? After all, haven’t traditions been borrowed from culture to culture, faith to faith throughout history? Isn’t the Christmas feast borrowed from the pagan winter solstice anyway? Personally tailoring Christmas needn’t be synonymous with irreverence.

I’m not denying for a moment that we are bombarded with all manner of commercial ploys at this time of year. We are guilt-tripped into buying presents for everyone down to the neighbour’s cat. Big business will hop on the back of pretty much anything they think will earn them a dollar – it is a free-market economy after all. But this doesn’t mean commercial interests can dictate to us what something means, unless we look to them for a definition.

I would describe myself as an agnostic raised in a secular household. Yet I still relish Christmas. Yes, there are the infernal yuletide jingles that rattle around my brain – and the gross, unabashed consumerism lurking around every corner. But there is also a pervading sense of charity, a heightened sense of community, family and generally being decent to one another that is evident around this time of the year.

Very few of my family, friends or colleagues are practising Christians. But, still, Christmas parties, lunches and gestures of goodwill abound. No matter what our religious beliefs, or lack thereof, I think the modern Australian celebration of Christmas is about more than its Christian origins, and more than shiny things under plastic trees. For me, it’s about spending time with loved ones, working less and relaxing more.

We should accept that it’s a personal choice. The benefit of living in a rich and diverse society is having the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of perspectives and beliefs that differ from our own. It is all too easy to make criticisms and condemnations based on assumptions and decontextualised half-truths. While history and tradition provide us with a depth of social understanding that is undeniably important, a society’s collective moral and spiritual framework must remain in flux. We need to challenge established belief systems if we are to learn and grow. But to be effective, this needs to be done as respectfully and inclusively as possible. Perhaps, at this time of year – when spirits are high and social occasions more frequent – we should take time out to notice how others celebrate, or indeed how and why they choose not to celebrate.

It’s a shame that we need a special occasion to remind us to be good to each other, but the fact of the matter is that we do. So until that need abates and there is no more crime, selfishness or indifference, why not make the most of our national summer holiday?

Spend it the way you want to spend it. Not the way you’re told you should.


Jacob Harris is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. He enjoys fly-fishing and writing short fiction. He also has a fine collection of hats. 

This article was first published in Ed#473.