Conor Williams, a newly minted Washington Post columnist and an acquaintance of mine, has a worthwhile post on finding meaning in the modern holiday machine:
I’ve struggled with it for years, often because I’m simultaneously struggling with my faith. My reasons are nothing new: the December holidays in the USA are consumerist, they’re corporate, they’re saccharine, they’re so materialist to be effectively meaningless, the stress of gift-giving erodes the enjoyment of close company, etc, etc. … Compared with Thanksgiving’s straightforwardness—come, have a meal, let’s talk together!—Christmas is really hard.
Jumping off David Foster Wallace’s This is Water, he concludes that Christmas has something to do with being forced to make connections we naturally resist but that are nevertheless vital:
This isn’t an argument about considering others because it’s the Right Thing To Do in any thick, compelling, moral sense. We have to make these connections because otherwise we will literally tear ourselves apart from the inside out. We’re not built to go it alone.
At the end of the day, our natural setting is self-destructive. No one is ever satisfied for long living without connection, without considering others, without empathy, or (ultimately) without something like compassion. Those most isolated among us seek out connection in the least productive ways. Many lonely individuals are sometimes pathological abusive or violent in their search for connections, but they are seeking recognition and comfort from others nonetheless. What is good in Christmas—it seems to me—is this at-times discomforting demand that we try to care about each other.
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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