The True Meaning of Christmas

© Peter Atkinson
December, 2006

Once again the annual shopping festival of Christmas is upon us. Banner headlines in the newspapers tell us that the nation is going to spend £23 billion on the festivities. How much we spend at Christmas is a barometer of how well the economy is doing. If we spend too little we are in a recession; if we spend too much the economy is “overheating”.

The word “Christmas” implies that the festival has some kind of religious significance. According to Christian mythology, god was born in human form about 2,000 years ago so that god could suffer in the same way that humans beings do. Through god having this experience, god and humans were brought closer together. Originally, the idea was that the only humans involved in all this were Jewish ones, but later someone came up with the idea that it would be a good thing if everyone were involved. After all, the true nature of god had been revealed as sympathetic rather than angry, so there was no clear idea anymore of why some people should be included and not others. Therefore, the whole thing was thrown open to all comers. These early Christians decided to have a festival to celebrate the birth of god, so they took 25th December since this was the date of a similar festival in Mithraism - a religion popular in the Roman army where the Christians were gaining many converts and through which they were gaining influence.

But don’t let this religious veneer fool you into thinking that Christmas is a purely, or even mainly, religious festival. It is something which has far more significance than that. It is all about spending money.

Modern civilisation is full of these rituals and mystical icons. Let me digress for a moment. Take the motor car as an example of what I mean. Much of the economic capacity of the modern world is taken up with providing us with gas-guzzling, gleaming lumps of metal which use far more resources than is strictly necessary for getting us around. So, why does a guy who takes home £1,200 a month spend £350 of it on his car loan? Sociologists have recently discovered what most of us have known for a long time: that women are more willing to breed with men who have expensive cars. And, it is a self perpetuating spiral: by selecting men with expensive cars, women are favouring the combination of genes which cause men to buy expensive cars and, in turn, there is a selection in favour of women who favour men who favour expensive cars. The crude logic, I suppose, is that men who buy expensive cars do so because they are able to generate the wealth necessary to pay the bills and are not so intelligent that they question the logic of any of this, an intelligence which might hamper them in their role of wealth creators. The icon covertly carries out a purpose which strengthens our society.

All the underpinning mythology of our society involves buying and selling. Cars are part of the mating ritual, and buying cars depends on spending money. Christmas is a bonding ritual which depends on spending money. At this point the mealy mouthed Christians usually chip in that the spending of money devalues the ritual. No, it doesn’t, it enhances it. Our civilisation depends on trade, and people never beat up on people they trade with. Buying and selling spreads peace and love like nothing else. We buy a load of useless junk for our kids at Christmas which, if it isn’t thrown away on Boxing day, in most cases should be; young men buy heaps of over-engineered German crap to impress their girlfriends. Why? Because at the same time the ritual is fulfilled and the process of trade is stimulated.

We spend our hard earned money on useless gifts, and that is the most selfless thing we can do. That money represents the sweat of our brows, a little of our lives which can never be lived again. What could be more uplifting to the spirit than that? How could we more completely show our children that we love them?

So do not be bashful, buy a gift not only for each member of your family but for each of your neighbours and friends. Get a gift for each of your customers and your suppliers, for your boss and your staff. Hell, give a gift to your competitors - that will really confuse them! Make those cash registers jingle.

I suppose that the Christian message of Christmas - “peace and goodwill to all men” - is nearly right. But they saw things through a mystical glass darkly, whereas we can look at the statistics for volume of retail sales and see the facts face to face. That is, at least, a little progress.