Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Christmas and humbug (and holidays in general)

Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and the character Ebenezer Scrooge are likely familiar to most readers; in particular, Scrooge’s view that Christmas is “humbug”.

Unfortunately, probably to some part due to this story, people who are not into holidays are often considered miserable loners, kill-joys, or similar—without consideration of the circumstances. Scrooge, without a doubt, was a miserable loner, and his disdain for Christmas hurt himself; however, this need not be the case.

To exemplify, consider:

  1. My last Christmas (2008): Having no girl-friend at the time (and with my family in Sweden), I spent my entire day playing Wesnoth—and had one of the best Christmases I have had since my childhood. In fact, I got so caught up in the game that I did not get around to do the minor Christmas activities I had originally planned.

  2. A typical family Christmas as I knew them in my teens and early twenties: Boring talk at the dinner table (admittedly with very good food), fighting over this and that, “soft” presents, fighting over this and that, an early retirement to watch TV, and in the morning really bad fighting, because my sister cranked the stereo up to max at 6 AM...

Do not get me wrong, I am big fan of Christmas, and I would really enjoy having a “traditional” Christmas that came close to the stereotypical ideal (but then, I assume, very few people ever have those); certainly, I have had a few good Christmases with others. The point, however, is that a traditional Christmas need not be better than any other day of the year—and can be a whole lot worse. In particular, unless children are involved, I see no reason to make a big deal out of Christmas, nor to spend hundreds or thousands of Euros on presents—one meaningful and thought-provoking paperback for 10 Euros can be worth more than all the clothes and gadgets that fit beneath a Christmas tree.

If we look at other holidays common in my culture, there really are none that make much sense (from the perspective of an atheist/agnostic): Easter, Midsummer (a big thing in Sweden), Halloween, and so on, can be very fun for children, but not really something that need interest an adult—unless his life on ordinary days is lacking in joys. Valentine, in turn, is nothing but a commercial idiocy to get into men’s pockets by manipulating their girl-friends. Certainly, I occasionally boil a few eggs at Easter, but I would never spend two hours re-decorating for an Easter-look or otherwise make a big deal out of the holiday.

The one exception I would make is for New Year’s, but mainly because it is blurred with Christmas—I spent most Christmases after my parents divorce at home with my Mother (cf. the above typical Christmas); but most New Years’ with my Father, which was much more enjoyable. I, in particular, recall fondly the few years we went to stay with my paternal grand-mother, before her ill health made this impossible. (Notably, both Christmas and New Year’s, in their core, are celebrations of the longest night being past and the days growing longer again, and could thus well be seen as interchangeable.)