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Christmas Today and 2000 Years Ago

1 december, 2017

Illustration: Yasmine Dahlberg

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Yasmine Dahlberg

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Perhaps no time of the year is quite as distinctive as Christmas.  An entire genre of music becomes relevant again, “Traditionssällskapet” decorates HB with multi-colored Christmas ornaments, and Mariettas is completely filled with overpriced candy canes and homemade pepper cookies.

As we embrace this special holiday to the fullest, it’s difficult to create a scene more beautiful than that of the Christmas nativity. The newborn child, his mother and her fiancé, the donkey and the ox, the shepherds and the three wise men…all gathered under the beaming Star of Bethlehem. However, Jesus’s birthday aside, the Christmas narrative also conveys the theme that certain times must be met with self-sacrifice. For example, Christ’s death for humanity or, even more fascinating, Mary’s sacrifice for Jesus when she bears the shame and page-six gossip that comes with pre-marital pregnancy.  She knew that she could face punishment in ancient Israel as an unwed mother, but she sacrificed her future and social standing for the gift of a new being who an angel told her would be the Son of God.

Christmas has had an immense impact on our societal conscience. However, we have managed to combine the narrative of self-sacrifice with a quite different one: the principles and practices of commerce.  Christmas is no longer a religious holiday only celebrated by people of faith. It has transformed into a holiday of intense commercialism for all.

This commercial attitude tells us that a fulfilling Christmas is one where we receive the latest video game, the most fashionable sneakers or a brand-new iPhone X.  On the same day we pay tribute to self-sacrifice, faith and love, we should also get a bunch of cool stuff.  The ability to pair the ambience of the nativity scene with the essence of commercialism reflects the contradictions in our society.  Present-day Yuletide advertising can make gift giving feel like an obligation and constant holiday jingles start to sound like tantrums.  Black Friday, once only an American phenomenon that signaled the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, has even come to Sweden with special sales and offers.  The streets and stores of Stockholm were packed with shoppers on November 24th looking for the best deals.  The modern Christmas approach preaches that more is better than less, but the Christian doctrine towards money and acquisition says, in the words of the Bible, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

While this may sound like a lot of Grinch-esque negativity, I do truly enjoy Christmas. I admire bright lights hung from brittle branches across the city, I love to stroll around the Christmas market in Gamla Stan and, considering how picky I am with food, I actually like Klein Kitchen’s “Julbord” at school.  But I also believe it’s time for us to reclaim the true, unselfish spirit of the holiday and reexamine why we celebrate Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong though; I also have a long list of things that I wish for. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of wanting something new, but presents don’t have to be the latest, priciest thing.  The best gifts are often inexpensive but rich in meaning and personal significance.  I hope we can all take a step back from the Christmas commercial chaos and give back to our communities and loved ones with our time and simple acts of kindness and generosity.  In the current environment of social conflict, political unrest and overconsumption, that may be the kind of self-sacrifice we all need.