About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tim Dean on Christmas

I like this post by Tim Dean at The Drum. Sample quote:
Certainly for some, Christmas is a deeply religious occasion, and a time of reflection on the birth of their saviour. Some might even consider the hedonistic lunching, the frenzy of gift shopping and the gaudy blinking lights and tinsel-covered trees a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. They're wrong.

For most of us, Christmas is precisely about all those silly customs and rituals we perform each year. This is because, ultimately, Christmas is about tradition, it's about family, and it's about taking time out to share a feast with the most important people in our lives.

And like many traditions, the purported justification for its existence is far less interesting and far less important than the function the tradition plays in our lives. And once you divorce the religious justification from the practice, you can get an insight into what Christmas is really about.
Yup, pretty much right. Christmas has long lost its religious rationale for many of us, but it is still a valuable occasion. Whether on Christmas Day itself or throughout the week or two leading into the New Year, we get a chance to catch up with many of the most important people in our lives. Those who are absent (perhaps interstate or overseas) are in our thoughts, and we at least do something to renew contact ... by sending cards or making phone calls or whatever best works. This time of year is, above all, a celebration of our relationships with the people whom we care about and who care about us.

Sure, some alternative that had no religious roots at all might be good, but the religious side of it is pretty much irrelevant to the way Christmas actually functions for many of us in today's society. It's a time in the year that's well worth keeping because of what it's really become.


James Sweet said...

The one part I disagree with is that the reason for the season is ultimately unmportant. That is probably true in Australia, the entire rest of the Southern hemisphere, and warmer latitudes in the northern.

But up here in near the Canadian border, the reason for the season, the TRUE reason for the season, is damn important: it's cold and depressing up here in the winter. That's why every culture that's ever lived up here has some kind of winter festival involving lights and feasting.

Up here, Christmas lights are not just a fun but ultimately arbitrary tradition. No, at the Winter solstice, it's a crucial measure to keep us all from killing ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Quite well said, though I have a little comment on your last bit:

Sure, some alternative that had no religious roots at all might be good...

I think it's actually valuable to note that the "religious roots" of the Christian holiday (not to mention many of the traditions, such as a Christmas tree) actually predate the Christian holiday. That is, even when you acknowledge the religious roots they don't all go back to one religion -- this time of year has been a time for celebration since before was allegedly born in the first place.

I think the fact that the great December celebration is not purely in the domain of Christianity adds even more to the holiday. Because of this we can also treat it as a celebration of religious tolerance. Obviously not everyone's on board with that sort of suggestion but I think there's something powerful about the fact that we can all come together and celebrate the same time of year even if our reasons are not quite the same.

-Dan L.

Svlad Cjelli said...


And James Sweet is right, you know. Life in the lakebound northern woodlands will teach you how tenuous a human's grasp on sanity really is.