An Existential Christmas
Rambo Angels and Gingerbread Trains
My parents have always been committed to getting us some kind of “stuff” to open on Christmas morning. That stuff usually includes some kind of wacky toy—something of a creative and/or competitive nature. For example, one year my dad gave us this battle-track kit where we could build our own combination of tracks and platforms to run these tiny bug-like robots around in a random fashion, until they knock each other down. Yes, it was pointless and a little juvenile, but I appreciated the creativity required, as my brother and I worked all the possible ways to set up our tracks.
It would seem that there are two types of Christmases: a materialist Christmas, and an existentialist Christmas. Although philosophical materialism should not be confused with consumerism, the two are most certainly linked. One is a belief that matter is all that exists. The other is a belief that acquiring matter for oneself is the most important thing. Or in the case of Christmas, acquiring matter for your loved ones and putting a bow on it.
Existentialists, on the other hand, put a heavy focus on human experience. If my dad were a materialist, his big gifts would have impressed us by their price tag, or some other material attribute. Instead, he regularly to give us an experience: time together, doing something creative and collaborative.
It seems our Christmases have become more and more that way. In subsequent years we built gingerbread houses together as a family. One such year the women built the house and the men built a gingerbread train. The house looked better. The day before that we baked cookies and decorated them. (I somehow ended up with a Rambo Angel and a Baby-Jesus-in-a-car-seat.) The day before that we went downtown to see the model train exhibit at Union Station, and the gingerbread village at Crown Center (for inspiration, no doubt.)
I used to question the idea of spending money on experiences: on meals, entertainment, etc. You do it once and it’s gone forever. But I’ve since changed my view. As long as it’s done in moderation and with relationship in mind, it seems far better to me to go after the experiential than the material. I suppose that makes me an existentialist of sorts. I’ve decided that it’s the matter that is mere vapor, and the experience (the relationship) that is solid and lasting. What we do with the people we love makes us who we are, in a permanent way.
May your holiday celebrations (Jewish, Christian or otherwise) be filled with experiences and memories that last forever.