The True Meaning and Value of Christmas (For Me). ALSO: Snakes! Aliens! and A GIFT for YOU!

This post contains multitudes.

It runs the entire gamut between the sacred and the profane.  It contains my own, hitherto undisclosed and secret meaning of Christmas, and it contains a GIFT for YOU and everyone else in the whole wide world.

There are snakes (not on a plane) and there are aliens.  There are chestnuts roasting on an open fire, trees made of pure magic, and a giant robotic golden turkey…

All these things are true.

And there is Music.  There is always Music.

You’d better Brace Yourself… 

TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS

First, a Disclaimer…

In this post, I am going to talk about what the festival of Christmas means to me.

And I want to make something super-clear right out of the gate.  This post is my opinion of what the meaning and true value of Christmas is.  I am well aware that my opinion differs from others.  I do not mean to be controversial, nor do I in any way wish to offend.  That which follows is simply: what I think.

I have total respect for the opinions of others, and will defend to the death their right to hold them.  Similarly, I have total respect for people who choose to self-identify as religious even tho I, to a large degree, choose not to.

Rest assured, in this post I will strive for the utmost degree honesty about everything.

Even the aliens.

A Little Bit about Meaning…

Meaning is something that, to a large if not complete degree, we create and ascribe for ourselves.

When viewed thru the lens of this single understanding, much of what we think of as ‘tradition’ can appear somewhat…squirly.

(Note: ‘Squirly’ is a real word even tho spellcheck is telling me it is not.  In your face spellcheck).

‘Tradition’ in western culture can consist largely of: a hodge-podge collection of seemingly arbitrary things that have been grouped together, and about which we have formed a mass cultural agreement.  Sometimes these things have a historical origin, sometimes their foundation is a mythic one.

What we think of in western culture as the components of our Christmas tradition adheres to this.  Some parts of it have been cobbled together from long-forgotten pagan rituals, others were born and found in the words of a long since dead Victorian author, and some have been adopted from a (somewhat genius) advertising campaign for a popular brand of fizzy sugar water.

The source is, to a large degree, immaterial.  The fact is that: we are given some kind of story or explanation; everyone around us seems to agree to act upon it, so we do too.  Such are the threads that the fabric of our traditions are woven from.

For example,

IF, I had been told as a child that: the reason we celebrate Christmas is that…

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away on the planet Nimrod, there lived an alien king named Xargle who loved strawberry jam more than anything else in the world.  Xargle was blessed with superpowers, including (but not limited to): the ability to make pine trees sprout from any surface at will Xargle’s best friend was a giant robotic golden turkey who, as a party trick, would ceaselessly consume gifts before pooping them out wrapped in shiny paper.

Once, in a time now long forgotten, Xargle the alien king did, in a gesture of vast magnanimity epic in scope, visit earth disguised as a fat man with a white beard.  And (using a teleporter and a time machine made of bread sauce) visited every single home in the (western) world, leaving behind: a tree sprouting from the floor, and a stunning array of custom selected, golden-robotic-turkey-poop-wrapped gifts.

So the reason we celebrate Christmas is: if we echo this event on our planet at just the right time of year, Xargle is bathed in an infinite and neverending loop of strawberry jam, before being sung gently to sleep for another year by turtles.

And as long as Xargle is sleeping bathed in jam, all will be well with the world.

AND, if I saw pretty much everyone in the culture I had been raised in adhering to: this story and the subsequent practices which sprang from it, well…it would likely seem no less bizarre to me than the current version of things.

So, given that I seem to think that a lot of Christmas tradition is arbitrary, do I think that there is any meaning and value to Christmas at all?  What would this look like?  And how would I be basing this conclusion on?

Three very good questions.  Read on to have them answered in full.  For the time being I will say: I personally found my own meaning and value of Christmas by: taking it away from myself….

Snapshot: Christmas Experiment #1

About ten years ago I was living in a loft apartment in Cardiff.  I had taken a year out from: studying Philosophy and gigging around London, and had moved to Cardiff to work on music exclusively.  As an experiment, I decided to spend Christmas alone and treat it like any other day.

My Mother and Father implored me to come home, and I received a bunch of invites from friends and their families, but I gracefully declined them all telling everybody that: I was honestly curious about what it would be like to spend the holiday alone.

Christmas morning dawned bright and clear.  I spoke to my family and friends on the phone and then set about my day.  I did a lot of music, learned a new song, meditated for a good long time, had a deep workout, wrote some of my own music and read a good book.  In short, I did many of the things that I felt were wholesome, productive and nourishing.  I had, by my own standards, a really good day.

And I was very sad.

No matter how many times I told myself that this day was exactly the same as any other, and no matter what I did, I could not shake the feeling of being very alone.  It was both disquieting and unpleasant, and I remember feeling very glad when slumber finally beckoned to me with her bony finger.

Snapshot: Christmas Experiment #2

Cut to:  A few years after this I was back in London and I decided to try something different.  At this point I was: finishing up my degree, gigging locally as much as possible, and participating in a musical outreach project with some members of the St-Martins-in-the-Fields orchestra.  The idea was, we would give people instruments whilst also teaching them to play so they had something they could do for money other than panhandle.  I was also volunteering at the soup kitchen under the church whenever I could.  Both were going really well.  I was stretched pretty thin in my commitments, but have always really loved helping people out.  So I decided to make this Christmas solely about: charity, and giving to others.

Everyone else in the house I was living in had travelled home for Christmas, so the only company I had was my snake (don’t ask).  Early doors on Christmas morning I took a taxi thru the fully deserted and snow-blanketed London streets.  I then spent the day: cooking and serving Christmas dinner to approximately 500 folk who would otherwise have gone hungry and cold.  I busted my ass and worked as hard as I possibly could.  At the end of a 14 hour day I was the last man standing and my supervisor had to: pry the mop and bucket out of my hands, force a mince pie into my mouth, and forcibly take me thru to the volunteers dinner.

Whilst working I felt really good and, in the evening at home this feeling remained.  I was happy to have helped, and remain to this day very proud of the work I did on that one Christmas.

But  still, there was an undertone of sadness.  A kind of hole.  As I lay down to sleep, I couldn’t shake feeling that, altho the day had been a very good one, there had still been something missing…

So, The Most Important Thing about Christmas (for Me) Is…

Of course, I have had many more Christmases than just these two.  And I have spent them in a great variety of ways.  Thru all of the experiences that I have had, I have come to realise what the one, absolute, most important part of Christmas is to me.

To me, the most important part of the Christmas festival is: Family.

Family.  Both: blood and chosen.  I could take everything else but this one thing away, and I would still be happy.  But if this one thing was taken out the equation, no matter how much there was of anything else something would always be missing for me.

Snapshot #3: Christmas Now.

Nowadays at Christmastime I still do all the other things I have talked about in this post.  I still help people out as much as I can, I still do as much good work as I can (case in point):

03:00 hrs Christmas morning...
03:00 hrs Christmas morning…

[This is a picture of me at 03:00 Christmas morning last year.  I was just coming to the end of the recording sessions for ‘I’ and needed every spare hour I could get.  But, on Christmas day I made sure to make time to walk across Edinburgh, chat to the ones I love on the phone, and have a meal with family.  I had been up for 36 hours, I needed to consume a vast quantity of Christmas coffee in order to make sensible conversation, and when I returned home I needed to make up time, and so worked straight thru the next night too…]

The key difference is: now I know what is essential, and what is not.

The Sacred and the Profane…

Given that I have: poked fun at the prevalent Christmas myth, besmirched the origins of all tradition, stated that: meaning is to a large extent arbitrary and self-created, and said that I don’t identify as religious, is there anything I find sacred.  At all?

Yes.

A thousand times yes.

Gathering together with the people you love.  Celebrating the moment with laughter and joy.  Giving gifts of true value to someone, purely from a desire to enrich them.  Receiving gifts yourself in the spirit of true gratitude.  Focusing on generating real goodwill and compassion.  Helping those less fortunate than yourself.

These, are the things that are truly sacred to me.  And not just for Christmas.  Anytime, for any reason.  These things are sacred to me in much the same way that: playing, or listening to real music is sacred to me.  They are sacred for no other reason than the thing itself.

And In Closing…

It is good to see things just as they are.  It is good to clarify your own values.  And it is good to apply your own values, to your own life.

It took me a while to understand what the real meaning and import of Christmas was for me.  It may change in the future, and it is probably different for everybody.

But all that said, whatever it means to you, and whether you celebrate this particular festival or not, I wish you the very best.

Of health.  Of happiness.  And of goodwill.

See you.

– J


Now….A GIFT FOR YOU!

Someone made a gift for me.  It is a fan-made video inspired by the track: ‘Invocation’, and I am in turn, giving it to you.

This was made by a film-maker named James Urquart who is currently editing together an independent film titled: ‘Beyond the Mountains’.

What do you think?


My name is James Radcliffe and I am a 100% audience supported independent artist.  If you like what I do (and can afford it) then please consider buying some of my music.  Each purchase really makes a big difference to me and 10% of every sale goes to a charity which: houses, feeds, clothes, and educates orphaned children in Nepal.

Also, every month I send out a newsletter packed with Interesting and Exclusive Things.  If you sign up today you’ll also get 3 FREE tracks of my music as a welcome gift.

Get 3 Free Tracks Now.

And lastly, if you’d like to find out what I’m up to on a more day-to-day basis then here is my brain on Twitter:

58 Replies to “The True Meaning and Value of Christmas (For Me). ALSO: Snakes! Aliens! and A GIFT for YOU!”

  1. Hi James. I enjoyed reading your view about Christmas and what I deduce from what you have written can be summed up as something about that word and season that cuts across, ‘unity’, ‘belonging’. It’s amazing how that season brings us all together. Irrespective of our idiosyncracies. People (family members where possible) share a few moments together.
    Thanks for sharing reminding us all about the values we cannot run away from. Happy New Year 😃
    YemYola

    Like

    1. Hey there YemYola,
      Thanks a lot for this, I’m really glad you liked it. 😉
      I couldn’t agree more with your precis of my article – you hit the nail exactly on the head.
      You are more than fully welcome, it is a pleasure to meet you, and thanks for taking the time to write to me.
      Have a great day,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful, a Christmas gift on many levels. Thank you. What you describe illustrates to me what I too believe about the meaning and magic of Christmas…….being loved and passing it on. Sending my wishes for a Happy New year for you and those you love filled with moments of love, joy, laughter and understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou so much. 😉
      I am really glad that you liked it, and appreciate you taking the time to write and share with me.
      My absolute best wishes to you and yours, may you have great health, great family and great laughter in these holidays,
      See you,
      – J

      Like

  3. This morning I woke up with the song “White Wine in the Sun” by Tim Minchin playing loud in my mind, and (to some surprise, actually, because I’m anything but a Christmas lover) I understood that I *really* want to go home for Christmas and see my family because it’s true for me, too, that Christmas is about seeing the people you love, and spending time with them. The song, and now also your post, set my mind on going home tomorrow, and I’m now looking forward to it.
    I haven’t watched the video so far because my computer is having trouble loading it, but I will when it’s possible.
    A happy Christmas to you.
    Mulan

    Like

    1. Hey there Mulan,
      I’m really glad that you took something from the post. And I’m really glad you’re getting to see your family for the holidays.
      I hope you have the best time, let me know what you think of the video when you see it.
      I wish you the best,
      – J

      Like

      1. I watched the video, and I loved it. It goes amazingly well with the music especially in the second part when both get livelier.
        And my heart melted when I saw the mountains covered by snow (but that’s because I miss my (“my) Tatras).
        All the best
        Mulan

        Like

  4. (I know that I need to read the rest of this before I respond but something about your celebrating alone struck a chord with me). I have been celebrating my holidays as though they’re every day for some years now. As a substitute though, I have treated every day as special. A sort of celebratory holiday of *LIVING*. The gathering of friends and family whenever the need, the want or even the impulse dictated.

    Because of this, I tend to avoid being caught up in the commercial nightmares of the main holidays. It’s more peaceful, there’s no fervour about what to buy and when (and usually my friends and family honour my requests for gifts as they never know what to buy me and when), and family and friends enjoy the company I can provide when I stop by or give them a call…

    Like

    1. You are an enlightened soul my fine orangutan companion.
      I put your humbling levels of equanimity down to your ADAMANTIUM CLAWS.
      – J
      P.S. Well done, not many could manage it. I certainly couldn’t. It makes me sad to be away from mia famiglia.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks James, How insightful your blog is. I follow the traditional Christmas but see that there are two sides to the celebration – and i agree with you one part of it is all about the people you love, whether they be family, friends, or the community of down-and-outs that you served. Once again you have set me thinking, which at my age can;t be a bad thing, I find it more difficult as the years go by to think creatively. I shall mull over your words for a while and let them sink in. I really enjoyed the video, please pass on my compliments to the maker, and of course the music was excellent. Those scenes of snow, ice, mist and the silvery Scottish burns send a shiver up my spine – more of a tingle really – as I sit sweating in this steamy hot atmosphere of North Queensland. On Christmas day we shall put a garden sprinkler on the roof over our deck to cool the atmosphere as we stuff our faces with good food, good wine and enjoy the good company of our family around us. Yes, we shall still have a flaming brandied Christmas puddin’ with silver coins in it for the children to break their teeth on. All part of the tradition. And so, James, may I wish you a very merry one yourself. Nollaig chridheil! Tony

    Like

    1. Hey there Sir,
      Always, always, ALWAYS, your comments make me smile.
      Really happy that you liked the blog. Family is the key, isn’t it? 😉 I will, of course, pass on your comments, I also love the footage in the video – he is a talented guy.
      I wish you a very happy and healthy Christmas Sir, you and your entire family,
      Thanks for being such a lovely part of my 2014,
      See you,
      – J

      Like

      1. Listening again this morning puts me in mind of an art exhibition I shall be doing in. September 2015. It will be an installation and a was wondering if you would mind my using one of your tracks as backup? You will be acknowledged of course. If it works out as planned it will be uploaded to YouTube. Tony

        Like

          1. Hey James, I have almost finished the animation/video for the exhibition and am about to add music. If it’s still OK with you, I shall be cutting in about 3 minutes 30 seconds, but haven’t yet decided which bits to use. Will do that in the next couple of days and upload to Youtube in due course. Hope you are well and fit, and thankyou for the privilege of using your music. Cheers! Tony

            Like

            1. Hey Tony,
              I thought I just replied to your comment – maybe wordpress ate it.
              In short, it is lovely to hear from you and, of course it is ok – just credit the music to me somewhere, and shoot me a link when it’s up so I can marvel and gape at your magnificence. 😉
              – J

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Hi, James, The new animation is up and published on Youtube at https://youtu.be/KOHJ5YTr4BI I hope you like it. The music was an absolute hit! Multiple people came to talk to me afterwards and I was able to tell them about you. I hope you get some followers out of it. So, Thankyou so much for allowing me to use it. Cheers!

                Like

  6. Enjoyable post, as always 😉 Xargle, the alien king? Ha! I love your crazy ideas, that Xmas-story-variation sure made me chuckle. That wonderful video – ah it got me, makes me want to pack my backpack and go hiking immediately. Scotland sooo reminds me of NZ (as the nice Scots I met there strongly pointed out to me rightly). Your friends´ trailer is very promising, great you met and kept contact.
    I wish you a wonderful Christmas time and…inevitably, my mind makes a quick connection between KING (Xargle) and MOUNTAIN (video) forming this question: have you FINALLY seen it?!?!
    Take care
    Cristine

    Like

    1. Thankyou very much, beautiful Nemeth. 😉
      Really glad that you liked the video, pack and hike away! Thanks also for the kind words about the trailer – I will pass them on and I’m sure they will be most appreciated.
      I wish you a wonderful Christmas also.
      I should be seeing it soon, look forward to speaking to you about it when I do.
      Have a great one, faunian master of puppets…
      – J

      Like

  7. Dear James, I love the video and music. The cello, drums, chanting – ethereal, beautiful! I wish you a very Merry Christmas and continued success in the new year! Sincerely, Mary 🙂

    Like

  8. I’ve celebrated Christmas in many different fashions. About 5 or 6 have been utterly alone – snowed in and unable to go anywhere. Memories of those days far outweigh all the others for some reason. The complete freedom of responsibilities or “shoulds”. The deep silence brought through complete stillness. The overwhelmingly beautiful peace – unlike any I’ve experienced (fleetingly) in any other part of my life.

    Yet, the aloneness niggles, reminds and nags…like the one claw of a beloved cat caught in a trouser leg during play.

    Family – familiarity – frenzies. They undo the claw at Christmas.

    The video is stunningly beautiful – in all ways. I want to check out yours.

    Like

    1. Thanks a lot for this.
      I totally agree with you about Christmas, it is a strange day isn’t it? For all my thinking that it was a day like any other I, also, could not shake that feeling. The one overriding knowing that the experience left me with, was how much it would suck to be alone at Christmas if you didn’t have a choice. The good thing is that I am now left with a much deeper empathy for these folks which, in turn, means that I reach out more.
      ‘Family-familiarity-frenzies. They undo the claw at Christmas’…
      I couldn’t have put it better.
      I wish you the very best, and hope that your Christmas is filled with all three.
      Be well,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This will be my first Christmas abroad and without my family. And I totally agree with you- family is the most important thing. Always. So I will try not to be sad and call my family as much as I can.

    Thanks for the lovely post.
    And Merry Christmas!

    Like

  10. This was wonderful. As I get older (and my kids get older), I’m seeing more and more “alone” holidays in my future. Because of the goal I have (to move into an RV full-time) I am hoping that I will be able to travel to see them during the times we should be together.

    Blessings to you!
    Shayla

    Like

    1. Thankyou very much, that means the world to me. 😉
      That is a very cool goal indeed! And what a perfect way to solve the challenge of how to see family – just take your home to them. 😉
      Blessings to you too, and thanks for the nomination – you are very sweet.
      – J

      Like

  11. Hi James, I truly enjoyed your blog. I personally celebrate Christmas based on the traditional story, however, I liked reading your ideas and learning about your experiments. I agree, family (and friends that are like family) are the key to the day being the most and to feeling the spirit of Christmas. The additional things, charity, etc. help us to feel joy. I loved the video by your friend. I think the images are so beautiful. I also love your music. It takes me to a dreamy place (reminds me a little of along the lines of the soundtrack from the movie, Into the Wild.) I think you could have written that! lol ;). I’d like to buy your music. I clicked the link but I’m a little confused about how to pay by US $ and the cost. If you can direct me that would be great! Peace and Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    Like

    1. Hey there,
      First, thankyou so much for taking the time to respond to the post and share your thoughts with me – it lights me up.
      I am glad you liked the video, I will be sure to pass on your comments. And I really like that particular soundtrack so you made me happy there too. Three for three 😉
      As for the music, even tho the price is in £, when you come to the checkout it will automatically convert to dollars for you. You can then check the amount and decide if you want to go ahead. So just follow it thru.
      Please let me know what you think of it when you get it, I’d really love to hear your thoughts.
      And a very Merry Christmas to you. I wish you all that is best in the world.
      – J

      Like

    1. Hey there,
      ThankYOU for taking the time out to write this to me. Yours is the first comment – which always sets the tone, and this made me really, really happy.
      Hope you get better soon, and have a great holiday season,
      – J

      Like

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