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…
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.
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):
[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?
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.
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.
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