One Saturday, my oldest daughter and I hopped on our bikes and rode to the Dundas Valley trails. We explored a part of the valley we've never been to before and found a beautiful site above a creek. We decided to collect birch bark off some fallen branches, for use later starting camp fires.
My fingers were getting cold as we worked, and I suggested we move on to explore further. My nine-year-old daughter burst out with "No Daddy, I thought we had all day. This is so much fun!"
Painstakingly stripping little bits of bark for some future fire was entirely captivating her.
These are the moments I treasure. Unplanned, spur of the moment, no big deal stuff. Certainly not an event that translates into big 'wows' later in the retelling, especially in a culture so addicted to spectacles and an increasingly burdensome holiday infrastructure featuring multiple wreaths, big trees, evergreen boughs, fancy wrapping paper, strings of lights inside and outside, specialty ornaments, and of course frequent or extensive trips to the mall.
I'll admit it: I want a way out of the experience foisted upon us in such a monumental way each year. I feel like I'm being bullied to participate, but by what, by whom? the entire North American culture of capitalism? Christianity gone bad? My family and friends? By Santa? Help!
How far this reflex-gift giving/receiving ritual is from the meaning of a true gift. Consider this:
"A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return." (Bhagavad Gita 17:20)
The meaning here is so counter to the compulsive, consumerist clockwork that it is completely devastating in its inherent critique: giving becomes a spiritual, temporal convergence, a metaphysical mall if you will, an event that may only unite in perfect harmony once in a lifetime! You can't stock a big box store based on that kind of thinking!
Do we need Gita-like purity in our gift giving? I don't know. But, putting aside the reality of sweatshops, slave labour and poor environmental practices lurking behind the label on many consumer goods, what I do know is I don't like to be pressured into participating on cue, forced to spend time, money and energy to fuel the marketplace in order to fulfill someone else's (even loved ones') equally manipulated expectations.
I've heard so many people say, and I'm one of them, that it's the opportunity to get together with friends and family that makes the season. Lots of people are escaping the Christmas train and getting back to the basics.
It's clear that this Christmas fire isn't giving off any heat for me, but I do have a bit of birch bark in my coat pocket if you want to share it sometime.