I have increasingly become irritated with the concept of what holidays have become in our culture.  For most of recorded time, humans have gathered together for any number of holidays and festivals to celebrate whatever their culture deems is good to celebrate.  In our culture, the penultimate holiday each year is Christmas.  There was a time in my life where I did look forward to Christmas.   For now, all you will get is the proverbial “Bah Humbug!” from me.

I am not denying that Christmas is an important holiday in a number of different ways.  In the Christian sense, it is a celebration of the birth of the central figure in Christianity.  I have nothing against, and fully respect the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Likewise, while the secular traditions of Christmas vary from one place to the other in the world, it is certainly worthwhile to celebrate an annual holiday that emphasizes peace on earth, the gathering of family and friends, and the associated traditions that go along with all of this.  Families gather to do repeat annual traditions.  A big meal is often a centerpiece of the celebration.  Certainly, most traditions, including our own, include the exchanging of gifts.  Again, I am all for this.

I am simply perturbed at what has become of this gift-giving tradition.  Retailers have taken the opportunity to exploit this tradition, as each retail business would like to be the one to sell you that gift that you will give to another person.  Since many people no longer have the time or inclination to produce a gift for someone, many people purchase these gifts for giving on Christmas, and rightfully, retailers want to take advantage of this.

By this time, you are thinking that what I have said is pretty obvious.  It is.  However, the part that bothers me is not that we all get together to celebrate family or peace or Jesus’ birth.  What bothers me is just how perverted the holiday has become as “the holiday where gifts are expected to be given and received.”  Are we celebrating all of the warm, fuzzy concepts that I listed above?  Or has this become an orgy of material wants and consumerism?

OK.  Let’s say that we haven’t been overcome by consumerism.  Let’s say that we are going to take Christmas at face value and celebrate the day with friends and family.  We will even buy a gift for one or more of our family or friends.

Yes, this is an extreme example.  But I would like to draw your attention to the incident on Long Island, New York the day after Thanksgiving this year.  For those of you in who have not heard about this (because you have been living in a cave all this time), a man was trampled to death by some folks wanting to share the holiday spirit and Peace on Earth.

The story goes like this.  Despite knowing that Christmas will happen each year on a predictably recurring date, part of our recent tradition is to purchase any gifts that we wish to bestow upon others between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve.  I have to believe that some folks have quite a few friends to purchase gifts for, since so many of them are lined-up outside retail outlets all over the country in the wee hours of the morning the day after Thanksgiving.  In this particular case, a few thousand of them had gathered around a particular Wal-Mart store in New York to get a head start on finding just the right gift to show their love to friends and family on Christmas Day.

Wal-Mart does have a reputation for inexpensive goods, and like most retailers, had special prices that day to encourage shoppers to choose their store.  Most of these specials were for small appliances and cheaply-made home electronics items, but it seems that it is popular to give these particular items as gifts to show one’s love or friendship toward another person.  On this day, we could see that the Spirit of Christmas was in full force, as two thousand people pushed and shoved theit fellow man, in an effort to find just the perfect gift for the occasion.

Sadly, on this day, the primal instinct to share all of this love and gift-giving gave way to several people being trampled and one employee, Jdimytai Damour, 34, dying in the crush of humanity trying to get in the front door of the store at 5:00 AM.  Certainly, this shopping for gifts had to be done NOW and not even a few hours later.  Certainly, people had to die in the effort to make sure that “just the right gift” was still in stock by the time the purchaser got to the sales counter.  And this primal urge was so great that, when these shoppers were told that the store might have to close to investigate how a man had died while being trampled, much of the crowd showed their sorrow by complaining that they should be able to continue shopping RIGHT NOW since they had been waiting in line for hours for the opportunity to come in.

Yes, this is what I see as the Spirit of Christmas.  Now, can you see why I am so loathe to participate in this annual ritual.

So, you will ask me, why are you bringing this all up now?  It is a bit too early to be making that “Spirit of Christmas” blog entry.  The Wal-Mart incident was a couple of weeks ago now, and everyone has heard about it and forgotten about it by now.

My point is that, even though we have forgotten about the incident, Jdimytai Damour is still dead.  And on Christmas morning, when your friends and your children have opened up that gift of a cheaply-made electronics item that you bought for them, Jdimytai Damour will still be dead.  And six months from now, when that treasured gift is broken or out of favor, Jdimytai Damour will still be dead.

If you are reading this, it is unlikely that anyone died at the store where you shop for gifts.  Please, though, think about the craziness of all this.  Is this all about having a peaceful, enjoyable holiday?  Or is this about trampling people and killing them if necessary to purchase enough gifts to satisfy your friends before the store runs out of them?  I, for one, am ready to just step away from the whole thing and ignore Christmas as much as I can.

But to you and yours, Merry Christmas.