Conflicted, again

Every holiday, birthday or even the occasional weekend, I find myself again conflicted over the a) the celebration of a religious holiday, no matter how distorted and b) why everything seems to be celebrated by buying something for Liam.

Don’t get me wrong – I love buying things for Liam – the way his face just lights up when he realizes that he’s received a gift; the way he says “thank you” – all hurried and hushed as if he doesn’t say it fast enough, it’ll all be taken away; the unadulterated joy of watching a child play and explore something new. But then I’m immediately, glancing around the apartment at all the stuff we have, and all the stuff he has, and I feel guilty for how lucky I am, at how materialistic we are. I have a sneaking suspicion that, should I have a mid-life crisis, it might involve the shedding of possessions – even without, I sometimes have fits of wanting to throw everything away save for a laptop, a single book & my music, and go walkabout.

And holidays such as Easter & Christmas exacerbate this for me. For Leah, who grew up without a lot, these were occasions to actually celebrate, and her family made sure that there were (little) presents at these occasions, and her family made a big deal of it – which she, quite rightly, wants to continue with her family now. For myself, growing up, Easter wasn’t a big deal at all. When I was younger, we did the semi-mandatory Easter-egg hunt, but that was about it. Christmas was certainly celebrated, with presents and the like, but with less fervour. I suspect my own parents had very similar conflicting feelings. As we kids have become adults, Christmas has switched to be an occasion were we’ll all be able to take some holiday to actually see each other, spread as we are across 2 continents and several timezones – which I like.

To compound this issue further, I always feel vaguely quite hypocritical when taking advantage of any religious holiday. I’m not relgious in the slightest, so why should I celebrate? And I realize that it is because in part, these holidays have become quite secular, or rather, quite commercial, and so have successfully divorced themselves from religious significance. I don’t know where they do come from (I suspect, somewhat ironically, that both may have pagan origins), but neither the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus feature in any biblical text that I know. But they do feature strongly in commercials wherein they bring gifts to people!

Even Liam’s birthday is a time for this guilt for me – I was recently at another toddler’s second birthday, and it was an orgy of presents! So much that the kid was overwhelmed, I suspect, and won’t really even notice many of the presents for days or weeks to come. Which isn’t great for the giver, for we always want our gifts to be appreciated and toddler’s just don’t have the capacity to process so much. I want so much for Liam’s birthday to be good for him, and good for those who attend, and if I must place, good ‘for the world’. I do well enough that Liam’s not really wanting for much now. There’s nothing in particular that he needs that we could ask our friends and family to get for him. But I think my friends and family would like to buy something for him, as opposed to contributing to his college fund (which would be great!) or donating to Oxfam or some other well-deserving charity on his behalf. I have hopes that we’ll be able to work with him to instill the desire to help others, and maybe, follow the examples I’ve read on parenting blogs of their kids wanting to have guests donate to a cause. Of course, the flip side of these is that they’re nearly always related to some very personal tragedy – cancer, mental illness, etc -and I certainly don’t want Liam to have to experience that sort of sadness.

I don’t have a solution for this. I have some ideas that we’ll put into practice over the next little while. I’m even considering, when Liam’s old enough to understand, taking Liam to church for these holidays, or at the very least, trying to teach him the origins of why these holidays exist, so that while we’re blatantly disregarding them, he might be able to understand why I’ve disregarded them – or he might decide that the religious aspect is meaningful to him (the very idea of that, I’ll admit, terrifies me). Who knows. But maybe if he can understand my ambivalence, he’ll, in childhood innocence, suggest a clear path through.