This has to count as the most bizarre story of this, and probably any other Christmas season.
I don’t see why it’s appearing as a New York Times Modern Love column, because it’s a story about how a woman’s adult children managed to kill her Christmas.
Carolyn Briggs has three married adult children. They and their spouses have renounced Christmas in favor of a life dedicated to the worship of the Nature Goddess.
She describes them:
MY three vegetarian, activist, urban, multi-degreed, agnostic, adult children have rejected Christmas as a consumerist sham of a holiday, one in which they will not be participating. Oh, they’ll take the day off and drink organic wine, but they won’t be buying presents, putting up a tree, baking cookies, lighting candles or decking any halls. There will be no taking of a family picture for their card and no sending of that card or any other.
Christmas is celebrated around the world, by many people who are not Christians. In America it’s a national holiday.
Many Christians bemoan the commercialization of the holiday, but a minimally sentient human being should understand that there is much more to giving gifts than participating in a capitalist conspiracy against the Goddess.
What does Christmas mean to Carolyn Briggs:
For me, Christmas is one of those fleeting but essential “aah” moments of generosity, family bonding and extravagance of spirit that psychologists tell us matter because they give us the opportunity to transcend, appreciate and feel outside of time. I don’t know about you, but I need that at least once a year.
Surely, this explains why so many non-Christians celebrate Christmas.
Briggs’ “activist” children have made an ideologically-based decision. They will impose their views on their parents. They will do everything in their power to prevent their parents from celebrating Christmas.
These children love Nature beyond reason, with the exception of the natural process that would allow them to reproduce themselves, and thus, to provide Carolyn Briggs and her husband with grandchildren.
There would be no homecoming, no wrapped gifts and no grandchildren to fill with Santa dreams. My grown children were childless by choice and vowed to remain that way.
Ceremonies and rituals bring society together. Their absence divides and fragments the polity.
These children may not feel that they hate their parents, but they are acting as though they do. No one is forcing them to believe anything that they do not want to believe, but they ought to be able, for one day a year to show some respect to their parents.
If these neo-pagans do not want to celebrate Christmas, that is their business. Depriving their mother, in particular, of a holiday celebration that is, as her article explains, so important for her, bespeaks a meanness of spirit, an absence of generosity that deserves no respect.
Don’t these children owe their parents something for having given them life, for having brought them up and for having helped provide them with advanced educations?
Where did they learn to become monsters of ingratitude?
In today’s America, an advanced education often brainwashes people to the point where they can only show contempt for people who do not think as they do.
No one has ever described this heartlessness as well as Charles Dickens. Describing Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens wrote:
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often `came down' handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
One applauds Carolyn Briggs for shaming her ungrateful children in the pages of the New York Times.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. Faced with the recalcitrance of her fanatical children, Briggs finds herself having to choose between them and Christmas.
She chooses her children and can now look forward to bleak and desolate, joyless Christmases.
I have thought about my behavior all year, and I am resolved not to become the old person in the family who remains recalcitrant and claims outsize privilege with age. I am not going to guilt my children anymore for not giving me what I assumed they would be happy to provide.
I had hoped for grandchildren, and I wanted those grandchildren with glossy hair and pajamas sitting around my Christmas tree each and every year, but that’s not what I’m going to get. My children will bring kennels and leashes to my house, not strollers and car seats. They are going to be exchanging notes on dog food and doggy day cares, and they will continue to refer to their peers who are parents as breeders.
We are all going to meet at my daughter’s in Texas at the end of December. Even though we will never attempt a traditional Christmas again, we will have some winter holiday gathering where we eat bowls of faro and root vegetables topped off by a dessert of silken tofu lemon mousse. We will share stories of our lives and travels. The guitars will come out.
Apparently, the Times applauds Briggs’ spirit of compromise and conciliation. The newspaper of record seems to like it when one group of people imposes its views on others.
It entitles the article: “A Holiday Built on Presence, Not Presents.”
As though the one precludes the other.
In truth, the Briggs children are not present for the festivities and celebrations. They might be there as flesh and blood, but they are absent in spirit.
There’s more to presence than occupying space. Holidays are about giving. The Briggs children are taking something from someone.
Giving gifts is a universal custom. It creates and confirms a human connection. To see it as a capitalist plot is mere ignorance.
I am not sure that any of us know what we would do were we faced with the choice that Carolyn Briggs faces. We would hope we would have the moral courage to shame our children in public for their disgraceful failure to show the least generosity and respect for their parents.