Faversham Stoa is a philosophy discussion group. We meet on the 3rd Tuesday of every month from 7.30 to 9.30pm in the The Bull in Tanners Street. We cover a large range of topics. There's no charge for membership and everyone is welcome to drop in. Just bring your brain and some beer money!

The Philosophy of Christmas

"Christmas time, Misteltoe and Wine
Children singing Christmas rhyme"
~ St Cliff Richard (1988)

Love it or hate it, Christmas is here again, so let's philosophize about it.

We take as our text for the season, Stephen Law's 2003 book, 'The Xmas Files: The Philosophy of Christmas'.

To be honest he does try to squeeze a lot of themes out of the season, including veru general issues, that are not particularly Christmassy, like the nature of miracles and the existence of God. However there are three or four quite substantive themes that are worth us examining using Stephen Law's book as a startimng point.

(1) Christmas is obviously a tradition, so what is the content of that tradition; what are the objects, images and activities that make it up? And what is the value of tradition anyway?

Law quotes Rowan Williams, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Melanie Philips and Jonathan Glover on the importance of tradition in the course of his discussion.

(2) In 1957 C.S. Lewis published “What Christmas Means to Me.” He claimed that three things go by the name of Christmas.

  1. First is the religious festival.
  2. Second is an occasion for merry making and hospitality.
  3. Third is the commercial racket, a modern invention to boost sales.

He listed his reasons for condemning the commercial racket.

  1. First, it causes more pain than pleasure.
  2. Second, it is a trap made up of obligations.
  3. Third, many of the purchases are gaudy rubbish.
  4. Fourth, we get exhausted by having to support the commercial racket while carrying on all our regular duties as well. “Can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter ??” Lewis demanded plaintively.

The obligation of giving a gift of equivalent value to someome who gave us a gift to us or to return a card to someone who has sent us one can seem like a kind of moral blackmail.

Suppose we don't like the present we have been given, should we be honest about it? Laws raises the issues involved in the chapter entitled Aunt Gertrude's Hideous Tie.

(3) A theme that comes up again and again during the season, which sends us all on a guilt-trip, is the question of The True Meaning of Christmas. Whats your view? Is the only ture meaning a religious one or can athetists and the non-religious authentically celebrate Christmas and give it a meaning of their own.

(4) Christmas is a time of bad taste and kitsch images and decorations. Is the sentimentality around Christmas actually morally damaging to us or just a bit of harmless escapism?


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