The lack of meaning in Christmas

What do yoga and Christmas have in common? Both are ancient, both are deeply spiritual, and both have been swallowed by the gaping wound that exists in place of our collective soul. Our consumer culture has rendered the most beautiful fruits of human endeavour, living spiritual traditions, into experiences engaged in for personal pleasure.

Things that were the epitome of the sacred – the mastery of the body by the soul, the celebration of the mercy of the divine – are profaned, and not innocently so. To innocently profane yoga would be to do it unmindfully. To innocently profane Christmas would be to ignore it. But instead, both these have been defiled by consumerism: emptied of their original meanings, they have been re-filled with the most disgusting aspect of our culture.

The body is nothing more than a shell for the soul: I suspect there is a high degree of resistance to that sentiment among the yoga-pants wearers (so eager to adorn their shells). I suspect there is an equally high resistance to it among those eager to exchange cheer-generating presents (what use does the soul have for presents?). But it is an old sentiment; one as consistent across religious traditions as the denunciations of materialism.

Soul and sanctity go together; it is hard to have a strong sense of sanctity without a concept of the soul. Without a sense of sanctity, a sense that some things are more special, important, true than others – there is no reason to treat any event or practice differently.

There is no reason not to make Christmas into a shopping holiday, since that is our main source of happiness, and we do not remember that we once knelt and prayed for something other than happiness. There is no reason not to commodify yoga, since everything else in our society is bought and sold, and a series of motions should be no different.

There is also no reason to think you can ever be wrong, since there is no yardstick greater than yourself to compare actions and motives to. No sins, since there is nothing at the opposite end to balance them out: a moral freefall that looks a lot like our economic system – scary, predatory, utterly empty.

Trees, silence, wilderness, simplicity; when we do not ignore them, we bastardize them, commodify them. Anything that was once sacred is treated with the same shoddy lack of care we show consumer goods made in China. “All that is solid melts into air,” said some guy with a beard.

We know this, in our hearts. We see that those things which were an unending source of light and guidance to earlier men – to whole cultures through thousands of years – is scarcely enough to keep our sense of emptiness at bay. Remove all the presents, all the decorations, all the things that bear no relation to “the meaning of Christmas,” and what do you have? Not much.

Christmas is about mercy, something we do not value because we possess so little of it. Christmas is about forgiveness, something we are so far gone that we do not admit we even need. Christmas is about the birth into the world – into possibility – of eternal love. In the end, that’s what all spiritual traditions are about: love and forgiveness.

All spiritual traditions are greater than, and exist above, material things. There is a reason it was an offence to have money-changers in the temple. There is a reason yoga in India looks nothing like yoga in North America. Until we understand this, Christmas will continue to be a once-a-year intensification of what yoga is every day: children using holy books as toys.