It’s ironic that the Christmas holiday—which tried to substitute other, older traditions happening on or around the Winter solstice—is no longer confined to the Christian faith. The cry of some fundamentalists to “Put Christ back in Xmas” has some merit to it, but certainly not the one they mean.1 In this sense “Christmas” is now a social phenomenon without regard for one’s actual faith. This is the kind of Christmas I’ll discuss here: the holiday that exists in countless stores, carols, movies, special episodes of your favorite TV series, boxes of cookies, kitsch sweaters and friendly gatherings all over the «Western hemisphere».

It’s easy to guess why any non-religious organization would adopt christmas-related merchandise, plots, imagery and themes: because a significant portion of your users/customers do observe the religious holiday. It’s also easy to venture a guess as to why they don’t explicitly mention Jesus: out of respect for the actual (i.e. explicit) religious messages, morals and traditions. Whatever the reasons, the result is the same: a phenomenon inspired on certain religious themes, presented in a secular package so as not to offend anyone’s beliefs.

Besides, many of the themes associated with the religious holiday sound acceptable—even commendable—to most good people regardless of faith. It’s easy to argue for peace, joy, charity, forgiveness, selflessness, et cetera in general. Who would argue against?

I don’t wish to argue the “ugly” part of this, or whether “corporations” have “ruined” christmas. Instead, there’s lots of good things to come from this secularization, at least in theory. If even one person is moved to make amends because it’s the thing to do on christmas, does it matter if she’s not of the Christian faith?

This is the spirit behind one of the most bittersweet carols in the Spanish language: «Ven a mi casa esta navidad».2

[You,] who finds himself away from your friends,
your land and your home,
and [you,] who has grief in the soul,
because you can’t stop thinking…3

Kindness is not exclusive to the faithful. Our ability to cooperate with others is part of what brought us «out of the Savannah and into the shopping mall» and our social bonds sometimes makes us tilt the balance towards someone else, even if that means being worse off. It’s true that we tend to be good with those that are good to us, but spontaneous kindness to someone else still happens here and there. I still remember 2017: it was jaw dropping to see people carrying rubbish mere minutes after the earthquake hit; people using buckets, spades and even their own shirts to carry out a collapsed wall, in the hope of saving the life of a complete stranger.

Kindness is all around during christmas. Whether it’s the byproduct of faith, hammered by corporate beings or saccharine jingles, it’s culturally accepted that «the spirit of christmas» includes kindness to the poor. Often, this is understood as the poor in money, the dispossessed, the disenfranchised… because these are very evident needs. Some people are in need of other, immaterial things.

[You,] who for tonight
can’t help but remember
I want [you] to know that here at my table
I have a place set for you

Why is this carol so popular? I argue that it’s one of the few that actually speaks of the sad reality for many: not only are there problems, but they somehow seem exacerbated when everyone around is singing of peace, joy and harmony. Some truly horrible problems cut deep into health—both physical and mental—relationships, family, job and who knows what else. Even loneliness itself cuts deeper when coworkers and schoolmates discuss their plans to meet with this or that relative. People suffer year round, but not every problem gets an extra help around christmas.

«Ven a mi casa…» does not push the «be merry» narrative that sometimes verges into the pathological. It does not try to solve problems with cheesy dialogues or unhelpful truisms. It merely says: «I know things are shitty. I cannot solve them, and I don’t know how they can even be solved. But I’m here and I care for you.»

And that kindness is sadly lacking. It’s easy to forget about invisible problems. I urge you to keep this in mind this festive season.

  1. I’m talking of course about that small section of Christians that for some reason are angry at the name “Christ” being somehow not present in the word “Xmas.” Or, should I say χmas. Astute readers know why this is a non-issue.

  2. A very literal translation would be «Come to my home this christmas», as opposed to the admonishment of going to the familial home. Even though it’s written in imperative, phrases like this are usually understood to be an invitation extended to friends or people in close circles.

  3. Apologies for my extremely literal and dry translation. I’m a mediocre poet in Spanish at best, and I cannot craft good stanzas in time for Iron Noder.

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