Back in the day, going home for Christmas was what you did. Family members and friends would make their yearly pilgrimage to the old homestead. Car, plane or train, it made little difference how long it took, because everyone wanted to be home for the holidays. But times are changing.
Ever since the invention of Skype, Facetime and an array of other internet services, face-to-face get-togethers are not as important they once were. In these lean economic times, the cost of air and train fare (and until recently fuel) made these trips both time consuming and expensive. In addition, taking off the required work time is not so easy today. Most managers are fairly stingy giving vacation time around the holidays. As a result, holiday hops are out and facetime is in.
And it is not just Christmas. I know in my own life, my wife and I chat with our kids and grandkids quite often via Skype. This Friday, I will skype with my sister in Pennsylvania while I am visiting with my children and grandchildren in Manhattan. Sure, there is nothing like hugging your children and being with your family in person, but the internet has provided a pretty good backup alternative to keeping in touch.
Christmas music is another area where the internet has come in handy. Whether it is Pandora, Groove shark, Sirius or any other service, you can now get in the holiday mood without spending a lot of money on CDs; (it used to be cassette tapes or vinyl records, if you are my age). Today I can build playlists, tune in stations on my IPad or construct queues of holiday songs from Bing Crosby to Justin Bieber at the tap of a key.
Christmas, according to Christian theology, commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. It has been celebrated continuously as a religious holiday since the third century A.D. Although the internet has yet to penetrate Christmas church attendance in any meaningful way, but it will, given enough time and incentive.
However, today in the United States, only 51% of Americans consider Christmas a religious holiday and eight out of ten non-Christians celebrate Christmas as well. The younger you are, the less likely you will be to celebrate the religious aspects of the event. For most of us, Christmas has become a cultural holiday.
Some things remain the same. Santa Claus is alive and well. Of families with children who believe in Santa Claus, 69% will pretend that Santa will be visiting their household on Christmas Eve. Even among those of us who do not believe in the red-suited gift giver, we still tend to pay homage to his image, if not his presence. As for me, I will certainly be reading the “Night before Christmas” to my grandchildren on that momentous evening.
Christmas trees are also still a cornerstone of Yuletide tradition. Eight out of every ten Americans will put up a Christmas tree this year, which is about the same ratio as a generation ago. Of course, artificial trees now account for about half the Christmas trees in America. Every year the eco-friendly argument resurfaces with some who argue that one or the other is bad for the environment. Recent data seems to indicate that they are equally as bad.
Honestly, I am kind of relieved that I don’t need to go tramping through a forest, knee-deep in snow, and chop down a tree to haul back to my cabin. I also like the fact that I don’t worry today about using lit candles or those 1950-era bubble lights (which were almost as bad) in decorating the tree. Life is much safer today, from my perspective.
About 86% of us will be exchanging gifts, another tradition that has survived the passing of time. Although there is some evidence that the kind of presents are changing.
More Americans, especially Millennials, are opting to give a gift of “experience” rather than the standard material possessions like cashmere sweaters, diamond bracelets or power tools. Ski trips, dinner at one’s favorite restaurant, or for those who can afford it, an island getaway, are becoming popular gift-giving alternatives.
All-in-all, I would say that the digital age has provided as many positives as negatives in how Americans celebrate Christmas today. Through the years we have seen the tradition of Christmas continue to evolve and that’s what makes it so magically enduring. The internet has certainly provided us wonderful cost-effective avenues for communication. It is up to us to use it in a way that enhances our own holiday experience.