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Say the word “Christmas” and ask a friend: What is the first word that comes to mind? Stressful, expensive and too busy are among the feelings unfortunately associated with one of the most celebrated historical and spiritual events in the world. Make no mistake: This may be the case here in the United States, but in Europe and most other parts of the world, Christmas is about the celebration of the birth of Christ.

My fondest memory growing up as a child in Iran was Iranian New Year, Norooz, which starts March 20-21 of the lunar calendar and lasts for 13 days. Most of those memories are of family, cousins and friends gathering night after night to enjoy elaborate spreads of specialty dishes and desserts. Dancing, singing and renewing friendships and relations were the central part of the celebration.

The first night was the most memorable, as we sat around the table filled with specific items signifying the arrival of a new year and celebrated a new beginning with our immediate family. Receiving presents from my parents and grandparents and other elders in the family was a part of the celebration and joy, but it was not the essential part of the holiday as it has become here.

Since my family and I moved to the United States in the late ’70s, Christmas has become the main celebration for me and my family. A few years ago, I made the conscious decision to disengage myself from what I call the madness of Christmas. I have stopped exchanging gifts with my friends.

Year after year, I see and hear people complain about how tired they are of shopping, how they can’t wait for the season to be over, how they dislike the gifts they receive and how they hate the attitude of the other shoppers.

It appears as if there is a rush pill in our celebration of events. What is the rush for? Christmas decorations come off and are replaced by valentines, hearts and ribbons, and the tree is put on the curb immediately after the new year or on the next garbage day, whichever comes first.

I have been hanging onto my Christmas decorations and tree for so long that I am really given the third degree as to my knowledge of the time line of Christmas.

For some of us it might already be too late. But for those who are questioning why we rush through the biggest celebration of the year, please slow down and think about this: The purpose of Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Christ, not to support the economy with compulsive buying.

We have allowed the capitalistic nature of our society to devalue the spiritually ingrained meaning of Christmas. The birth of Christ should be celebrated with family and friends and the poor in our homes or churches, but most certainly not in shopping malls.

I hate to see my friends falling into the shopping trap of Christmas year after year during a season that unfortunately has been labeled by many as the most stressful time of the year.

So, my fellow Buffalonians, please slow down and truly enjoy the great occasion of Christmas. Yes, you may have to explain to your friends and family why you are no longer exchanging gifts, and that you would simply like to get together and celebrate life.

Of course, when I told my precious teenage daughter, Natasha, that I was not going to respect her long list of wishes at the mall, she said, “I dare you.” I took the dare!