Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What is the true spirit of Christmas?


Do you really love only money and capitalism and power?
You know they'll never love you back....

- Grace, to Big Daddy Warbucks, in Annie.

There are a host of historical precedents for making the case that Christmas has been commercialized for a very long time.  It's not practical to detail all those precedents here and now, but you may research the matter on your own if you doubt my claim. However, I expect that no one will quibble with the claim that Christmas is, presently, almost completely commercialized. In watching the evening news during the Christmas season, year after year, I've noticed how the words "holiday season" and "shopping" and "economy" are always in close juxtaposition. In a post I made last year, I even went so far as to propose that a circumspect case was being made by the media that it was our "civic" or "patriotic" duty to rescue our flagging economy through shopping, shopping, and more shopping. But this may not have even been on the wholly conscious level; it may simply be that Christmas and money and commerce are so tightly linked that it is "natural" to group them together, genetically, systemically....

The phenomenon of "Black Friday," which has become something of an institution in its own right, is an outward demonstration of Christmas commercialism beyond all rhyme and reason. After a large holiday meal centered around a sleep inducing variety of bird-flesh (turkey-tryptophan), hundreds of thousands of people fight the natural urge to sleep, or wrest themselves out of bed at the unholy hours of 3:00 or 4:00am with their kids in tow, to brave the elements, racuous crowds, and maybe even threats to life and limb, simply to get a good deal on the proverbial "GI Joe with the Kung-Fu Grip."

For Christmas.

This kind of pre-dawn turnout exceeds, by many orders of magnitude, the number of individuals who rise in the wee hours to take in a spectacle of nature such as a bright comet or a meteor shower. Which is perfectly understandable, because spectacles of nature speak to the intellect and the spirit, while crass Christmas commercialism seems to hearken back to a tooth- and-nail hunter-gatherer inclination, but without any of the survival imperatives fueling it. We live in a society which is increasingly divorced from things of the spirit and increasingly defined in terms of shallow, contrived standards; we live in a society that is, more and more, a lot like the mall.

This year, however, the big retailers are going to make it better.This year Wal Mart has announced that, in order to keep its customers and workers safer (a Wal Mart customer was trampled to death in New Jersey last year), its stores will be open on Thanksgiving this year - and other major retailers - Sears, Old Navy, Walgreens, et al, are following suit.

One is tempted to suppose that this may merely displace the mad rush from Friday to Thursday morning, but we shall see.

Amid all this crass rabid commercialism, even as Christmas nears, each season, hundreds of movies and specials air on television, which aspire to a deeper meaning of Christmas than X-Box or Bratz. It's really almost schizophrenic, the disparity between the saccharine messages broadcast on television and the bald, stark reality of mobs of materialistic people stuffing the stores during a time originally devoted to family togetherness. This followed by spending the rest of the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas getting more and more stressed out.

And wondering why they feel hollow and depressed on the 2nd of January.

There are deeper meanings and values to Christmas - values  which are over-idealized in holiday movies, but which are, neverthless, noble principles we have set for ourselves. Perhaps the first and foremost of these is charity. The materialistic society tries to mechanically off-balance the rampant consumerism of Christmas with charity, but all too often overlooks the fact that charity is not only the act of giving, but the spirit in which the giving takes place. Charity is a feeling, a value, a thing that rightfully arises from the spirit. When made into a mechanical act in a particular season, the obverse face of the coin is a stinginess or a "let them eat cake" attitude that occupies the other 11 months of the year.

Similar arguments could be made in the case of other ostensible Christmas values: peace, love, goodwill to men, etc. As Christmas becomes more and more about money and material things, these "Christmas values" sound increasingly weak and pale with each passing year.

When I started this blog, I made the point that in order to simplify your Christmas, you have to do something. You have to make a concerted, positive effort to change those things that are making you miserable with each passing Christmas. In line with this is the "Christmas Pledge, set forth in Unplug the Christmas Machine , by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. For your edification, I now reproduce the pledge in its original form, save for adding a sixth element to the pledge.


Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the following:

1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts.
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents.
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family.
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas.
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends.
6. To endeavor, after each Christmas season, to carry something of the values of Christmas with me throughout the rest of the year.

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