Monday, November 28, 2005

Christmas Commercialism

When I was growing up, Christmas was my favorite holiday. I was a little fuzzy about the Baby in the manger, but I knew all about Santa. I also knew there would be presents. Lots of them. One of my annual pre-Christmas rituals was carefully going through the toy section of the Sears Roebuck catalog and marking my selections in ink. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I wanted to make sure my parents got the message.

My number one present as a kid was a big metal suitcase that unfolded into a castle, complete with knights and vikings. But I also remember an air hockey set that I shared with my brother and sister, assorted robots, and a contraption that heated little plastic squares into monsters.

More often than not, my parents came through and I got what I wanted. But I usually had a big letdown when Christmas was over, because it meant that Christmas was whole year away. For a kid like me, whose philosophy was that it is more blessed to receive than to give, that was a lifetime.

My wife and I remind our kids that Christmas is about Christ, and that the presents under the tree reflect God’s greatest gift, the gift of his Son. But the message doesn’t always get through. The other day, my family was discussing putting up a Christmas tree after Thanksgiving. Unprompted, our four-year-old said, “That’s when Santa comes.”

Of course, Christmas materialism is also stoked by our modern consumer culture. The holiday accounts for about 25 percent of the nation’s annual retail sales. And some of the nation’s retailers are trying to have their Christmas fruitcake and eat it, too. Last year Target told Salvation Army bell-ringers they were no longer welcome on store property. Some stores are telling employees to change their customer greeting from “Merry Christmas” to the more politically correct “Happy Holidays.” Don’t they know the word “holiday” comes from “holy day”?

Anyway, American adults tell the Gallup organization that they expect to spend an average of $763 on Christmas this year. Those earning at least $75,000 a year plan to spend more than $1,100. There’s always something new to buy, too, from iPods to Xboxes to MP3 players. What kind of TV do you want? Plasma or LCD? Flat screen or projection? Your cell phone can take pictures or play music. Hey, it can even make phone calls!

In an earlier era, the general store stocked about a thousand different products, according to the Associated Press. But today, the typical Wal-Mart superstore stocks 130,000 items. Let’s not even talk about the fact that the average household owes $9,500 on its credit cards.

And just what are we doing with all this stuff, anyway? Three so-called “reality” TV shows help people get rid of their junk. And 50 cities in 17 states have chapters of Clutterers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.

The classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life told us that a bell rang whenever an angel earned his wings. Now the jingling you hear is probably from a cash register.

We Christians are right to be concerned that the culture is trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Let’s just be sure that we don’t bury him in an avalanche of our own holiday junk.


Blogger Jim said...

Actually, if you remember, the ringing bell in It's A Wonderful Life is a cash register - at least in one scene. It's when George and Clarence, his guardian angel, are in the bar (and when they've been just thrown out). Hearing the cash register ring, Clarence innocently informs George that another angel "just made it".

Fanciful theology aside, this fits well with the way I often think about the commercialism at Christmas. Yes, it's loud and greedy and rude at times. But in the middle of it all, in spite of the best efforts of a secular society, the message still comes through, and "rings" with truth.

Walking through the mall at Christmas, I can still enjoy the lights and colours and the incredible words in the carols that are piped through the sound system. Praise the Lord that we can worship in the midst of it all, because He entered into the midst of it all to redeem us. And none of the efforts of the world can ever fully hide His glory!

10:29 PM  
Blogger Stan Guthrie said...


Good thoughts and amen. As I recall the movie, however, the ringing bell is on a Christmas tree at the very end of the movie, when George is surrounded by his family and friends. The implication is that Clarence has just earned his wings. The cash register scene is indeed in the movie, and then Nick makes a sale and mocks Clarence's theology. I had forgotten this in writing the commentary!

Merry Christmas!


6:00 AM  
Blogger Rich Tatum said...

There's a part of me that really enjoys the commercialism of Christmas. Whatever one says about the excess of materialism, it's the one time in the year when you can cheerfully brighten the day of a sales-clerk, waiter, or waitress without seeming "weird."

So many people are overwhelmingly stressed out over the need to complete their gift matrices that to walk into a store and joke and chat with a clerk is a sort of ministry of itself. We leave extra-large tips at restaurants during this time, and while there's a little kick-back in terms of being appreciated, it's all about making statements to others that they are appreciated and loved.

As Dennis Prager notes in his book "Happiness is a Serious Problem:"

"I once asked a deeply religious man if he considered himself a truly pious person. He responded that while he aspired to be one, he felt that he fell short in two areas. One of those areas, he said, was his not being a happy enough person to be considered truly pious.

"His point was that unhappy religious people reflect poorly on their religion and on their Creator. He was right; in fact, unhappy religious people pose a real challenge to faith. If their faith is so impressive, why aren't these devoted adherents happy? There are only two possible reasons: either they are not practicing their faith correctly, or they are practicing their faith correctly and the religion itself is not conducive to happiness. Most outsiders assume the latter reason. Unhappy religious people should therefore think about how important being happy is—if not for themselves, then for the sake of their religion. Unhappy, let alone angry, religious people provide more persuasive arguments for atheism and secularism than do all the arguments of atheists."

I say, let the secularists continue with their bahhumbugization of Christmas. It only makes our light shine all the brighter.



4:35 PM  
Blogger Rich Tatum said...

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4:36 PM  
Blogger Rich Tatum said...

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4:38 PM  
Blogger Rich Tatum said...

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4:39 PM  
Blogger Ravan Asteris said...

Ah, the holidays! I both love 'em and hate 'em.

Love 'em because it gives me an excuse to give things to a few people. Hate 'em because of the crowds, the consumer dreck, and the "keep up with the Joneses" mentality that is pushed (not to mention the awful musak carols that the stores play over and over...)

But Christmas isn't my religious holiday. I celebrate Yule, which falls on the winter solstice.

So I've taken to separating the religious parts of the season as their own holy-days, and celerate "Giftmas" as the pan-religious gifting event that it has become. That way I feel no shame in making Giftmas gifts for my Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and Pagan friends. Because it's not about any one religion any more: it's about giving.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I risk being branded a "stickler" forever, but I just can't resist.

You're right about the bell at the end of the movie - the bell for Clarence. :-) You're also right about Nick ringing the bell on the cash register to mock Clarence.

However, I was talking about the bell just before that. When Clarence and George are still in the bar, the cash register bell rings and Clarence does indeed comment on it. It's grace in the midst of a very harsh situation - grace in the midst of George's confusion an depression, and among people who don't care about grace at all.

10:06 AM  
Blogger JewelandtheSun said...

I think over commercialism during the Christmas season detracts from the spirit of the season. It is much more authentic to make cards for your friends and family, or even making them a simply handmade gift is far more sincere.

7:41 PM  

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