I realize many people think Black Friday was the beginning of the Christmas season (or when stores first rolled out decorations before Halloween was over). I have been known to declare Christmas here once the egg nog starts appearing in stores. Well, it really began last Sunday — the first day of Advent. At least in large sectors of the Christian world this is when it starts and continues to January 6th (remember the 12 days of Christmas?). This is all in the background as the Retail Apocalypse gets bigger and earlier each go-around and has become Last Ditch Attempt to bail out the economy before the new year (though how much is the economy really helped with all that new personal debt?). Christmas has become so overwhelmed by all this that many people — if they stop and breath while running on the way to buy that cheap, no-name flatscreen — what happened to Christmas?
It’s a bit of dark irony that this religious holiday has become the icon of materialism and the yearly personal bailout program of retailers. No, I’m not against gift giving. I find myself trying to bail out Barnes & Noble (with my Amazon card?). Gifting has become part of the celebration of sharing love and friendship. Even the weeks of crazed frenziness add to the atmosphere. But when you wake up the day after and ask, “What happened?” and everything is over, did you ever stop to ask “Why?” or “Have I really celebrated Christmas or just become a pawn of marketers and retailers?”
I realize some people get worked up at slightest hint at questioning their Christmas motivations or methods. You’re free to do whatever you want, but I’m just asking you to think about why you do what you do. We are told that spending drives the economy. It does, but so does saving (banks invest your money, usually in items with more long-term value than toys and obsolete electronics). Writer Charles W. Sasser hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
I looked around and observed how many of my friends held eight-to-five jobs they could barely tolerate. The average American owned two cars, a house with a 30-year mortgage, a color TV set and a stack of bills on luxuries and ‘necessities’ long worn out and discarded. It seemed to me that he did not work to enrich his life. Instead, he worked to support his possessions, all the while feeling compelled to continue to buy and buy in hopes of ever new and more wonderful possessions making him happy.
Most of us, to one extent or another, have let ourselves to be dragged into this wonderful world of stuff that we let people (usually strangers) convince us we absolutely need. The rough economy has done little to remind people that this is one of the reasons that they (and the government) are in such a mess. Many churches and charities are trying to scrape together money, yet billions seem to manifest themselves during Christmas for shopping. This is all a far cry from Christmas’ origins. What other religious holiday has become so commercialized? Corrupted?
I would have thought sacred days other than Christmas would have been exploited to their fullest by now. Then again, Black Friday has been starting on Thanksgiving as of late. And I wonder why non-Christians celebrate Christmas. It would be like me celebrating Hanukkah just to get more gifts or not to feel left out. I guess we all like the “Hanukkah song” and its hard for people not to get caught up in the Christmas traditions. One can completely scrub all religious content from Christmas if they wish, and that’s fine. Still, what do people tell themselves, after all “Christ” is even in the name? Can get by that one.
Christians aren’t without fault here either. Really, who let one of their primary holidays spiral out of control? What other holiday is comparable in what this one has become? Yes, many Christians still try their best in all of the secularization to worship and remember what Christmas is all about. I tend to think we can all do a bit better. The issues of Christmas are only an extension of our other problems.
It brings me amusement that some groups will protest or boycott stores not saying “Merry Christmas” or for using generics like “Happy Holidays.” These things too used to bother me to until I thought about these protests a bit: Basically they’re saying that we will all participate in the retailers’ secularization of Christmas if they would only use the right codewords. Makes the boycotts sound stupid when it’s put that way, doesn’t it?
Retailers aren’t celebrating the holidays, they are using them as tool to make money. Nothing wrong about making money, but I don’t much care about what they do so long as they aren’t purposefully attacking Christmas. Though some could argue, and with some truth, that their abuse of Christmas has gone too far. Perhaps we don’t want them to use “Christmas” in their advertising. Let them come up with something like Winter Fest or Empty Your Bank Account Month.
So maybe we should step back, take a moment and think about how we approach and celebrate Christmas and the Advent season. I like how the folks over at Advent Conspiracy approach this. They’re not saying stop buying your gifts, only remember what motivates you to buy them in the first place.
Once you do that, you will experience Christmas as intended. And some of those intentions apply whether or not you retain the day’s (or season’s) religious origins. It can be a time to reevaluate your life, put other people first and figure out where you are going.
You got over four weeks. Don’t blow it.
[This is an updated post from 2011]