Every year a slew of articles appear about this year being the most commercialized Christmas ever. As Christmas 2006 comes to an end, many online retailers like Amazon.com and Yahoo Shopping saw record highs this season. A consumer research group reports that Americans out-did themselves again this year by spending a record $154 billion on gifts. That’s about $790 per person. As one woman wrote, “There are worlds of money wasted, at this time of year, in getting things that nobody wants, and nobody cares for after they are got.” Perhaps much hasn’t changed since those words were written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1850, most likely after receiving the generic girl-gift of candles and body lotion. However, I think we’re overlooking the benefits of gift-giving, bargain shopping and over-the-top Christmas displays.
Christmas is one of the few holidays that bring families together for an extended period of time. Obviously one of the perks is the exchange of presents. So as to not disappoint Harriet and other picky relatives, gift reconnaissance is necessary. Is there any other reason to care about whether Uncle Frank likes joke books about golf or that Grandpa likes World War II movies? (It’s also a way to push older relatives into trying “new” technology like digital cameras).
The satisfaction of giving someone the perfect gift comes from knowing that the recipient will use it. Christmas forces us to learn more about friends and relatives. Exchanging gifts forces us to spend time with one another. Of course, every family has its drama, but it is still a wholly positive aspect of the commercialization of Christmas.
Some argue that the commercialization of Christmas takes away from its true meaning. Rev. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., reminds us that Christmas began with the act of giving. “[T]he notion of gift-giving as being sinful at Christmas is absurd. Where do we get gift-giving from? The Magi. They brought the gifts to Jesus. But I think it is very easy to lose focus on the core meaning of the season, which is human relationships,” he told FrontPage magazine.
Sirico explained further in the Orange County Register, “The holiday season provides us lovely illustrations of how this happens. We look around and see an astounding hustle and bustle of buying and selling, advertising and promotion, commerce and activity—and we are tempted to regard it as degrading in some way, and sometimes it is. But it need not be so. To see the spark of divinity in the midst of our humanity is, after all, what the incarnation of God’s son at Christmas is all about.”
Overzealous Christmas displays on neighborhood homes, in stores and public areas have sparked a philosophical debate on the free practice of religion and the importance of private property rights. Were it not for twinkling lights, inflatable Santas, dogs barking Jingle Bells, and live Nativities, we wouldn’t be discussing issues like the “War on Christmas.”
In 2006 Christians and Jews found themselves on the same side as both argue for inclusive religious displays. Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky requested that a menorah also be erected among the 14 Christmas trees at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In a typical move of overreaction by airport officials, they removed all the Christmas trees. The Rabbi was mortified and apologized on “The O’Reilly Factor” for the unintended outcome. Frankly, I was surprised that Seattle allowed the trees in the first place. In the end, the menorah and Christmas trees were put back up.
According to a retirement community in Orlando, Fla., menorahs aren’t even religious symbols. The housing management told its residents “Christmas trees, Santa Claus, wreaths, Hanukah Menorahs and ‘Seasons Greetings’ are all acceptable, as these items are not considered religious symbols.” The management went so far as to have one of their employees clip the wings off of an angel on top of a Christmas tree.
Like the not-so-recent commercialization of Christmas, the War on Christmas challenged people to think about their own perceptions of what December 25 means to them. For some that includes outrageous light displays and Christmas trees overflowing with gifts, for others it’s a time of reflection on a father’s gift to the world. One of the wonderful gifts that America’s founding fathers gave us is a government that allows all its citizens to celebrate Christmas in their own way.