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Vol. 6 No.4
December 19, 2005
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Holy Day Vs Holiday Making Christmas Less Commercial
by Dan Andriacco
Last Advent, a religion class in the Catholic grade school where my wife teaches took a poll of the students that asked only one question: "What do you think of when you hear the word Christmas?"
The good news is that Jesus won because his name came up most often. Unfortunately, he took only 42 percent of the vote. "Presents" was first runner-up with 25 percent.
It may not be happy news that one quarter of the students in a Catholic school say they think about Christmas presents before they think about Jesus. But the truth is probably worse. I suspect that a healthy portion of the students either played to expectations, answering the way they knew would make their teacher happy, or were more focused on Jesus because the poll was conducted during a religion class.
Whether my hunch is right or not, it's easy to see that at least one out of four students missed the point of Christmas. Or did they?
Maybe it would be more accurate to say that, like most people in consuming cultures, these students confused the Christian holy day of Christmas with a consumer holiday of the same name. Alternatives for Simple Living (www.simpleliving.org), a Christian-oriented organization formed in 1973 to protest the commercialization of Christmas, calls the consumer holiday "Consumas." That name may never catch on, but it's a helpful way to distinguish two very different seasons.
Christmas and Consumas don't even occupy the same time period, although this isn't apparent because they do overlap. Christmas is part of a cycle that begins with the First Sunday of Advent and ends only with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The waiting that precedes December 25 and the celebration that continues after it are essential elements of the holy season.
The commercial holiday, on the other hand, officially begins with a mad shopping spree on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Many stores open early so consumers can have more time to spend money, which they do. It's the biggest shopping day of the year, with almost sacred significance in U.S. culture. How appropriate that a newspaper once headlined its day-after-Thanksgiving shopping coverage with the words, "Shoppers begin their rituals anew"!
But the celebration of the commercial holiday doesn't really begin there. Christmas sales seem to start earlier and earlier each year, as do the Christmas store displays designed to spark spending. A few years ago, a newspaper story dated November 8 began, "The Christmas season is here, ready or not." The story, decrying the encroachment on the sacred day-after-Thanksgiving ritual, reported that Macy's department store had put a mechanical Santa on sale for $50 the previous August.
But on December 26, Consumas is over, totally. The Christmas sales morph into after-Christmas sales. (At some stores the last stretch is a 12 Days of Christmas sale that begins on December 13, reinterpreting the 12 days that traditionally started on December 25 and ended with the coming of the Wise Men on January 6.) Christmas carols on the radio and Christmas specials on television disappear just when they should be beginning, according to the Church calendar.
These overlapping Christmas seasons have different heroes. The central figure of the Christian Christmas is Jesus Christ. The central figure of Consumas is Santa Claus. While Jesus gives us love unconditionally, Santa Claus gives us things if we've been good. Obviously, there's a big difference.
Almost everything that Santa Claus brings has to be bought. The whole meaning of Consumascommercial Christmasis to sell stuff. By that measure, it's a tremendously successful holiday. Your Money magazine estimated that Americans charged an average of $3 million a minute between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 1997. The Wall Street Journal once described the day after Christmas in hangover-like terms with a headline that read: "The Morning After: A Few Gifts Too Many."
A whole parade of publications, including such business-oriented ones as The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News & World Report, have written stories about the longing that many people express for a more spiritual and less commercial Christmas. This is nothing new. One history professor found complaints about the over-commercialization of Christmas as far back as the early 1850s. But it's harder now to escape the message of commercial Christmas because it's coming at us from so many different directions through the ubiquitous mass media.
So how can a Christian celebrate Christmas, instead of Consumas? It's not easy, but here are a few suggestions:
The first step is to recognize that commercial Christmas is a non-Christian and at times even anti-Christian celebration. That's why Consumas is a good descriptive name: It can consume us.
You can't change the culture but you can change your own actions. A few years ago the comic strip Baby Blues illustrated the way we like to blame others for what we ourselves have done to Christmas. The father of the family is explaining to his young daughter, "Tonight is the night that eight reindeer and Rudolph will land on our roof, and Santa Claus will slide down our chimney with a big bag of toys for you."
Naturally enough, the tyke responds, "Wow!"
Dad continues: "Tomorrow morning there will be lots of presents and candy under the Christmas tree for you and Hammie to open."
The daughter says, "Yay! Oh boy! Toys! Oh boy! Toys! Oh boy! Toys!" In the last panel, the father looks at the mom and says with obvious disgust, "The media should be ashamed for turning this into such a commercial holiday." Don't blame the media for your own willing seduction.
Buying or making a few gifts from the heart is an appropriate way to share the holy season of Christmas with those you love. The key is to keep it simple and meaningful. Think of several friends or family members right now. Do you remember what they gave you for Christmas last year? Do you think they remember what you gave them? Try to find the most thoughtful gifts instead of the most hyped; they will be remembered and your love will be communicated each time your gifts are used.
Maintain the four weeks before Christmas as a time of preparation instead of acting as though Christmas were already here. Bring out your Christmas CDs at the beginning of the Christmas season, not the day after Thanksgiving. When you hear Christmas songs on the radio, switch stations or turn the radio off. When you hear carols in a store or an office where you have no control over the music, mentally think of it as getting ready for the Incarnation that is to come, not a celebration of what already is.
Opt out of the post-Thanksgiving buying frenzy. A friend of mine buys gifts throughout the year so that when Advent comes she can bake cookies and make wreaths with her children instead of spending that time in a mall (or even online shopping). Join those who celebrate the day after Thanksgiving as Buy Nothing Day, a 24-hour moratorium on consumer spending promoted by anti-consumption groups.
You can't celebrate Advent as a spiritual season if you're in a constant whirl of activityparties, shopping, the Advent luncheon at school. Minimize the Advent angst that many people (especially women) feel by practicing triage to separate what you have control over from what you don't. Decide what you have to do, what you want to do and what others expect you to do that doesn't fit into the first two categories. Increase your Christmas preparation time and reduce your stress by cutting out the latter.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are a prime time for many people to watch favorite Christmas TV specials or movies such as It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. This year, pay more attention to your media consumption just as you do to your product consumption.
Even TV shows or movies that profess to be about "the real meaning of Christmas" usually aren't. They might be about charity, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation. These are all good Christian virtues certainly. But that's not what Christmas is about. Christmas is about a divine/human person whose life, death and resurrection teach us that "God is with us" (Emmanuel) and that God loves us and is alive and active in our world.
The problem with communicating values, even good ones, instead of Christ is that commercials attach values to products and use them to sell products. Better to give than to receive? Buy a present! A time for forgiveness? Send a card! Need to reconcile with an estranged family member? Use our long-distance service! These are the kinds of commercials you're likely to see Christmas specials wrapped around.
A few programs do tell us that Christmas is about Christ and consumption is not salvation, most notably the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. Some others are The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Fourth Wise Man, The Little Drummer Boy, Amahl and the Night Visitors and Red Boots for Christmas. When aired on TV, though, they're surrounded and interrupted by commercials. You can circumvent the barrage of Christmas commercials by taping the good shows and zapping through the commercials when you watch. Or you can buy or rent the videos. But remember to keep Advent in your TV and movie watching.
And even with the best Christmas programs, don't stop at watching. Let that be just the start of interacting with your children, grandchildren or godchildren. After The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, go to a Christmas pageant. After A Charlie Brown Christmas, read St. Luke's entire Nativity story together.
Don't stop on December 25 as the secular season fizzles out. Plan some of your Christmas-season socializing with family and friends after Christmas Day. More important, find appropriate celebrations for the liturgical feasts of the season. For example:
Get all of the immediate family together for dinner on the Feast of the Holy Family. (In many families this will turn the day into a major event, especially if there are teenagers and young adults.)
On New Year's Day, when we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary and World Day of Peace, reflect on Mary's role in the Incarnation as you pray the joyful mysteries of the rosary for peace.
Take time on the Feast of the Epiphany, a gift-giving day in many Catholic cultures, to go through your wardrobes and toy chests and decide what you can now give away after all the new things you received at Christmas. You can also use the Epiphany to make decisions about how to donate your time and money in the new year.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us of our own Baptism. Take this day to reflect on how you have lived out your baptismal promises.
These suggestions are not a program for radical change. Your friends and family may not even notice what you're up to.
But making these adjustments will help you live the Christmas season that most people say they wantthe one built around a Christian holy day instead of a commercial holiday.
The owner of a drug store walks in to find a guy leaning heavily against a wall.
The owner asks the clerk, "What's with that guy over
there by the wall?"
The clerk says, "Well, he came in here this morning to get something for his cough. I couldn't find the cough syrup, so I gave him an entire bottle of laxative."
The owner says, "You idiot! You can't treat a cough with laxatives!"
The clerk says, "Oh yeah? Look at him, he's afraid to cough!"
One day an Irishman who had been stranded on a deserted island for over 10 years, saw a speck on the horizon.
He thought to himself, "It's certainly not a ship." And, as the speck got closer and closer, he began to rule out the possibilities of a small boat and even a raft.
Suddenly there emerged from the surf a wet-suited black clad figure. Putting aside the scuba gear and the top of the wet suit , there stood a drop-dead gorgeous blonde!
The glamorous blonde strode up to the stunned Irishman and said to him, "Tell me, how long has it been since you've had a good cigar."
"Ten years," replied the amazed Irishman.
With that, she reached over and unzipped a waterproof pocket on the left sleeve of her wetsuit and pulled out a fresh package of cigars. He takes one, lights it, and takes a long drag. "Faith and begorrah," said the man, "that is so good I'd almost forgotten how great a smoke can be!"
"And how long has it been since you've had a drop of good Powers Irish Whiskey?" asked the blonde.
Trembling, the castaway replied, "Ten years."
Hearing that, the blonde reaches over to her right sleeve, unzips a pocket there and removes a flask and hands it to him. He opened the flask and took a long drink. "'Tis nectar of the gods!" stated the Irishman. "'Tis truly fantastic!!!"
At this point the gorgeous blonde started to slowly unzip the long front of her wet suit, right down the middle. She looked at the trembling man and asked, "And how long has it been since you played around?"
With tears in his eyes, the Irishman fell to his knees and sobbed, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Don't tell me that you've got golf clubs in there, too!"
"Al lo, zees eez Jacques Chirac, President of France. How may I help you?"
"Howdy Jack! This is George W. Bush calling you from the Oval Office of the White House!"
"Ahh, oui, President Bush... and how are you today?"
"Well Jacques, I was calling to say I heard about all those Muslim youth gangs rioting all across France for the past six days, and I know it's spreading to other districts and getting worse....but I have great news!"
"Ah oui, mon ami! I knew we could count on ze brave Americans to help us as you have so many times before in ze past! You are sending us Military Aid, oui?"
"Well... no... but I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico!"
PUTTING UP WITH PUT DOWNS
"A graceful taunt is worth a thousand insults." Louis Nizer
"I feel so miserable without you. It's almost like having you here."
"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." John Bright
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." Winston Churchill
"A modest little person with much to be modest about." Winston Churchill
"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." Irvin S. Cobb
"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with
great pleasure." Clarence Darrow
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to
the dictionary." William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)
"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big
words" Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)
"He had delusions of adequacy." Walter Kerr
"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." Abraham Lincoln
"You've got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it." Groucho Marx
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." Groucho Marx
"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt." Robert Redford
"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." Forrest Tucker
"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." Mark Twain
"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." Mae West
"She is a peacock in everything but beauty."Oscar Wilde
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." Oscar Wilde
"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." Oscar Wilde
"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." Billy Wilder
A QUOTE FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
One of the profound questions of life.
Did God Create Evil?
The university professor challenged his students with this question:
"Did God create everything that exists? "
A student bravely replied "Yes, he did!"
"God created everything?" the professor asked.
"Yes sir," the student replied.
The professor answered, "If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are, then God is evil."
The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.
Another student raised his hand and said, "Can I ask you a question
"Of course," replied the professor.
The student stood up and asked, "Professor , does cold exist?"
The professor replied "Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?"
The students snickered at the young man's question.
The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat.
Everybody or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body, or matter, have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (- 460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.
The student continued. "Professor, does darkness exist?"
The professor responded, "Of course it does."
The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir. Darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light, we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."
Finally the young man asked the professor. "Sir, does evil exist?"
Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course , as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil."
To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does
not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like
darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God.
God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light."
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