Sunday, December 04, 2005

Christmas commercialism

Christmas has only recently been considered a Christian holiday. Look to many history books, and you can find information similar to this:

The Puritans considered Christmas un-Christian, and hoped to keep it out of America. They could not find Dec. 25 in the Bible, their sole source of religious guidance, and insisted that the date derived from Saturnalia, the Roman heathens' wintertime celebration. On their first Dec. 25 in the New World, in 1620, the Puritans worked on building projects and ostentatiously ignored the holiday. From 1659 to 1681 Massachusetts went further, making celebrating Christmas "by forbearing of labor, feasting or in any other way" a crime.

The concern that Christmas distracted from religious piety continued even after Puritanism waned. In 1827, an Episcopal bishop lamented that the Devil had stolen Christmas "and converted it into a day of worldly festivity, shooting and swearing." Throughout the 1800's, many religious leaders were still trying to hold the line. As late as 1855, New York newspapers reported that Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were closed on Dec. 25 because "they do not accept the day as a Holy One." On the eve of the Civil War, Christmas was recognized in just 18 states.

Now, under the guise of putting the Christ back in Christmas, some are calling for a boycott of stores that wish you a "Happy Holiday," rather than a "Merry Christmas." What's ironic is that this stance actually seeks to make Christmas more commercial by connecting the word "Christmas" more solidly with the consumerist orgy Christmas was originally created to be.

Christmas gained popularity when it was transformed into a domestic celebration, after the publication of Clement Clarke Moore's "Visit from St. Nicholas" and Thomas Nast's Harper's Weekly drawings, which created the image of a white-bearded Santa who gave gifts to children. The new emphasis lessened religious leaders' worries that the holiday would be given over to drinking and swearing, but it introduced another concern: commercialism. By the 1920's, the retail industry had adopted Christmas as its own, sponsoring annual ceremonies to kick off the "Christmas shopping season."

The best idea I have ever read about returning sanity to Christmas was Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben. He discusses the history of Christmas, and he laments how Christmas becomes so busy, depressing and expensive. His solution is elegant, and I would love to try it, but it would be hard for most people to convince their entire families to test his solution.

This year, my wife's family has decided to forgo buying each other gifts, instead opting to purchase gifts for children at Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. In my opinion, this is a great way to make the holiday more meaningful. While this solution is still "commercial," it makes Christmas about giving rather than getting.

The above quotes came from this article.


MC said...

I agree, my family has been doing this for a couple of years-we sponsor a under-priviledged family. Well, the adults at least. You still gotta get stuff for the kids right? Watching them tear the wrappings off the presents is very entertaining.

Jake Dunkin said...

That is a great idea. Christmas used to be my favorite time of year then about the time I hit my twenties, I began to get very depressed. It wasn't until lately that I realized that it wasn't actually Christmas that I liked so much as a child, but rather the snow and the sledding with cousins and getting together will all of the family. It was the closeness to those that I loved that the season generated. now, we don't have those huge family gatherings as most have moved away or are no longer with us. I don't mind the exchanging of gifts, but I don't do well with the pressure of the whole ordeal. Trying to think of the perfect gift then pushing my way through the stores filled with insane people to try and find it. No,Thank You! This is the first Christmas for my twin boys. They're 7 mo old now so they'll enjoy the lights and the wrapped packages. I hope that my distaste for this holiday changes now that I have a family and that those boys will chase away my holiday blues.

Eric said...

Yes, we still get the kids gifts. Of course!!