Have a Commercial Christmas
Friday, December 21, 2012
Wherever you go at this time of year, we are inundated with the glitzy, gaudy, garish glow of a very secular Christmas. It starts in mid-October now, with stores having Halloween sections alongside Christmas displays. Everywhere you go are signs of the more commercial elements of the season, from houses with inflatable Santa figures festooning their yards to those with nativity scenes trying to compete with the din of the marketplace. Commentators of many stripes decry the extravagance, the overwhelming saturation, and the hype, but I must admit, I think it’s great.
I quite like all the decorations, both the crass and the classy. They are all expressions of a person’s willingness to contribute to their community’s enjoyment of the season. In town, we have one house with an inflatable Santa on, what looks like, a Harley-Davidson motorbike. Great stuff. Thank heavens we have Santa for such comic purposes and we don’t have yard displays featuring three inflatable Wiseman on Harleys.
Christmas is, of course, pretty tough on the service sector of our economy, admittedly. The yuletide season for retail clerks, is a nightmare of long hours, constant pressure and throngs of Christmas shoppers who are not universally filled with the “Christmas Spirit”. On the other hand, the long hours do translate into bigger paycheques and in some cases, better tips. The “Christmas Spirit” does play a part in the size of gratuities given to restaurant and bar staff at this time of year, as folks feel more compelled to recognize those who serve them as they engage in revelry.
The hyper-commercialism of Christmas is a huge boon, of course, to those businesses that employ all those service sector employees. Not just the retail chains, either, but Mom and Pop operations often rely on the heady consumerism at this time of year to blacken the ink in their ledgers. For many retailers large and small, having a good Christmas season can mean the difference between being able to stay in business another year or having to close.
It’s not like excess at this time of year is a new invention, anyway. We’ve just perfected it. Every culture had its days of feasting, from the calendar-crazy Mayans to the mysterious, pre-historic party-goers at Stonehenge. In fact, archeologists have discovered the circular stone construct was a place of feasting that was likely only used during the summer and winter solstices. They used the fact that the well-preserved bones of the reveler’s meaty meals weren’t well cleaned off, which indicates the sort of waste and excess associated with feasting. In other words, these ancient peoples were celebrating their bounty with the same lack of restraint modern man exhibits with Christmas.
Spending a little bit too much, eating a bit too much, maybe even drinking a bit too much, to celebrate Christmas is at least as old as Old Fezziwig’s party in Charles Dickens classic tale “A Christmas Carol”. Those who believe that our modern Christmases are so much less inspirational and devotional than in the past could be mistaken.
To use another literary example, sacrificing what we have for our loved ones is far, far older than the O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Maggi”, although it is a wonderfully touching example of it. At this time of year, there has been a drive to please those you cherish. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a sweet thing. There’s a lot of good that comes out of the mad, commercial zaniness that engulfs, not just Christians, but others, as well. Even the staunchest atheists are known to make merry and celebrate Christmas with all the trappings. And why not? It’s fun, not to mention expected, unless you embrace a whole different faith. Even those other faiths sometimes take on some bits and bobs of our yuletide revelry. I have a friend, a devout Sikh, by the name of Amar, who has no problem putting up a Christmas tree in his house. He exchanges presents and everything. How can this be a bad thing? Although many very spiritually-based Christians abhor the widespread use of their holiday for purposes they find more than dubious, there’s an obvious benefit. No ad agency on the planet could have created a better product awareness campaign for the name “Christ” and the story of His birth. Whether for Him or against Him, at least at Christmas time, people are talking about Him. No one can possibly know how many new Christians made the leap of faith due, in some part, to Christmas-related events in their life, but the number could be significant. After all, this is when the Christian community is most visible and the churches most filled. Despite the distractions of the Santa side of Christmas, Christians still hold their own in the world today, shouting joyously about the real meaning of Christmas. Some might argue they go overboard. That’s okay. So do some atheists with their displeasure of Christian symbols in their midst, which seems rather ridiculous. I was raised in a Christian home and I recall having a Jewish menorah on a shelf in the living-room that Dad brought back from the Holy Land. It didn’t offend me in the least.
I believe, rather than anyone feeling insulted, or angry, or any other negative emotion due to “how commercialism has ruined Christmas’ might want to consider that without it’s commercialism, the story of the first Christmas may not have become any more well known than any other story in the bible, or the Koran, or the Talmus Torah. You just can’t buy that kind of PR, not even as a Christmas present.
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