Thursday, December 22, 2005

Some Social Critics Think Christmas is Becoming Too Commercial

Every year, someone writes about how commercial Christmas is "becoming," as if in the past everyone who celebrated Christmas did so with self-denying piety. If you turn on the television today I am sure you will hear the news, but can you really call something that has been discussed for well more than a century "news?"

After all, one century ago G.K. Chesterton wrote about the "Critics of Christmas." Though I guess women wore more hats back then...

One writer against Christmas went so far as to say that the shopkeepers for their own commercial purposes alone sustain Christmas Day. I am not sure whether he said that the shopkeepers invented Christmas Day. Perhaps he thought that the shopkeepers invented Christianity. It is a quaint picture, the secret conclave between the cheese-monger, the poulterer, and the toy-shop keeper, in order to draw up a theology that shall convert all Europe and sell some of their goods. Opponents of Christianity would believe anything except Christianity. That the shopkeepers make Christmas is about as conceivable as that the confectioners make children. It is about as sane as that milliners manufacture women. — G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, January 13, 1906.

The thought that Christmas will "perish" if stores stop saying Merry Christmas, or the government calls Christmas Trees Holiday Trees, is an absurd thought. But it is also a thought suffering from the same lack of faith in the holiday as the intentions attributed to the "consumerist" or the "liberal left." At it's core is a lack of faith that the holiday can stand on its own, without community support. Those who say "Christmas is becoming to consumerist" are not only forgetting how consumerist it has been for some time, but they are also denying the power of the day's message to stand on its own. They are saying that consumerism is powerful enough to diminish the message that we should be giving to one another and be charitable in our lives. In a way, they are committing the sin of believing that G-d isn't more powerful than consumerism. A rational believer might think that Christmas has become consumerist and laugh, then return to their home to a pious gathering of family and friends.

It appears to me that only those who are weak in their faith and need others to constantly support their beliefs who fear that Christmas is becoming to consumerist or that there is a "War on Christmas." A true believer has no care whether Christmas is public or private, has no care whether the retail industry is successful or fails. A true believer, to be cliche, "lives as if every day were Christmas."

On that note, it appears to me that those who seek to make "the proper celebration" of Christmas a greater part of the society ought, in charitable reflection, consider what this says to other groups in our pluralistic democracy. When I look around and hear someone say, the apparantly anti-Christmas, "Happy Holidays," I know exactly what holidays they are refering to. In fact, I appreciate that they acknowledge that there is more than one holiday occuring during this Winter Season. Rather than finding it to be an exclusive statement, I find it inclusive. I do find "holiday tree" ridiculous, because the tree really is a symbol of Christmas and not another major holiday. To return to the question though, how charitable is it to demand that others celebrate and acknowledge your holy day? Yes, it is charitable if they do. If they (whoever they are) say "Merry Christmas," they are being charitable. If they are Macy's they are being pandering. But if you demand that others proclaim the value of your day, you are being an uncharitable bully. Let us not in our desire to express joy oppress others or demand that they feel the same as we do.

We can leave arguments of what legal separation of Church and State are to the law professors for the moment. Regardless of any individual interpretation of the First Amendment, it is undeniable that our nation was founded on a respect for cultural pluralism, in particular religious pluralism and in the modern day a-religious as well. We can celbrate Christmas without bullying others, or requiring others to recognize our holiday. We can be charitable and acknowledge that there are other holidays as well. We should seek to understand them and take the time to remind our neighbors that we appreciate them. It is more Christian of us if we do. After all, Christmas was not invented by other people, it doesn't require the acknowledgement of others to be special. What it requires is that you remember what it means to desire Peace and Joy for yourself and for others.

No comments: