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Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Note in Favor of a Commercialized Christmas

I know.  It's not popular to be in FAVOR of the commercialization that surrounds today's Christmases but, if we're all really honest, most of us will admit that it's almost as fun to receive as it is to give.  And, to that end, all that goes with the idea of gifting and glitter and fun has a special appeal at holiday-time.

We're often told that there's a war on Christmas.  If there is, the other side's losing.  Not only does the day itself stand as a beacon in our collective year, but we give over a whole season to its decorations, its special foods and its music.  Whether specifically religious or not, there's little doubt that most of America stops for about a week each year to bask in the warm glow of the Yuletide period.  In fact, so successful has this holiday been that it practically knows no single religion, culture or creed.  Rather, people from all backgrounds and faiths, or even no faith at all, can jump on the bandwagon of good cheer and giving that surrounds December 25.

So, just what's so great about the commercial side of Christmas?  I suppose it depends on what you consider the "commercial" side to be.  For the purposes of my little essay, I'll say that the commercial side of Christmas is the outward and seemingly frivolous part from visits to the mall to brightly wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree to the seemingly endless array of calories we can consume in a 30 day period.

On our local radio station, Christmas music is played from the week or two before Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve.  Not only does it serve to put one in a special frame of mind - a friendlier one, usually - but it also reminds us of the happier things in life.  "Oh by gosh, by golly!  It's time for mistletoe and holly!" or "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas..."  or, "Can I buy these shoes, for my mam..."...  ( well, maybe not ALL Christmas music is equal...)  Many of us take a step back from the workaday cares of our lives and make a little more of an effort to be, well, jolly!  When was the last time you were jolly in, say, February?

There's a dark side to this Christmas radio, though...  There are little segments where random listeners share their ideas about what's important during the season.  For the most part, one gets the same, positive answers...  the birth of Jesus Christ, family, giving, helping, food, music...  But there's one short clip with the kind of lady you'd probably wouldn't want to spend Christmas with.  In it she says, as spitefully as possible, "The spiritual side (is important) not JUST Santa..."  She practically spits the jolly old elf's name out.  Tell me, when did SANTA become such a downer?  I can only imagine what's under Granny Crabb's Christmas tree on Christmas morning...  I'll bet she even puts oranges and nuts in the stockings...  If there ARE any stockings...  And that's just the kind of Christmas attitude that I so dislike.  The sense that the spiritual and the frivolous can't exist together and that to enjoy one is to, somehow, forget the other.

Christmas shopping gets its own set of jeers.  How many people do you know who lament the yearly task?  "Oh, ALL those gifts one has to buy...  All that MONEY!  Why, in my day, we didn't give so many Christmas gifts," they'll say.  Well, newsflash...  They did.  And Christmas is really no more commercial now than it's ever been.  In the 1940's, that heyday of simplicity and goodness (except for that whole World War II thing) the President of the United States rescheduled Thanksgiving to give Americans more time to shop for Christmas!  And, as for commercialized product placements, don't think for a moment that Macy's and Gimbel's minded their star turns in "Miracle on 34th Street" (in which the main character got a daddy AND a house for Christmas, I will remind you...  how's that for "simple"!?).  Don't forget, too, the brightly colored holiday ads in your favorite magazines!  Holly and ribbon bedecked cartons of Lucky Strikes just ready to hand off to good old Uncle Joe!  A wreath-ringed bottle of Old Grandad for Aunt Clara...

The fact of the matter is that, for many, Christmas is a wonderful time of year in so many respects...  'Tis better to give that to receive, I agree.  What fun it is to have an extra reason to be thoughtful, to remember our loved one's and friend's interests, to make those special foods that we trot out only once or twice a year.  What fun it can be to be a little less concerned about our expenditures, or to be a little foolish and fun!  And don't forget the boost you're giving to the economy, especially if you are shopping local.

And to receive?  Well, that takes a special kind of thoughtfulness, too.  If it weren't for the receivers, the givers would be out of business.  Showing thanks, taking a genuine delight in the efforts of another, enjoying the element of surprise - all of these things are a gift in and of themselves.  And it doesn't really matter if you even LIKE the gift.  While things I've REALLY wanted have been most appreciated in the moment, it's those gifts that leave one shaking the head that will be remembered for decades to come.  In our family such gifts bring yearly gales of laughter as we recall underwear embroidered with the days of the week (too bad it was only a six pack), tights found at secondhand stores and giant summer sausages given to the same recipient each and every year because he LOVED them!  Actually, we later found that he detested them...  It was the thought that counted?

I know, I know...  all of this is rather shallow.  There are people who are alone on Christmas.  People who can't afford to take the time or make the effort.  People who are sick.  People who are depressed.  The list goes on.  But, guess what...  YOU and I can take the opportunity to embrace that "commercial" side of Christmas in an effort to lighten their load.  Invite a friend, an acquaintance, maybe even a perfect stranger to your Christmas celebration!  GIVE!  Give cookies, give gifts, give cards, give hugs!  Turn on those Christmas lights!  Crank up the Burl Ives!  And, if it's in your power, do anything you can to make this the most wonderful time of the year! 

I don't care if people celebrate a Christmas based on their religious beliefs or simply because it's an important event in our collective culture.  Because they love to shop and wrap gifts and bake cookies or because they take comfort in the special and deeply meaningful services and rituals of this time of year.  The fact that people celebrate the season at all through their giving of time, effort, beauty, friendliness and even gifts, that's more than enough for me.  At the very heart of it, THAT is the central part of that age-old story of Christmas.  It's about a gift given freely and in some desperate circumstances.  And, it's about a gift received, one that we may not be able to be adequately thankful for, but that we can enjoy and appreciate all the same.  When we apply it correctly, with joy and with gratitude and with willingness, all that we do during this period, commercial or otherwise, really does go back to the "real meaning of Christmas".

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