[A few days ago, I published an article at Pajamas Media called Christmas Shopping in a Time of Recession. When the incident at WalMart happened, my editor asked me to update my article to include a bit about that. The tone of the article changed, as did the comments. Though the commenters were already questioning my motives about toning down Christmas (I was being self-serving, what do I know about Christmas because I'm not a true Christian, etc), the part about WalMart really changed direction of the comments, and I felt like my original message was lost in the battle of who could be the most judgmental. So I'm republishing the original article here, with a few minor changes and additions. Basically, all I was trying to say is a) Christmas does not have to be about how big the presents are and b) you don't have to be Christian to enjoy the spirit of the seaons. That people couldn't get that and instead chose to politicize and/or argue the point is NOT going to ruin my holiday cheer, but it WILL make me think less of them.]
Everyone knows the real meaning of Christmas, but we are all aware of what Christmas has become. It’s a weeks-long festival of commercialism and materialism. It’s a constant barrage of ads reminding us that our spouses are waiting for that very special gift and our kids are expecting a bagful of toys. It’s the time of year when parents fight in the aisles of WalMart for that last “must have” toy, when we become stressed and short tempered, turning mall parking lots into battlefields.
Times are tough. The economy is looking bleak. But it’s Christmas time, and Christmas time is spending time, right? What happens when we can’t spend like we used to? What becomes of Christmas when our wallets are thin and our credit is stretched to its limits? What will we tell the kids?
We could start by telling our kids no. Sure, a lot of us already do that, but let’s face it; we live in a time of overindulgence. Kids with expensive Macbooks and iPods. Kids who freak out at the thought of not wearing clothes emblazoned with the most elite company logos. When children are used to expecting more, and we’re used to buying more, it’s hard to suddenly stop the tradition of Christmas overindulgence.
Perhaps now is a good time to have a talk with our children about the economy. Now is a good time to take Christmas back.
What does Christmas mean to you? What would it be without the mall Santas and stack of bills? Why does it have to be about presents, whether giving or receiving?
Perhaps the downturn in the economy could be taken advantage of. We could all use this opportunity to turn Christmas from a time of greed and stress to a more traditional time of family, love, and peace.
The winter holidays are a wonderful time of year. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, towns are lit up in beautiful lights, telephone poles are strung with garland, and, if we are lucky, it snows just a bit, just enough to lend a feel of authenticity to the season. There are parties with spiked eggnog and trees adorned with stars and angels. Houses glow brighter each night as another candle on the menorah is lit. On the surface, it’s a beautiful season fit for a Norman Rockwell painting. We need to enjoy that aspect of the holidays more, and let the monetary aspect go.
Talk with your family about this and find ways to ease the financial burden of Christmas while keeping the spirit. The idea of homemade gifts or just giving the gift of time to each other may not sit well with kids at first, but this could be a great opportunity to let them know that things are a little tight right now – not just for the family but for everyone – and Christmas will have to be low key.
It sounds easy, right? Just gather the family, give them the talk, and everyone will understand, and be happy to make and give popsicle stick art for Christmas, and renew their closeness by singing carols in front of the fireplace.
Maybe somewhere out there exists a family in which Martha Stewart has married Norman Rockwell and the kids are all as sweet as Cindy Brady, but I’m now inclined to believe that family exists only in paintings, made-for-TV movies and commercials that make us think if only we buy the right products, our families will be less dysfunctional this Christmas. Apparently, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup are all the therapy we need.
It’s hard not to buy into the commercialism. It’s difficult to tell our kids that while last Christmas they all got new laptops, this Christmas they will get McDonald’s gift certificates and a hug. Anyone who is a parent knows what will happen if you hand out coupons for hugs instead of presents. There will be mutiny. Let’s face it, our kids won’t get excited over an imaginary Christmas. And it’s not just the kids; it’s us, too. We get caught up in the frenzy of ads, of well-meaning friends and relatives who want to buy our kids more than we can afford to give them. The Christmas music, the holiday displays, the Ho! Ho! Ho! at every store; somewhere along the line they all became synonymous with doling out cash. The Ho! Ho! Ho! Is more like Buy! Buy! Buy!
Sure, capitalism is a good thing. I’ve always rallied against those who call the day after Thanksgiving “Buy Nothing Day.” I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy anything. But most of us will be able to buy less this year, and instead of thinking of how that will ruin Christmas, we should be thinking of how it will save Christmas. We can get back to the warmth and joy of the season; back to appreciating the holidays for the time we spend with family, instead of the time we spend agonizing over gifts.
Christmas is about heart. It’s about sharing, joy, family, and traditions. Our maxed-out credit cards and thinning bank accounts should in no way keep us from embracing those parts of the holiday. Our children may not appreciate the smaller gifts and family togetherness now, but they will learn a valuable, lasting lesson about doing without when money is tight.
No, I’m not a Christian. I’m agnostic, but that does not mean I can’t embrace the joy and warmth of the season, and it does not mean that I can’t understand the celebration of the birth of a man who preached a pretty important message. This is why I love Christmas: I love way the neighborhood is lit up in color and light at night. I love the excitement in the air, the way people give so freely of themselves in the spirit of the season, the way the kids bounce when they walk through the mall, thrilled at the thought of picking out presents for those they love.I love the traditions that have been passed on in my family through many generations. I love decorating the tree and family gatherings and the excitement of a two year old tearing through wrapping paper on Christmas morning. I love the warmth and the comfort and the giving spirit.
I’m not saying I’m not giving out gifts this year. But I am going to make sure that we stress the importance of togetherness, love, family and giving over everything else this Christmas.
Yes, the economy is bad. We’ve heard some people use the word “depression.” Times are hard. But let us remember Scrooge, who said, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep the holiday feel all year round? I’m a realist, I know the world does not exist in which we can keep the holiday feel all the time. Which is why it’s so important to make the most out of the season. Someone in the comments at the other site implied that Christmas is when people do things in order to feel good about themselves for a little while, as if all the giving is self-serving.
Maybe that’s what she sees, but it’s not what I see, nor is it what I feel. People need to stop reading so much into the actions of others. If gift giving and family gatherings and making annual donations to charity is part of the holiday season, then why not just go with that? Stop looking for the negative in everything and sit back and enjoy yourself for once. With people stampeding each other for bargain bin prices on toys, stop questioning the religious/moral motives of people who want to embrace the holiday season for the warmth and joy of it.
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