"There are many people who haven't merely lost, misplaced, or forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, they're trying to actively target it to destroy it. And these true Scrooges have a frightening amount of power."
-- Sarah Palin, from Good Tidings and Great Joy.
"Well, I hope you read the book ’cause I’m not saying its way too commercialized. I love the commercialization of Christmas because it spreads the Christmas cheer."
-- Sarah Palin, on The Today Show, November 11, 2013.
I am told that, in her new book, Good Tidings and Great Joy,. Sarah accuses "liberals and atheists" of scheming to destroy the true meaning of Christmas.
As both a liberal and an atheist, I myself am greatly shocked to hear the news that I have been hell bent on destroying Christmas all these years. Why was I not informed of this?
But I really don't wish to bash Sarah here. Instead, I would like to simply point out that her notion Christmas is being helped along by commercialization is rather peculiar. Peculiar because so many of us -- even including at least some of us damnable liberals and atheists -- feel that the commercialization of Christmas is a somewhat greater danger to the holiday's religious and familial meanings than, say, whatever danger there might lurk in some Wal-Mart employee greeting us with "Happy Holidays", rather than with "Merry Christmas".
Of course, a lot can be said in favor of the commercialization of Christmas. It is certainly good for the economy. And back in the olden days, when "good for the economy" meant "good for employment", commercialization help lift the standard of living for a whole lot of families. Then again, perhaps Sarah is right that commercialization "spreads the Christmas cheer" -- although, as I understand it, there are several studies that indicate the number of people suffering from depression peaks during the holiday season. And, last, what child doesn't love the commercialization of Christmas, in so far as it means the gifts are piled up higher than his or her little waist?
On the other hand, if I were a Christian, I myself would be concerned with how the commercialization of Christmas might distract folks from the religious meaning of the holiday.
I've heard it said that Christians give gifts to folks on Christmas in order to imitate the gift God has given to humanity in the form of Jesus Christ. But I suspect that bit of spin was thought up by a public relations professional tasked with justifying the commercialization of Christmas. And even if it didn't originate as a bit of corporate propaganda, commercialization arguably distracts from the meaning of God's gift. For God's gift is salvation. And to think of Christmas gifts as salvation is actually to mock salvation.
The familial meanings of Christmas, as distinct from the religious meanings, arguably trace back to Charles Dickens, who -- in his story, A Christmas Carol -- reinvented Christmas as "a family-centered festival of generosity".
Yet, I think it is arguable that the commercialization of Christmas has made a shambles of that festival of generosity. For it seems commercialization has nowadays obliged us to be generous -- even too generous -- on Christmas Day. And obligatory generosity is to simple generosity what pornography is to nudity.
For the reasons I've given -- as well as for other reasons -- I do not think of the commercialization of Christmas as nearly so compatible with its religious and familiar values as does, apparently, Sarah Palin.
But what I personally find most interesting about the commercialization of Christmas is that it is part of a larger picture. For it seems to me the commercialization is but one aspect of -- and, at that, perhaps only a minor aspect -- of the much larger issue of consumerism.
I suspect consumerism can be understood as a form of hedonism in which a person psychologically self-identifies with what they consume: "I am my toys", and, "The more toys I have, the more that I am". If that's so, then it would seem to be at odds with the religious message of Christmas as a celebration of God's gift to the world -- that is, salvation through Christ.
For, at the very least, "I am my toys", has nothing at all to do with salvation. Rather, it would seem a distraction from recognizing any need for salvation -- to put it mildly by calling it a mere "distraction". The "distraction" of consumerism should concern anyone who wishes well the Christian faith. Atheism does not, and cannot provide a meaning to life. Consumerism can and does: i.e. "He or she with the most toys wins". So, consumerism is much more in competition with Christianity on that level than even atheism is.
In short, the commercialization of Christmas can be seen as a part of a larger picture -- consumerism. And consumerism would seem to compete with Christianity in at least one rather important way -- as a grounds for meaning in life. It would be interesting to see how this competition plays out over the next 50 or so years.