Having spent my last 16 or so Christmases in Asia, I don’t feel its commercial impact the way I did in the U.S. I honestly don’t miss it. This year we bought a good-sized potted conifer and put it on a small rug in the den by the fireplace (the one we’ve yet to use). My wife and I will exchange small gifts and invite a bunch of friends & neighbors over for a barbeque (it’s around 25c during the day this time of year in Northern Thailand). I know it’s popular to bemoan the fact that Christmas has become so commercial, but I believe that Consumerism is a modern religion and that Christmas in the West perfectly expresses it.
While the feast of St. Nicolas, the patron saint of children was originally on the 6th of December, over the centuries, probably with Protestant aversion to the worship of saints, it got moved to the day celebrated as Christ’s birthday. So the giving of gifts for children is also symbolic with the Christ child’s gift to the world. Combine this with John Calvin’s pragmatism of “keep the holy day in the morning, and open the shops in the afternoon” and in the crucible of free market capitalism, we have our modern commercial Christmas holiday.
Materialism doesn’t compete with religion, it is a religion. It’s a set of beliefs, rules and practices that give us purpose and govern the conduct of human affairs. Consumerism is its ritual, and technology its supernatural. Our purpose revolves around our sacred duty to work hard and support the economy, earn well, and provide for our families by purchasing as much as we can.
Traditional religion has largely failed to unite people around common beliefs, but free global trade and market capitalism is making fast inroads. As Banks are a big part of this (note that in the current global meltdown, governments are primarily concerned with the bailing out of banks), they are the cathedrals built to the worship of commercial capitalism. Other religions do not compete, they are assimilated. Their traditions become part of the larger body of Materialism’s values and traditions.
I know I’m not the first and only person to think this way. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s perfect expression of Materialism’s evolution. The only way to change it is to reject the Christmas industry and change the ways in which we celebrate by creating new traditions. I don’t mean we need to create a Festivus, just a Christmas celebration that includes the things that are most important to us and excludes those that are not.
So even though we live in the States part of the year, and will spend some future Christmases there, I’m a firm believer in creating new traditions that reflect my family’s values, not necessarily society’s at large. So there will be no cutting down of large trees, no jacking the energy bill with tons of lights, no gaudy decorations or expensive gifts, no tacky chatchkes made by Chinese child labor, no cheezy music or tons of paper wrapping. There will be Handel, Tchaikovsky, carols, friends, family, a charity collection, a giant ham and a good wine. The greatest gifts we will exchange is celebrating together on this special day. Who could ask for more?