Christmas involves a financial and, at the same time, an emotional expense. Even in times of crisis, the spending season lasts longer than the holiday itself.
About 20% of U.S. retail sales happen around Christmas. Perhaps, economically at least, this news would be positive, if it were not for the fact that at the end of the year 14% of Americans have unpaid installments since the previous Christmas. The spending trap is catching on to others, not just Americans. The Capgemini advisory group estimated this autumn that the British would spend £6.4 billion on online holiday shopping alone. The volume of Internet sales will increase this Christmas by 16% compared to last year.
The online industry confirms this growth and signals a new trend: early-bird shopping. According to a press release from GiftsGuideUK.com, 1 in 4 store customers started Christmas shopping in November. Over 75% of them said that the decision to buy early was motivated by the desire to catch the early-season discounts.
The extravagant Christmas offers will not be missing this year either. For those who adhere to the tradition of Advent, Porsche has prepared a special calendar. Made of matte aluminum and measuring almost two meters high, the luxury calendar conceals behind the dates surprises such as a yacht, a custom kitchen design, a rose-gold watch and a pair of 18-carat gold sunglasses, a set of suitcases, and a pair of Bounce sneakers, all bearing the Porsche Design signature. The total price of these gifts is one million dollars.
For those who are not familiar with the holiday of Advent, luxury gifts also come in other forms and are even more expensive. Clive Christian created a limited edition of the Imperial Majesty perfume. The bottle is made of Baccarat crystal and is decorated with a 5-carat diamond, fixed on an 18-carat gold ring. Only those who can pay $215,000 can afford it. If, to some, this seems like a cheap gift, designer Peter Aloisson has them covered. He created the King’s Button iPhone, encrusted with a total of 138 brilliant-cut diamonds, which costs $1,790,000.
The unholy traditions of excess
Luxury offers are, for “the few”, really far from the feast of the common man. Excess, however, is not. In a 2007 speech, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the “materialistic mentality” of “the way Christmas is lived and perceived today”. Protestants have also felt the need to change the way they celebrate Christmas. In 2005, several Protestant mega-churches in the United States were closed for the holidays to allow church staff to spend the time with their families. However, their decision drew criticism, partly because that year Christmas fell on a Sunday, which meant the cancellation of two services.
A Christmas cancellation
However, discussions about consumerism and the secularization of Christmas have a longer history. Throughout the Christmas tradition, there have been several periods and cultures in which people have complained that the holiday has become a monument to secular extravagance, contrary to its original purpose.
In the seventeenth century, the Puritan priest Cotton Mather gave a famous speech against the holiday, which had become an occasion for “crazy fun”, “long meals”, and “heavy drinking” suitable for worshiping “Saturn or Bacchus”—nothing new under the sun, except that the priest’s speech was reflected in legislation that forbade the celebration of Christmas. The ban was in effect in the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1659 and 1681.
Even after the ban was lifted, the problem did not end. After numerous court appeals in 1789, Congress agreed to hold the celebration again. However, it was not until 1870 that Christmas was declared a public holiday.
In the same seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell and the English parliament banned the celebration of Christmas in England, also due to the secularization of the Christian holiday. An additional reason was the origin of the name “Christmas” (Christ’s mass), which reminded English Protestants of a Catholic past that they wished to forget. Between 1642 and 1660, it was illegal in England to celebrate Christmas with secular services or events.
What is visible in history is the fact that, despite attempts to stifle the Christmas tradition, it has survived, with all the good and the bad accumulated over time. Secularization failed to completely swallow the holiday, but it diminished the level of its spiritual impact.
Various contemporary attempts to restore the authentic spirit of Christmas have relied on updating its relevance to the present. In 2010, such an attempt was to adapt the story of the Saviour’s birth to the language of the Internet. Therefore, the history of Jesus’s birth was reconstructed with the help of 140-character messages, posted daily on Twitter. Share Creative, a UK-based advertising design company, partnered with the Evangelical Alliance to produce a social media campaign focusing on the event behind Christmas. Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the magi of the East, and King Herod were the biblical characters who tweeted daily updates. Huw Tyler from Share Creative explained that the campaign’s organizers wanted to tell “the Christmas story in a way that is not only accessible, but also fun and relevant to the Internet generation”. This is true. Through originality and courage, the campaign managed to refresh the story of Jesus’s birth. However, it cannot make up for the lack of that warm and meaningful Christmas that most Christians remember.
Where’s the Christmas of old?
Interestingly, each generation has somehow felt the loss of true Christmas. How many people browse through their memories to find at least a glimmer of that hope that permeated the childhood celebration? And they can’t seem to find it anymore…
In the cold light of day, the loss of true Christmas has affected most Christian cultures, but the phenomenon is also a timeless refrain, for which no solution seems to be found. Many will agree that the outward imposition of a Christmas behaviour will not work, no matter how well-intentioned those who orchestrate such a reform are. Looking even at the experience of the law issued in the time of the Puritans, it is obvious that secularization is not removed by edicts.
Others will look to solutions like the one proposed by Share Creative and conclude that they risk trivializing the grandeur of the birth of the Saviour of the world. The stalemate persists. Therefore, we are still talking about the same issue of desecrating a holiday.
The wonder of meaning
In addition to the true meanings and origins, the commercial Christmas also loses the simple joy of spending time with loved ones. Christmas movies, despite their soft script, emphasize the dissatisfaction of many with the way they spend their Christmas. The explanation lies in the fact that movies are often a narrow mirror, in the reflection of which almost no one can find themselves, but which everyone desires and accepts as a standard.
The problem is that the perfect family, that smiles at the happy ending of a Christmas movie, surrounded by gifts and an aura of happiness, is as fake as the beard of the Santas in the shops. On the other hand, the idea of spending Christmas as a family makes many as happy as a winter vacation in a prison would. The following are a few suggestions which can prevent celebrating with others from becoming an unpleasant duty, help it to make sense and provide fulfillment:
Identify the disappointments you usually experience during the holidays. Sometimes people associate Christmas with a “traditional suffering”. Therefore, they hate the holiday because they know that they suffer during this period. In many cases, people cannot accurately identify the cause of their pain, and as a result, it is difficult for them to find a cure. They thus perpetuate the negative state.
Understand that people can disappoint, but that this is not necessarily a relationship dead-end. Most often, Christmas disappointments have relationships at their core. For some, Christmas is a time when they have to deal with the disappointment that their loved ones do not understand them, do not respect them, or do not love them as they would like. Through the sum of specific circumstances, Christmas puts in the spotlight the problems that already exist in relationships. And the answers to these problems do not necessarily come during Christmas (although the holidays can be a pretext for a lasting investment in relationships with others).
Give up on expectations that are too high. Unrealistic expectations about gifts, artificial desires inspired by movies, or holiday slogans that proclaim instant positive change, can all cause frustration if assimilated as fragments of reality.
Change often requires time and effort and does not happen overnight, even if that night is Christmas Eve. While it may be helpful to remember the spiritual value of the Christmas of old, more is needed. In order for the reform to last and not be affected by circumstances, it must make sense. If the image of the vulnerable Son of God lying in a manger captivates the minds of Christians more than the endless lists of gifts, and if the concern to understand and live out His example becomes permanent, then change would have a real chance to be truly experienced.
Baby Jesus, in the arms of a virgin, is a powerful image. Christ’s coming to earth as a man speaks of the priceless value that Heaven holds for mankind. People forget. That is why Christ’s incarnation and the history of mankind’s salvation need to be constantly remembered. Pompous speeches should be left aside, because the birth of the Lord must remain a celebration that transforms people from within.