Every year Bill O’Reilly goes to war against those he believes are “at war against Christmas.” You know what I’m talking about– he, and a lot of others, get really irritated that greeters at WalMart and cashiers at the mall say things like “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” preferably with the emphasis on CHRISTmas. As if there aren’t other people in this country celebrating other holidays at that time. But what really galls me is, O’Reilly is entirely missing the point. The problem isn’t WalMart greeters and mall cashiers, it’s WalMart and the mall. Christmas has become a disgusting celebration of consumerism.
According to Advent Conspiracy, Americans spend around $450 BILLION on Christmas each year. According to Bread for the World, the basic health and nutrition needs of the world’s poorest people could be solved for $13 billion per year. There’s just something stomach churning about using a holiday to celebrate the birth of a king who was born in poverty and preached about concern for the poor more than any other issue being used to fuel a $450 billion industry when a tiny fraction of that could feed and care for the world’s poorest people.
And of course, I sit here typing this as a total hypocrite. I’ve tried to convince our families to do without gifts, in order to focus on time together and giving to charity, and yet so far, all I’ve been able to do is encourage caps on gift spending, hopefully leaving us with more money to give to charity. So, in large part, most of the hoopla surrounding Christmas seems to me to be at war with the values of the man it celebrates, and yet I feel powerless to stop it.
So instead, I focus on Thanksgiving. I think sharing meals was a pretty common theme in the life of Jesus, and I believe something special happens when we gather around a table with people, even our dysfunctional families. I also think gratitude is a key component of a truly examined life. In some ways, I think Thanksgiving is a more truly spiritual holiday than Christmas, in terms of how we celebrate it in this country– it’s about spending time with family, sharing a meal, and being thankful. Sure, it can be taken to gluttonous extremes, but it can also be a beautiful celebration. And maybe if we do it right, if we really take time to be thankful and realize we have all we need, that we are truly blessed, we will be able to keep our priorities in order when it comes to celebrating Christmas. I can only hope.
Note: I am, of course, aware that Thanksgiving, like almost everything in the history of Western Civilization, has a backstory full of violence, bigotry, theft, and oppression. I hope that by reclaiming that holiday as one of gratitude and love, and perhaps even sorrow for what happened in the past, we can try to make sure such things don’t happen in the future.