The Christmas spirit, consumerism, and Christians

Zac VanderLey—Staff Writer

The grinch is back.

He’s here to take your Christmas spirit. Well, really, he just wants you to exercise some patience.

Before the turkey leaves the oven on Thanksgiving, people are throwing up Christmas lights, blasting Justin Bieber, or decorating their houses in red and greens, nativity scenes and trees, poinsettias and wreaths. This so-called Christmas Spirit, for some, begins in November and doesn’t end until January. 

I have no qualms with Christmas hymns, or any of the other stuff, but that’s just it: 

We place far too much importance upon stuff.

Christmas is a perfect time to realize that, as Christians, we have been destroyed by America’s consumerism.

1.002 trillion dollars were spent on Christmas in 2019, including gifts, cards, and other holiday-related purchases. While households on average spent 1,500 dollars on Christmas in 2019 according to Fortunately, only a third of the spending went to physical gifts.

Now, I enjoy finding gifts for my family and friends as well as receiving gifts, but I wonder how many people use Christmas as an excuse to buy more stuff for themselves (or use other people to buy themselves more stuff).

Christmas lists have become like checklists. There are no longer any surprises. Some people forego the wrapping paper entirely and cash in on their parents’ Christmas gifts by Thanksgiving just so they can get some extra use out of whatever they got.

In this way, we are always in the Christmas Spirit. We love buying new objects for ourselves, expecting they will bring us joy, but the joy of Christmas shopping is in the personal exchange between people. When I receive a present from my brother, I attach personal meaning to whatever gift he gives me because of his thoughtfulness. The gift may be fascinating on its own, but it only retains its joy if there is some form of interpersonal connection related to it. This is one reason I don’t love buying myself items, because, more often than not, it leads to empty happiness. 

Stuff is just stuff until it becomes associated with something more than material.

Many other people don’t define the Christmas Spirit by the presents. They just love the lights, the snow, and the colors—the aesthetic of Christmas. These people love their seasons. They love pumpkins during fall, eggs during easter, and Hawaiian tropical Febreze spray during the summer. And while I’m not quite like this, I understand where these people are coming from. 

We should try to find joy in the seasonal changes, and if people want to decorate their homes a certain way, then by golly they should. But they should just wait a little bit.

So often, we rush right into the Christmas Spirit. In one Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, Calvin’s dad provides some wisdom: “You know Calvin, sometimes the anticipation of something is more fun than the thing itself once you get it.”

We limit the effect of the Christmas Spirit when we gorge ourselves upon it before it’s here. Our lack of patience leads to a lack of joy. And if there’s one way we, as Christians and as Americans, could collectively grow, it is in patience.

I wonder what Christmas would look like if we held off all Christmas aesthetic until Dec. 1? I tend to think there would be less marketing thrown in our face, less overt consumerism within the season itself, and more genuine happiness experienced in the Christmas Spirit, as well as more quality time spent with loved ones.

Some will say Christmas should be celebrated all year long, and I don’t entirely agree. Even though Jesus probably wasn’t born on Dec. 25, Christmastime allows us to refocus on the advent story. Christ’s birth should be at the forefront of our minds, no matter the season, but the problem is many people equate Christmas with the aesthetic.

Jesus was born in a manger surrounded by farm animals. It’s not like the nativity scenes. It probably smelled terrible; I bet it sounded awful as well (spoiler alert, giving birth isn’t exactly the cleanest process). The shepherds were the outcasts of society, and the wisemen didn’t come until two years later. 

Jesus’ birth is, quite possibly, the opposite to our current Christmas Spirit. 

He was in danger of dying from the moment he entered the world. If we really wanted to get into the Christmas Spirit, then we would go wander in the cold with our in-laws, share community with the outcasts of our society, and sleep in a barn.

Our idolization of Christmas Spirit has led to many Christians knowing, but never comprehending or living out, the true story of Christmas. 

I would love to see Christians spend just one Christmas directing all our financial investment that we usually place on the Christmas aesthetic towards a cause that would help others. I mean, what Christian would disagree with that? And wouldn’t that be unifying?

I realize the American economy would quite possibly collapse if Christmas spending wasn’t as high, but then again, we are Christians first and Americans second. Sadly, I’m not sure Christmas reflects that truth.

So, this Christmas season, drink hot chocolate, make cookies, and enjoy the comfort that has been blessed upon you. Remember that Jesus, and many others, did not experience that physical comfort. Maybe tone down the self-giving and seek out a present for your friends and family that will create an interpersonal bond.

And next year, hold off on the Christmas music until Dec. 1 (and just forget about Bieber. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra are objectively much better alternatives.)

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