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The Catholic Guide to Surviving Christmas Commercialism


Rachel Lu - published on 12/16/14

4. Enjoy the challenging juxtapositions of neediness and plenty. 

The juxtaposition of poverty and wealth is really a proper part of the observance of Christmas. Ebenezer Scrooge and Good King Wenceslas are excellent examples of this interplay, but the trend really goes all the way back to three kings whose magnificent gifts were presented to a baby in his animal trough. Christmas gives us occasion to reflect on the good of poverty, and on the good of wealth, and especially on the beauty of human interaction wherein poverty can be eased by generous, loving gift.

I sometimes wonder whether the grouchiness about “commercialism” really springs from an inability to handle the complexities of this subject. Instead of being grateful for the lights that twinkle in darkness and warm houses that protect us from cold, we feel ashamed of what we have. Very possibly, we then take it out on others by criticizing their gift choices or griping about holiday calories.  

Stop. It can be uncomfortable to be reminded of our intrinsic neediness, but that discomfort need not be funneled immediately into guilt. Richness and poverty are both fitting subjects for Christmas reflection. Enjoy the mysteries; don’t resent them.

5. Let Christ be the cure. 

No huckster or salesman can pull us away from the manger without our consent. If you’re feeling irritated with The Chipmunk Song or Frosty the Snowman, return to the source. Take out your Bible, or switch out Michael Buble for Thomas Tallis or John Rutter.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how bright the tinsel twinkles or how loudly the carolers sing. Christmas will always be about Jesus, because he is the truth and the light, beside which the commercial trappings are like so many swirling snowflakes. He cannot truly be upstaged by car commercials or the elf on the shelf. We should relax, stop fighting snowflakes, and return to the manger scene, and adore the Babe of Bethlehem.

On the first Christmas, the Word became flesh, and the people in darkness saw a great light.  This being December, we Northerners (I live in the upper Midwest) are likewise in darkness as the days reach their shortest and coldest point. So we light the lights and fire up the furnace. We start the ovens and cook hot, hearty dishes. We band together to beat back the cold and the dark.

It is here in the darkness that we find the Babe of Bethlehem, who is our shield against that darkest and coldest of nights. I think this is a profound and beautiful thing, and I somehow can’t help but feel that my fellow Minnesotans, even if they don’t believe, are still in some way contributing to the effort, and perhaps reaping the benefit in ways that they themselves don’t fully recognize. In that spirit, I do find cheer in the twinkly commercial wreaths and the designer store windows filled with gem tones. If God could come into the lives of humble shepherds and ancient kings, maybe even K-Mart isn’t beyond redemption? This is the hope that should enliven our Christmas season.

Rachel Lu teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas and writes for Crisis Magazine and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @rclu.

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