It is that time of year. Not ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ (to quote a popular 1963 song) but the time of the year when I turn into a Scrooge and/or a Grinch (A Scrinch? A Grooge?) and start muttering about the commercialisation of Christmas.
Too much consumption!, I cry. Christmas has been captured by this consumer society of ours. It has become a season in which people are emotionally manipulated into spending more than they can afford on unnecessary gifts. I glance through the advertising supplements in the weekend papers, aghast at the suggestion that I spend hundreds of dollars on jewellery from Tiffany or shoes from David Jones. (And David Jones, calling your catalogue a Christmas Book isn’t fooling anyone.)
What happened to the simple, traditional celebration of Jesus’ birth?, I mourn. Why can’t we simply rejoice in the Incarnation by all worshipping God at church and then feasting together? Why has Christmas become a terrifying extravaganza that takes weeks of preparation?
(At which point the historian part of me points out that there has never been such a thing as ‘a simple, traditional celebration of Jesus’ birth’ and that Christianity stole most of the Christmas traditions, including the very date itself, from other religions. I firmly tell the historian part of me to be quiet.)
But all my muttering and mourning is hypocritical. I may pretend I’m a ‘Bah! Humbug!’ Scrooge, but, really, I’m the Scrooge who wakes up on Christmas morning and goes on a massive shopping spree. (If you haven’t read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens or seen The Muppet Christmas Carol, which is the best film adaptation of the novel ever, I suggest you do that sometime this Christmas.)
I’m not saying that all my grumbles about the commercialisation of Christmas are unwarranted. A news item that came out on the very day I am writing this said that Australians will spend more than $48.1 billion on Christmas items, about half of it on credit; and consumer group Choice has issued advice to Australian shoppers, in order to avoid a ‘financial hangover’ in the new year. I am pretty sure that Jesus did not want the celebration of his birthday to lead to financial hangovers.
But I became aware of my Christmas-based hypocrisy when exchanging emails with a friend who is the mother of twins for whom I have been buying gifts since before they were born.
Me: A very important question – what ‘Pigeon’ books by Mo Willems do the twins have? During the Palm Sunday Refugee March they told me that despite their advancing years they were not too old for the Pigeon and I believe I promised them a couple of books for Christmas.
Her: Please do not feel any pressure to be coerced by their rude questioning at the rally. But if you feel it is important to up the quota of Mo in their lives they can share one book, they don’t need two.
Me: In my relationship with children I am modelling God’s unconditional love and Her abundant giving. 😉 So, in that context, their requests weren’t at all rude and I will give them a book each.
Her: Okay, abundance it is. 🙂
A confession: I really love giving presents! (And the twins will be getting copies of The Pigeon wants a Puppy and Don’t let the Pigeon stay up late this December.) So this Christmas I am turning over a new leaf. I am going to cease all my ‘Bah! Humbug!’-ing, and instead simply enjoy the giving and receiving of presents to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. And I’m going to encourage others to experience the joy of giving, too.
There are lots of opportunities to give during this Advent. We are collecting food for Christmas hampers for Emergency Relief Clients. We are collecting toys for UnitingCare. We are collecting money that will go to Act for Peace’s girls’ education project in Afghanistan. The food and toys and money that we give will do good things in the world. Giving will also, studies tell us, light up our brains’ pleasure and reward centres and give us a boost of the same feel-good endorphins that create a runner’s high.
Charles Dickens seemed to know this instinctively. At the end of A Christmas Carol Dickens writes of Scrooge: ‘I don’t know what to do!’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath, and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”’ This is definitely a man on an entirely natural high.
So this Christmas let’s all give. It will make us happy, and make the world better. (But, let’s not give more than we can. No financial hangovers here!)
For the December Newsletter of Williamstown Uniting Church – Electra St