In The Santa Clause 3 Tim Allen’s Kris Kringle, swallowed up by an It’s a Wonderful Life-like interlude, briefly tours an alternative universe in which a huckster donned the red suit rather than he and turned Christmas into — gasp! — a celebration of materialism and plastic trinkets. When Allen regains his sleigh, he redeems the holiday by delivering wooden toys even Tiny Tim would have decried as outdated. So long as children do not get what they really want, the movie seems to say, the Christmas spirit is alive and well.
If this ten dollar a head multi-million Hollywood lecture was meant to refurbish Santa’s image, it did not: Last year Canadian artist Jimmy Wright crucified St. Nick on his front lawn to protest our “consumptive orgy.”
While few go to such lengths, decrying holiday consumerism has become as much a beloved December ritual as placing a plastic angel atop an evergreen or caroling. “I Can’t Believe the Mall Is Playing Christmas Music Already,” a tuneless verse sung by those who partake of America’s largesse but strive to maintain a sense of moral superiority by complaining about the superficiality and greed of everyone else while doing so, is probably heard more often now than “Jingle Bells.” Look at the frenzy shoppers are in! Look at the lines at department stores! It’s…it’s…crass commercialism. The horror!
Strangely, much of this yearly cultural flagellation emanates from the same quarters of the American political left professing profound concern over our descent into theocracy.
No less a self-described “dedicated secular humanist” than Barbara Ehrenreich has declared the War on Christmas over. “Christmas is not the exclusive property of those who think God came to earth 2000 years ago as a baby in Bethlehem,” she sniffed. It’s true, if hardly for the reasons Ehrenreich thinks, although I nevertheless look forward to reading the biting piece of investigative journalism detailing her time as an undercover mall elf trying to organize the workers against a cigar-chomping, red-suited bossman with a little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
One has to wonder what exactly Ehrenreich, who compared “consumer culture” unfavorably to drug addiction in her 1989 book Fear of Falling, expects the end result of a simultaneous embrace of Christmas and scuttling of consumerism will be.
She and other secular humanists might hope Christmas will eventually morph into a paid national holiday for circulating global warming petitions and unionizing Wal-Mart workers with gift buying limited to items praised on NPR programs and wine from fancy vineyards. It is consumerism, however, not class war enthusiasts and pretentious do-gooders, that has made the holiday one that transcends, without overshadowing, our religious differences. Leave behind capitalism with its multitude of niche markets and we will almost certainly be left with a much more Christ-centric holiday. Do secular humanists not remember how much they hated it when all anyone could talk about was The Passion?
Alas, irony knows no bounds. Anti-capitalist zeal has turned some mad-at-their-dad pseudo-anarchist types into quasi Christian proselytizers. The anti-consumerist magazine AdBusters (available at most major bookstores) is now attempting to expand its Buy Nothing Day post-Thanksgiving protest into a Buy Nothing Christmas. (As Nick Gillespie once adroitly noted, “It’s Buy Nothing Day in North Korea every day of the year and look where it’s gotten them.”) To aid readers in rising “above the consumer binge” the magazine provides downloadable Jesus masks to wear at the mall as well as flyers depicting Jesus dragging his cross behind a gift-laden shopper. “And you thought that carrying your Christmas shopping was a burden,” it reads.
In his book Hundred Dollar Holiday Methodist author Bill McKibben took a stab at outlining how non-Christians might eventually come to see a commercialism-free Christmas: “This is a birthday party for a small child born to poor parents in an out-of-the-way place attended by cows and sheep,” he writes. If you aren’t a Christian, it’s also a party to which you are two-thousand years late. Who’s going to be interested in that? Sorry, try again.
Later in the book McKibben, an anti-sales salesman who just got you to spend twelve of your one-hundred dollar Christmas budget on a quarter-sized ninety-five page book pooh-poohing everything from Teletubbies to the Christmas celebratory tradition from the manger forward, offers suggestions for livening up the party — visiting neighbors with brownies; spreading a little holiday cheer at churches, nursing homes and schools. All great ideas until the end: “Even awkward places — prisons, say, or mental institutions — are easier to visit for the first time at Christmas, song sheet or wreath or stocking in hand,” McKibben adds, with the innocence of a man who has never spent Christmas in either a prison or mental hospital.
SUCH IS THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE facing the anti-consumerist crusaders. The alternative they present, like Tim Allen’s wooden toys in Santa Clause 3, simply is not very appealing. Take, for example, New American Dream’s list of gifts to “Simplify the Holidays.” Some of these items should not be special gifts at all (phone calls to elderly friends, candlelit dinner with significant other, donations to soup kitchen) while others are just hopelessly lame (jigsaw puzzle followed by family gin rummy tournament) or overbearing (renewable energy credits).
And if your child is actually satisfied with brown paper bag puppets, permission to “wear pajamas under your coat to the movies” and knitting lessons instead of mall swag, call their guidance counselor. There’s a fairly good chance they’re having trouble making friends at school. Homeliness isn’t the virtue it once was, unfortunately.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on the New Grinches “pushing econ friendly gifts. “I wanted to connect through the gift giving tradition,” a woman told the paper. “I also wanted to communicate my own deeply-felt environmental conviction.” Ah, but those of us who buy gifts for people based on their preferences are the selfish ones, right?
And what do the anti-consumerists hope we’ll do with all the spare time generated by eliminating this pesky gift exchanging time? (Besides knit and play gin rummy, of course.) Argue! Both the ACLU and Sierra Club have set up websites to help you rub your loved one’s noses in their ignorance. When Uncle Bert complains about Al Gore’s Nobel, the Sierra Club advises, you tell him the “facts presented by Gore speak for themselves,” ask him why he’s afraid to see the movie, and then offer to “snag the DVD tomorrow.”
Sounds heavenly, no?
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The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
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