Christmas has been hijacked and has become a heavily marketed secular event in which the pressure to wow family and friends with presents, decorations, and Christmas dinner is enough to cause stress for weeks beforehand as you prepare. And there is an additional stress for months afterward as you deal with the credit card bills.
Unfortunately, a beautiful holiday to celebrate the birth of our Savior has turned into one big sales event for retailers.
“Christmas creep” is the continued push to move Christmas buying earlier and earlier each year. Last year, I shopped at one of our big box stores 2 weeks BEFORE Christmas and there were two shelves of Christmas items. However, in October, the whole front of the store was filled with things to buy for Christmas right beside all the ghoulish costumes, decorations, and candy for Halloween.
For many retail businesses, Christmas has turned into a season of “make-it-or-break-it” financially. As the retailers try to reach their bottom line, they push more and more marketing strategies to manipulate us and make us want to BUY in order to boost their profits.
Another marketing ploy over the last several years is making Christmas NOT Christmas. After generations of growing consumerism, the spiritual aspects of Christmas have become the target of people who are intent on stripping away all religious references and symbols in our society. Robbing Christmas of its true meaning gives more focus to the buying and commercial aspects of the holiday. In the retail world, the word “Christmas” is avoided because a secular view means a better bottom line in a religion-free marketplace.
The good news of the Savior’s birth gets buried under all the commercialism.
As Catholics, we need to maintain the ideals of what Christmas is all about—peace, goodwill, charity, and love. These ideals are the total opposites of the consumer frenzy that characterizes Christmas today.
Consider the tradition of gift-giving. What began in the fourth century as giving essential items such as food and clothing to the needy has become the exchange of non-essentials among the not-so-needy. We’ve gone from a way to help the helpless to a tit-for-tat gift exchange. What’s more, driven by escalating expectations, too many of us end up spending money we don’t have to buy people things they don’t need, don’t want and won’t use.
Not only is that a bad exercise in Christian stewardship, but it also fuels the materialistic push towards a Christ-less Christmas. That is not to say that Christians shouldn’t exchange gifts. It only means that the Christian ideal should be balanced toward true charity and that any gifts purchased should be well within the financial means of the giver.
Reclaiming a Christian vision extends to other Christmas traditions as well, and we can move toward a more spiritual sense of Christmas by appreciating the Christian tradition behind some of our Christmas symbols.
Light is the pre-eminent symbol of Christmas. The Light Who is Christ was foreshadowed by the Advent candles and is now symbolized by the Christ Candle that burns throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. We use this symbol in the lights on our Christmas tree, and in the lights strung around the outside of our homes. (Don’t even get me started on the Christmas “light fights” where neighbors compete to have the gaudiest displays. Another perfect example of hijacking the true meaning of Christmas.)
In ancient Rome, laurel, was used in wreaths as a symbol of victory. Christians adopted the practice, using a wreath to represent the victory of the newborn King.
The candy cane legend started in the late 1800s when a candy maker in Indiana wanted to express the holy meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy. He took white peppermint sticks and bent them to suggest both the staff carried by the adoring shepherds and the letter “J” for Jesus. He let the color white symbolize the purity and sinless nature of Jesus, and the color red is representative for the blood Christ shed for us.
Poinsettias are called the “Nativity Flower,” in Mexico. The shape of the leaves symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem. Their red color represents the Blood of Christ and the burning love of God.
There is so much about Christmas that has significant meaning in our faith. Yet we often take things for granted and follow along with our culture. We need to do all we can to fight the culture wars and keep Christ in Christmas.
In Joshua 24:15 we hear the following: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Don’t fall into the habit of calling Christmas the “winter holiday.” Teach your children the Christian meaning behind the Christmas symbols. Don’t spend more than you can afford in order to achieve a false sense of the Christmas spirit.
Do everything you can do to stay focused on the Baby in the manger—the true reason to celebrate Christmas!
Join the Compass Catholic podcast for more about reclaiming Christmas for Christ.