Wednesday, December 08, 2010

An Old Fashioned Commercialized Christmas

How did Christmas become this way? Frantic shopping, bloated credit card debt, piles of gifts, migraine headaches over what to buy all those people... and how to afford it all?

It would seem that Christmas as we know it has always been this way. All the way back to the 1820's. That's when our version of Christmas was invented by Clement Clarke Moore. In 1822 he put together the famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" - or as we know it, "'Twas the night before Christmas...". Clarke's work is identified by historians as the linchpin event that enabled our commercialized version of Christmas to emerge.

Think about it - Charlie Brown was lamenting the over-commercialized nature of Christmas in the 1960's - almost fifty years ago. If anything it's gotten worse. By the time we hear the cry: "Isn't there anybody who knows what Christmas is all about?" we've had about a hundred and forty years of the frantic Christmas shopping and over-indulgent giving. 190 years of Christmas as we know it! 

If you are one of those people that resonates with Charlie Brown: you want a slow-down Christmas, you want a simplified Christmas, you want a restful Christmas...well you're resisting a powerful force of culture. Almost two centuries of Santa Claus being used to hawk wares, to sell mass-produced toys, to evoke that nostalgic feel of Christmas long, long ago.

I just found it very interesting how far back our current state of affairs go when it comes to the typical Christmas rush. And there is a lot more that is interesting about Christmas as we know it. Stephen Nissenbaum has written a fascinating book, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday, which I started reading last year (and blogged about here and here).

As a Christian I sometimes ponder how I ought to participate in Christmas as we know it. Nissenbaum's book is helping strip away the myths and nostalgia around the cherished season, bringing reality to the surface. I'd like to think that what I learn will contribute to my ability to stay calm and centered during the holidays. Not only that, but focused and able to enjoy the people in my life - whether we give gifts or not.

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