Rethinking Christmas

Tis the Season

'Tis the Season

This Friday is Black Friday in the United States, the frenzied shopping day that marks the start of the commercial Christmas season. Typically a day of sales and deep discounts, an observant Christian might argue that Black Friday would better be observed in 2009 by closing retail stores in honor of Jdimytai Damour. Damour is the Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death at a Long Island store on Black Friday last year, as shoppers who had lined up overnight stampeded when doors opened at 6 am.

But store closings are not what Wal-Mart has in mind. Instead, the world’s largest retailer has cleverly ramped up its consumerist wattage with a new Black Friday policy: Wal-Marts will now stay open all night Thursday and into Friday, eliminating early morning lines, stampedes, and the memory of last year’s tragedy. Did I mention that the policy increases the firm’s revenue-raking hours?

As a committed Christian, I believe it’s time to move beyond the old Christmas season script that has been operational for decades of Decembers: 1) lament the loss of the “the true meaning of Christmas,” 2) shake our heads, 3) continue with Christmas business as usual. It’s time instead to take seriously the many ideas for minimizing the material side of the holiday and making room for the spiritual. Environmentalist and Methodist Bill McKibben has suggested limiting Christmas spending to $100 per family. The faith group Alternatives for Simple Living offers congregations materials to promote a simpler approach to the holidays; just last weekend it conducted a workshop called Unplug the Christmas Machine, for example. Others may consider observing Buy Nothing Day, which, strategically, is also set for (Black) Friday.

Personally, I think Christians should consider abandoning December 25 as our gift-giving day, as a way to escape the commercial season entirely. Were all Christians–some 80 percent of the U.S. population–to do so, the season would be deflated, commercially. And Advent, the season of restraint, reflection, and spiritual renewal, could recover its rightful place. (How about moving gift-giving to Epiphany in early January, which commemorates the visit of the gift-bearing Magi to the newborn Jesus. It’s already a gift-giving day to honor Jesus’ birth in parts of Latin America. And like the Magi, we might focus on a single, meaningful, gift–in honor of the Christchild.)

In a world in which global consumption of metals, wood, minerals, and other materials–a rough indicator of environmental impact–is projected to double by 2030 over 2005 levels, the Wal-Mart response to hyper-consumerism is too clever by half. Expanding store hours may reduce the danger to Wal-Mart employees, but stoking consumerism leads to greater environmental degradation–and threatens the livelihoods of people who depend on a healthy environment.

It’s time to practice living more simply. Those of us who call ourselves Christians have the perfect holiday to do so. We call it Christmas.

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