Despite what Fox News would have us believe, the real War on Christmas is, of course, its commercialization. The idea that we have to mark the sacred feast by flying headlong into a national spending rampage is a surer sign of our secularization than any generic holiday greeting from the Walmart cashier will ever come close to being. So protesting that commercialization by refusing to participate in the annual buying rites is surely something that many serious Christians have considered already.
Still, this new reflection by Krista Tippett (one of my favorite voices on radio) on Christmas and why she’s not giving gifts this year articulates things afresh and is worth a look. My two favorite passages:
I don’t like — don’t approve, refuse to throw myself into — the spirit of obligatory gift-giving. In my lifetime, this has become existentially linked to a commercial orgy that has now even co-opted the ritual angle. We have Good Friday and Maundy Thursday; we have Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Unlike Good Friday and Maundy Thursday, however (though like “fiscal cliff”) these terms are repeated and reported by the most serious of journalists. Like all mantras of ritual, they work on us from the inside. They are an economic event by which we measure a certain kind of cultural health.
This form of cultural health is not health at all. It is overwhelmingly an exercise in excess and trivia.
Here’s what I take seriously. There is something audacious and mysterious and reality-affirming in the assertion that has stayed alive for two thousand years that God took on eyes and ears and hands and feet, hunger and tears and laughter and the flu, joy and pain and gratitude and our terrible, redemptive human need for each other. It’s not provable, but it’s profoundly humanizing and concretely and spiritually exacting. And it’s no less rational — no more crazy — than economic and political myths to which we routinely deliver over our fates in this culture, to our individual and collective detriment.
Of course, not giving gifts, either to avoid complicity or to protect one’s own spiritual well-being, makes good sense. But it also would take a good bit of courage, even audacity, because it risks misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or incomprehension by family members and loved ones. It’s not surprising that Tippet, as she acknowledges, did not take this step until after her own kids were grown. And though completely understandable, waiting until then inevitably means first joining the annual spending rites with much gusto at the time when not doing so could perhaps make the most difference, before finally turning one’s back on them. It’s a capitalistic version of Saint Augustine’s classic prayer, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.”
We of the Christian community need to find a way to think this through together, with greater attentiveness, cooperation, and intention. It could represent an important grass-roots ecumenical effort with real consequences both inside and outside the church.