Saturday, December 25, 2004

The Commercialization of Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas is without a doubt the single biggest holiday in North America. In Canada and the United States, each family has their own unique traditions for celebrating Christmas, but most of these traditions have a few things in common:
  • We put up a Christmas tree with decorations.
  • We decorate our house with lights.
  • We buy gifts for each other, wrap them in pretty paper, put them under the Christmas tree, and on Christmas morning, we get together as a family to open them.
  • We take our kids to the mall to sit on Santa's knee and tell him what they want for Christmas, and on Christmas eve, we help them hang stockings by the fireplace (if we have a fireplace). Sure enough, when they wake up on Christmas morning, their stockings are stuffed and they have the present they were asking for thanks to "Santa Claus".

Most retailers like these traditions, since they all involve spending money. The more they can encourage these traditions, the more money people will spend, and the more money they will make. So, from early November until the end of December, you cannot walk into a mall or a department store without hearing Christmas carols or seeing Christmas decorations, and your television is bombarded with advertisements for pre-Christmas specials.

Many people berate this as a commercialization of Christmas, but I disagree. I personally think that Christmas would not be nearly as big a holiday here if it were not for this commercialization. For instance, Easter is just as important a holiday on the Christian calendar, but Christmas is the one that gets all of the attention. Likewise, Hannukah (the Jewish holiday that just happens to be at around the same time as Christmas) is a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, but because it happens at around the same time as Christmas, it gets a lot more focus than it otherwise would. Plus, with all these retailers promoting Christmas, we will never have to worry about the holiday dying away into oblivion.

With this commercialization, however, there are many Christmas traditions that are all too easily forgotten: going to church for midnight mass and singing Christmas carols for instance. One of my own favorite Christmas memories was going out with my church choir a few days before Christmas several years ago to sing Christmas carols on the street. It is all too easy to forget that Christmas is a celebration of Jesus's birth (hence the "Christ" part of the word Christmas) and that in this busy holiday, we should take some time to remember the meaning behind the holiday, and that the reason the Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts started was as a symbolic reminder of the gift God gave us all two thousand years ago.

But, the commercial traditions of Christmas are fun, and I think for children, it makes the holiday one of the happiest and most memorable times they can spend with their family throughout the year. With all hectic life we lead throughout the year, it is nice to have a day where we are not working, where all the stores are closed, and all we have to do is spend time enjoying the company of our loved ones.

In 1822, Major Henry Livingston, Jr.* wrote a poem that used to send shivers up my spine when I heard it as a child. Even today, I find it so easy to read this poem and think back to the memories I had of Christmas when I was a child. Someday, I hope my own children feel the same way.

Account of a Visit by St. Nicholas
By Major Henry Livingston, Jr.*

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a
bow,And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

Merry Christmas!

*Note: until recently, it was generally thought that this poem was written by Clement Clarke Moore.