When I was growing up, Christmas was my favorite holiday. I was a little fuzzy about the Baby in the manger, but I knew all about Santa. I also knew there would be presents. Lots of them. One of my annual pre-Christmas rituals was carefully going through the toy section of the Sears Roebuck catalog and marking my selections in ink. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I wanted to make sure my parents got the message.
My number one present as a kid was a big metal suitcase that unfolded into a castle, complete with knights and vikings. But I also remember an air hockey set that I shared with my brother and sister, assorted robots, and a contraption that heated little plastic squares into monsters.
More often than not, my parents came through and I got what I wanted. But I usually had a big letdown when Christmas was over, because it meant that Christmas was whole year away. For a kid like me, whose philosophy was that it is more blessed to receive than to give, that was a lifetime.
My wife and I remind our kids that Christmas is about Christ, and that the presents under the tree reflect God’s greatest gift, the gift of his Son. But the message doesn’t always get through. The other day, my family was discussing putting up a Christmas tree after Thanksgiving. Unprompted, our four-year-old said, “That’s when Santa comes.”
Of course, Christmas materialism is also stoked by our modern consumer culture. The holiday accounts for about 25 percent of the nation’s annual retail sales. And some of the nation’s retailers are trying to have their Christmas fruitcake and eat it, too. Last year Target told Salvation Army bell-ringers they were no longer welcome on store property. Some stores are telling employees to change their customer greeting from “Merry Christmas” to the more politically correct “Happy Holidays.” Don’t they know the word “holiday” comes from “holy day”?
Anyway, American adults tell the Gallup organization that they expect to spend an average of $763 on Christmas this year. Those earning at least $75,000 a year plan to spend more than $1,100. There’s always something new to buy, too, from iPods to Xboxes to MP3 players. What kind of TV do you want? Plasma or LCD? Flat screen or projection? Your cell phone can take pictures or play music. Hey, it can even make phone calls!
In an earlier era, the general store stocked about a thousand different products, according to the Associated Press. But today, the typical Wal-Mart superstore stocks 130,000 items. Let’s not even talk about the fact that the average household owes $9,500 on its credit cards.
And just what are we doing with all this stuff, anyway? Three so-called “reality” TV shows help people get rid of their junk. And 50 cities in 17 states have chapters of Clutterers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.
The classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life told us that a bell rang whenever an angel earned his wings. Now the jingling you hear is probably from a cash register.
We Christians are right to be concerned that the culture is trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Let’s just be sure that we don’t bury him in an avalanche of our own holiday junk.