Friday, November 25, 2005

Walking in a Winter Shoppingland. . .


We Can Have Christmas All Year. . .

>>>>Enter Nostalgic Christmas Music<<<<


Has anyone else noticed how the Christmas season keeps getting longer and longer? It used to be standard for stores to pull out Christmas decorations and merchandise the day after Thanksgiving. Santa Claus (more on him in a later post) appeared at the mall right after Thanksgiving, but certainly not before. The Christmas season was understood to reside after Thanksgiving Day and before New Year's Day. No more is this the case, however; after all, five weeks just isn't long enough to spend walking in a winter shoppingland. . .

Perhaps it's all a ploy to glaze over Thanksgiving, the only remaining holiday that has not been largely secularlized. It's hard for the secular community to embrace a distinctly Christian holiday like Thanksgiving, so they've managed to largely overshadow it with Christmas. After all, giving thanks implies a greater being to whom we are thankful - dangerous ground to tread. So now, as soon as Halloween (err, Reformation Day) is over, out come the Christmas decorations, the candy, the advertisements, the Santas in the malls, and the badly-done popular renditions of once-revered Christmas carols, broadcast over the loudspeakers in every store.

Before I continue, I would like to make clear that I love many things about Christmas. I look forward to the Christmas carols, the traditional decorations, Christmas letters and pictures, exchanged gifts, visited family. This time of year is a special time to remember the miracle of Christmas: the virgin conception and birth of Jesus Christ. That is the part of Christmas that I love; however, that is not what this post is about.

The shopping frenzy that will peak over the next month truly makes me ill. The stores all vie for the consumer's money while the run-down consumer frantically tries to buy presents for everyone on her shopping list. Making a list, checking it twice, gotta find out who likes marbles or dice. Consumerism is coming to town. . .

My favorite Christmas movie, bar none, is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I find myself identifying with Charlie Brown whenever I watch it. Just like him, I become disillusioned every Christmas season because of the pervading commercialism. Maybe I should just face the facts, like Lucy charged Charlie Brown to do:

Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial
racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.

Then there is Sally (Charlie Brown's sister), the poster child for the American Christmas spirit:
Dear Santa Claus, How have you been? Did you have a nice summer? How is your
wife? I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I
want. Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible.
If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How
about tens and twenties?
The greed displayed by all - but especially kids - at this time of year is disgusting. As Sally told her brother: All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

Too many kids actually think that Christmas gifts are a "right," not a privilege. Too many parents feel that in order for their kids to have a good childhood, they must lavish them with excessive gifts each Christmas. I have heard people honestly list as a major reason for two incomes the ability to buy a lot of presents for their kids at Christmas time. I kid you not.

I am not against gift giving, and I especially like exchanging gifts with people I love. I think it is appropriate (although not necessary) for parents to give their children a few gifts at Christmas, symbolizing the first Christmas gift, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is also a fun tradition for siblings to exchange gifts, if the stress is on thought rather than size of gift.

I don't have a problem with gift giving if it doesn't become "Let's see how much we can lavish on our children so they have good childhood memories and love us (and Santa) lots" or "Ho-hum; I know I need to get a gift for Sally since she'll give one to me, but I haven't a foggy clue what she would want as I hardly know her."

In my extended family, in the past we have drawn names for gift giving with cousins. That worked well, although it got out of hand when the gifts became $30, $40, even $50 gifts! It also became very rote and unmeaningful as the cousins grew older and it was harder to find a gift that would be both appropriate and appreciated.

Of course there are always gift certificates. . .

*****ENTER HARDCORE CYNICISM*****

Really, I would have loved to have been in on the business meeting of the first store that offered gift certificates.

Tom: Many people come into our store and leave without finding the right gift. How can we make them buy their gifts at our store, even if we don't have the items they want? Some of the customers are even talking of just giving their friends money for gifts. If that happens, then there's no way to make sure they spend it here.

Harry: I know. Let's make up little pieces of paper called certificates that give people shopping money to spend at our store. For example, a person can by $5 worth of our merchandise with a certificate that someone else bought from us for $5.

Tom: C'mon. That'll never work. Why would someone pay us money so their friend has to spend their money at our store? What person would want money that has to be spent at a certain place?

Harry: It might work. We just have to put the right spin on it. "
The gift that's always the right size" or something like that. What do we have to lose? Better yet, let's make an expiration date on the gift certificates, so if they don't get used by a
certain date then we get paid for nothing.

And the rest is history. . .

*Disclaimer: I have probably given gift certificates as gifts before, and I don't mind receiving them as gifts. If you have given me (or someone else) a gift certificate in the past, I hold no grudges against you, especially if the alternative was a light-up Rudolph nose. I am just trying to expose the illogic of this practice that advertisers have made popular. There is no logical reason why a cash gift is tacky in our society, but a gift certificate is not. I do think that one reason to give a gift certificate would be to introduce someone to a store of which they had never heard.

The following are a few modern-day scenarios that will likely result in a gift certificate purchase:

Scenario 1: You picked Bob the sales clerk's name in the Secret Santa drawing. You've spoken to him once since you started your job, and all you know about his personal life is that he's married and hates golf. What are you going to get him for a present?

Scenario 2: Your extended family has a tradition of purchasing gifts for all the cousins. You have a teenage niece who lives on the other side of the country. You've seen her once in the past 5 years. Last year she received bath products, the year before was a designer candle. What are you going to get her for a present this year?

Scenario 3: Your aging parents are comfortably retired in their dream home. They do not want for any material things. You have given them a fruit basket twice before. What are you going to get them for a present this year?

A century ago the idea of a gift certificate would have been laughable, but there are cultural reasons why gift certificates are so popular today. It is primarily because Christmas gifts today are often not meaningful gifts for people with whom one is well acquainted. It's easy to think of a meaningful gift for someone who is close to you, or someone who has great needs, but in our society this is not often the case. Americans are so wealthy, and many people honestly do not need any material possessions.

Handmade items, such as jams, jellies, quilts, pies, etc. are a lost art to many, and our instant gratification society encourages fast gift shopping as much as it does fast food eating. I don't think that handmade items are equivalent to thoughtful gifts, so please don't get me wrong. I do think handmade items are a nice (and often superior) gift, and I do prefer to give handmade gifts myself. I think thoughtful gifts can also be purchased from a store, though, and many of the best gifts are free. I delight in giving and receiving gifts that reflect thoughtfulness behind them. This is the purpose of giving gifts, to show loving thoughtfulness to another.

Unfortunately gift giving has become a chore in our society as it has become out-of-hand and distanced from personal touch. Sad that such a nice tradition has been so marred. The religious significance and the time-honored traditions of Christmas has been so overrun by the commercialism. It makes me want to break into a nostalgic tune.

I'm Dreaming of a Lite Christmas. . .

As a Christian, I give gifts as a small picture of The First Gift of Christmas. I've always thought it would be neat to place gifts in a homemade manger, rather than under a tree. I am not opposed to trees, but I think it would be neat to use a manger, maybe in addition to a tree decoration. The First Gift of Christmas was placed in a manger, so it would be appropriate to place gifts to one another in a manger, since these gifts are to symbolize The First Christmas Gift. It would help us remember why we are giving gifts in the first place.

This Christmas season, I will likely have the urge at some point(s) to shout as Charlie Brown did: Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?

I am thankful that there is an answer to that question, and we aren't left to wonder. Thank you, Lord, for the Linuses in the world, who are there to remind us what Christmas is all about.

Linus:

Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you. Lights, please.

(A spotlight shines on Linus.)

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'.

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

7 comments:

Mr. Baggins said...

Dovetails nicely with my Thanksgiving day sermon. I agree with you wholeheartedly!

zan said...

I agree with your frustrations about how Christmas has turned commercialism but I don't think all of the commercialism is bad as I have mentioned before. The parents who are spoiling their children at Christmas are stupid and they probably spoil them the whole year round. My parents gave us a lot of presents when we were young. It was back when you could get cheap plastic dolls or dress up clothes inexpensively. We, my sisters and I, would play with these presents all year long. My parents probably DID go a little overboard but we were always thankful for everything we received. We didn't get everything we asked Santa for but we were not disappointed because we never got whatever we asked for. That was a way of life. (BTW, we never believed in Santa. My parents weren't clever enough to pull the Santa trick on us.)

I also love gift certificates. I love giving them and receiving them. Nothing better than getting a free dinner at a nice restraunt in my stocking. I think they are very considerate because, gift giving is hard and you want something that people will appreciate. If you give money, the person might use it for something they need, like gas for their car, but if you give them a gift certificate to their favorite store than they can actually get something they like.

As far as getting gifts for every person in your extended family, my hats off to you. I am married with my own family and the only people getting anything from me, other than my immediate family, are my sisters, parents and in-laws. As time goes on and my family grows I will probably stop purchasing gifts and just give food. I don't see the point in spending money on people who would rather just have a visit from you. My mother is even asking me not to buy anything for her this year.

I guess all the hustle and bustle that stresses the shoppers out and seems to upset you isn't upsetting me as much this year.I find it exciting. This is the first year my son will experience the lights and the decorations. It is the first time he will see a tree in the living room piled with gifts and appreciate them. A lot of the secular part of Christmas is for kids. I don't see anything wrong with this. Looking back at my childhood, it was the most exciting time of the year. As I matured I simply enjoyed the lights and the food and the Christams Eve service at church. (I didn't always go to a Christmas Eve service. When I joined the Presbyterian church I realized that a lot of Christians don't like religious holidays and think they aren't that important. That probably was one of the reasons I started to hate Christmas.)However, since I have been married to a Baptist (I am still Presbyterian in doctrine) I have loosened up a bit and think Christmas is a wonderful holiday that churches should not shun.

Anyway, that is another subject.

Christians need to keep their eye on the Gift God sent us and remember to teach their children this on Christmas and all year.

Oh, I don' t think their is this big conspiracy to gloss over Thankgsgiving. Christmas is commercialized to such an extent because so many stores rely on making the majority of their profits off Christmas shopping. Thanksgiving, to stores, is only about food, but Christmas involves just about every product out there. Christmas gifts are a big money maker and include everything from clothes, to toys to electronics. That is the difference.

I did love your Charlie Brown references. I wonder how much longer they will play that on TV annually?

I hope I didn't sound too picky. I really enjoyed your post but I don't think you should be so upset about it.

-Zan

Ashley said...

I think I disagree with you about Thanksgiving being un-secularized. Thanksgiving is all about food and turkey and getting a day off work. Oh yes, and the start of the Christmas shopping season. That is why they call today "Black Friday". :-) Perhaps it's because you don't watch much TV, but how often do you see "Give thanks"? Even the holiday name has been largely replaced with "Turkey Day". To many in the corporate world, it's a day (or two) off work. Of course it pales compared to the secularism of Christmas, but I just wanted to point that out.

Susan said...

Yes, Ashley, I realize I wasn't quite clear on what I meant in that regard. Me, not watch much TV?

I do realize that the true meaning of Thanksgiving is so glazed over in our culture, and I even mentioned "Turkey Day" in another blog. I guess what I meant is that it is harder for people to avoid the origins of Thanksgiving, since there is no fun magic character to focus on, and not a whole lot of commercialism outside of the food. Christmas has so many other religious holidays to compete with, which has resulted in a generic "holiday season."

I guess I meant that in comparison to Christmas, Thanksgiving is harder for people to secularize, not impossible. I am not by any means denying that the observance of Thanksgiving needs to undergo a drastic reformation. I realize I made that far from clear, though. I would have loved to blog on the backsliding of Thanksgiving observance as well, but I've been busy. Perhaps next year :).

Regarding "Black Friday," that was my whole point of bringing Thanksgiving up, that our culture overshadows Thanksgiving with Christmas. What better way to secularize a holiday than to overshadow it with something else?

Susan said...

Zan,

Regarding gift certificates, I don't think they are always inappropriate. I did sound a little harsh :) but that's because they are such an abused, and in general illogical idea.

I mentioned in my post that I thought one good reason to give a gift certificate would be "to introduce someone to a store of which they had never heard." I think giving a meal-out is also a nice idea, as you mentioned. My beef with gift certificates is:

(1) They often become too frequent, rote and, unthoughtful, resulting in swapping gift certificates 'round the Christmas tree.
(2) They are given in place of cash (which once again can often be in place of a meaningful gift)because we have somehow been conditioned to consider cash tacky, but gift certificates not. Weird.

If you have to buy a gift for someone whom you don't know well (or someone who you know would appreciate something like a restaurant certificate), then a gift certificate would perhaps be a good choice. But the reason you would be in the former situation is because of the ridiculous extent to which gift giving in America is tending.

Hope that clarifies my view on gift certificates.

zan said...

I guess I have never been in a situation where I was not happy to get a gift certificate. I give my parents gift certificates to their favorite restraunts or to Home Depot (they go there A LOT!) and they really seem to appreciate them. I have never used them exclusively instead of regular presents, though. It would be weird if there were a bunch of envelopes under the tree instead of nicely wrapped gifts.

However, the absolute best wedding gift I received was a gift certificate to a fancy restraunt. I know it sounds silly but the people from my work all chipped in some money and bought me it. My husband and I absolutely loved it.

(I don't know if you watch Neil Cavuto's show on the Fox News Channel, but he holds to your opinion about gift certificates. I thought that was interesting.)

-Zan

Susan said...

I guess gift certificates are partly personal preference. I don't mind occasionally receiving them. I just think it's sad how often they replace other, more lasting gifts.

I've never been unhappy to receive a gift certificate either, except ones to trendy clothing stores. Me trying to find something in Old Navy - now that was laughable. I'm just glad I've never received one to Gap or Abercrombie. I wouldn't have even bothered to go.

Nope, never even heard of Neil Cavuto. I watch little TV, and don't even have cable.