Compassion, Christianity or Consumerism? The True Meaning of Christmas
Contributing Writers for Wake Up World
Christmas has become symbolic of all that is wrong with our society. Much like the Grinch, whose heart was three sizes too small; our hearts have diminished in size due to the culture of fear, conformity, and consumerism in which we reside. As a result, we have lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas, and celebrate it in ways that are in direct opposition to its original intent.
This year, on Black Friday, I was reminded about the true meaning of Christmas. I choose not to celebrate Thanksgiving, but rather honor the Day of Mourning for our Native American brothers and sisters. I surrounded myself in nature and spent time at a cabin in small-town Western Wisconsin. The sights and sounds were serene. It was a true “silent” and “holy” night with no one around, yet I was far from being alone as I was immersed in the thriving and picturesque landscape provided by mother earth. And it was there, at the local gas station, that I re-discovered what the meaning of Christmas is really about.
Black Friday has become as much a part of the holiday season in the United States as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Families anxiously await the moment the retail stores open for those extraordinary deals, and quickly abandon their feelings of gratitude and “thanks” by indulging in competition and materialism, literally rioting, fighting with strangers for bargains as though we were fighting for our survival. Any sense of gratitude we may have tapped into are quickly banished, and consumerism takes hold once again.
I find it ironic that we published an article about the foundations of Thanksgiving last month — Celebrating Genocide: The Real Story of Thanksgiving — and were slammed by many readers for “ruining Thanksgiving”. We were told that it’s not a celebration of the dispossession of the American Indians, but that “the meaning has changed and it is about being thankful and having gratitude.” But, while this sounds good in theory, it is not practiced. And how could it be? As a nation, we have not collectively acknowledged our nation’s bloody past, much less healed the trauma it inflicted. Instead, we celebrate all that we have but ignore the genocide it took to get it. And so, the day before Thanksgiving is the second biggest drunken night of the year in America – behind only New Year’s Eve. We have a meal together and give thanks, but cannot even last a full 24 hours of gratitude before reverting to type, as Black Friday deals now start at 7:00 p.m. or earlier on Thursday, the “Day of Thanksgiving.”
It’s hard for me to buy into the concept of a day of gratitude when it starts with a hangover and, before it even ends, we ditch our families to wrestle with over others for materialistic ends. It leads to fights, people being trampled, arrests, and even a few deaths, all in an effort to purchase “things” to provide for our families for Christmas.
This is what Christmas has become; a season of shopping, not the season of giving. It is about money, consumerism, and materialism.
The Season of Giving
The United States retail industry generated over three trillion dollars during the holidays in 2013, with the average person spending about $750 on the holiday. Additionally, 33 million evergreen conifers are purchased each year, at around $35 each, for a market of $1.16 billion in Christmas tree sales.
It is estimated by a United Nations world hunger project that it would cost approximately $30 billion per year to end world hunger. Think about that. It would take only $30 billion per year to end world hunger, and yet, through the season of giving, Americans will spend $465 billion on our own material gratification, most of which is disposable and dispensable. This is not suggesting to abolish Christmas altogether, but if every U.S. household reduced their Christmas budget by only thirty-percent and contributed that money to impoverished communities, we would meet the forecast amount to end world hunger.
Wouldn’t that make a better gift? Wouldn’t that make for a better Christmas story, if all the resources in the world were utilized to making a better life for everyone rather than benefiting the few? Isn’t that what Christmas is about?
In fact, this is how the original story of Santa Claus arose. St. Nicholas was a monk born in the third century. He lived near modern-day Turkey and was admired for his kindness, compassion and generosity. Legends suggest that St. Nicholas gave away all of his wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. Over the years, we have created a mythical creature to symbolize this monk — Santa Claus. But, instead of going around and donating his wealth to the poor, our modern-day Santa Claus runs a foreign sweatshop that works around the clock to deliver material items to the world’s richest nations.
Living in a Material World
As a child, I remember this holiday used to be about sharing love, giving, and caring for one another. I have seen this idea evaporate as the years have passed, and I refuse to further participate in this distortion. So, this Black Friday, while millions were out searching for bargains, I found my own bargain – peace and tranquility, for free.
I find the word “bargain” quite ironic when talking about retail prices. One must realize that these really are not the great deals that are advertised; the standard retail markup is astronomical, and much of the goods sold on Black Friday are produced and priced specifically for these “sales”. Many United States corporations employ workers in sweatshops in countries like Bangladesh, India, China, Haiti, etc., paying far below minimum wages to people working in deplorable working conditions – typically 14-16 hours per day for seven days per week. It costs pennies to make these products, which attract massive markups that provide enormous profits for these corporations and their CEOs.
Here are the top ten annual salaries paid to the CEOs of retail corporations in the United States (as of 2013):
1. Michael Jeffries, Abercrombie and Fitch: $48,069,473
2. Gregg Steinhafel, Target: $19,707,107
3. Leslie Wexner, Limited Brands: $19,230,484
4. Michael Duke, Walmart Stores: $18,131,738
5. Paul Marciano, Guess: $14,399,134
6. Terry Lundgren, Macy’s: $13,840,531
7. Michael Balmuth, Ross Stores: $12,478,239
8. Gregory Wasson, Walgreens: $12,041,058
9. David Dillon, Kroger: $12,024,543
10. Steven Fishman, Big Lots: $11,924,662
The total? Over $180 million paid to just 10 retail executives.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking retailers are taking a loss on Black Friday sales — it is their most profitable day of the year.
|On Thanksgiving Day, the aptly named “Black Friday” begins on Thursday night.|
The Symbolism of Modern Christmas
Christmas is not a complete lie, we just need to understand that it has to do with symbolism. Santa Claus no longer has anything to do with St. Nicholas or helping the sick and needy. Santa Claus now represents the fat and jolly CEOs distributing merchandise around the world. The elves symbolize submissive sweatshop workers that get paid next to nothing, to provide your annual haul of material possessions. (Perhaps the reason they are so small in stature is because they represent the 10 year olds working 16 hours per day to provide wealth for their respective Santa Claus.)
Then, we tell children Santa delivers only to the “good” girls and boys, creating further separation. Again, it is symbolic — in actuality, only those children who have money and wealth receive gifts. How do you explain to a child in poverty that he did not get gift this year? By this mythical logic, poor children learn that they are “bad” children because Santa did not bring him gifts.
This tale of Christmas we share is a stark contrast to the true story of St. Nicholas. The real St. Nicholas was a kind, charitable bishop who made sacrifices to help those in need. Today, Christmas is a celebration that revolves around fulfilling greed, not need, at the expense of the poor.
The problem of sweatshop labor sporadically pops up in the news, but it has never gone away; we just selectively decide when we want to pay attention. It was all over the news in the 1990s with Nike and Gap found to have 10-13 year old kids working as slave in their sweatshops, earning those companies record profits. Every few years, there is a story on the slave labor that produces the clothes we wear. Then the corporation tells us they have looked into things and have made changes. Yet, just a few years ago a factory collapsed in Bangladesh killing thousands of people and we come to find that Walmart, Gap, Target, etc. were all having clothing made at these factories. If that had happened in the West, what kind of furor would have followed? But the public outrage over the torturous conditions it takes to make our consumer goods is quickly forgotten once we see the “great deals” on Black Friday and begin preparing for another Christmas consumer-fest. We forget what is real and important, and revert instead to societal patterns, consuming faster than any nation on earth, just because “Christmas time is here again.”
How did we get here? Through mass marketing schemes and the manipulation of human nature. We are collectively a group of people watching television, listening to the radio or surfing the internet, and the marketers simply pay money for air time — time in our minds — to tell people (particularly children) what they “need”. In true marketing fashion, the message they convey is: You’re not okay, but once you have these items, then you will be okay. It is based on fear, simultaneously creating a sense of lack in consumers and providing a way to temporarily ‘fill’ it.
A quote from Marilyn Manson says it all:
[T]he media wants to take it and spin it, and turn it into fear, because then you’re watching television, you’re watching the news, you’re being pumped full of fear, there’s floods, there’s AIDS, there’s murder, cut to commercial, “buy the Acura”, “buy the Colgate”, if you have bad breath they’re not going to talk to you, if you have pimples, the girl’s not going to f**k you… It’s just this campaign of fear, and consumption, and that’s what I think it’s all based on, the whole idea of ‘keep everyone afraid, and they’ll consume’.
The Christian Connection
The real genius-work behind this big façade is the connection between Christmas and Christianity. This too, stems from fear. We remind our children all year that if you are good then you will spend eternity in the clouds with a God, a nice old man who knows all, sees all and judges all… Or, if you are bad, you will burn in a pit of fire with a horrid man with horns. This patriarchal symbolism is then extended at Christmas time, when children are told that if they are good, a magical man from the North Pole who, just like God already knows if you’ve been “naughty or nice”, will deliver presents to them, rewarding their conformity to increasingly out-of-touch religious standards.
We instill this relationship between God, kindness and consumption into our children’s minds when they are impressionable — at a time in their development in which they believe it is true — with lasting impacts on their perception of the world.
Then, we plop our kids on Santa’s lap to place an order, listing out all of the things they want, then send them to school where they learn that those who do not participate in this ritual will not receive presents — and they become the social outcasts each December. After all, only “bad” kids don’t receive a visit from Santa Claus! When all is said and done, unspoken pressure to adapt to the model of goodness=gifts is put on children by television and media, by their parents and their society, and is subsequently reinforced by their peers — a cycle that now continues from generation to generation in an increasingly materialistic society.
I’m all for bringing joy and wonder to the lives of children, but is this really the only way we know to do it?
And all this in a so called “Christian nation.” Speak to any Christian at Christmas time and they will say, “What? You don’t believe in Jesus? You don’t want to celebrate this man who preached love and acceptance?”
My answer is No.
The bastardized Christian interpretation of “God” and the son “He” sacrificed due to our inherently “sinful” nature, has manipulated generations of humanity — and it is the foundation of this day’s celebrations. Love and acceptance are not what Christmas is about today, nor is it the function of organized religion in our modern world.
The father-figure God is dead. He has to be, in order for us to move forward. This interpretation of God has done more harm than good. It is a fairy tale that causes fear in children, has caused countless wars to be fought, and has caused many folks to keep secrets in shame rather than live their lives openly, as they are (religious intolerance of divorce and homosexuality are prime examples).
As George Carline once eloquently stated:
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