Fighting the Commercialization of Christmas

On Black Friday weekend, shoppers set a record high of 9.36 billion dollars in retail sales, which is a 16.4 percent increase over last year’s sales. By the end of the holiday season, retail sales are projected to reach an alarming 97.4 billion dollars, which is a 17.2 percent increase over 2015!

And, listen – I’m not knocking Black Friday, I LOVE BLACK FRIDAY! While it may be shallow, we actually plan our Thanksgiving Day schedule around the door openings of whatever stores I need … okay, I want … to hit up that day. I love the crowds, the people watching, the witnessing of the unadulterated crazy that comes out in people. I love the rush of the deal and comparing all the money I saved at the end, even if it is just the merchandise industry making me think I saved a ton. I don’t even care; I love it all.

So, I am by no means trying to be a Black Friday hater, but I do think these statistics indicate more for our culture than just a healthy economy or some good sales.

I personally think they indicate something much less hopeful. When we look past the economics of it all, they indicate a culture that has allowed an obsession with materialism to take the place of the significance of Christmas. They point to a nation that is far more concerned with accumulating stuff than celebrating the essences of hope and goodwill.

Because we are a family that aligns with Christian beliefs, we personally believe Christmas is the time to reflect on the birth of our savior – or at least that is what the focus should be. But with the increased commercialization of Christmas, I have seen a shift away from that for so many families, mine included. I recently read a fascinating article that appropriately labeled this shift “neo-Christmas” with this chillingly accurate definition:

“This religion’s deity is Santa Claus, its house of worship the mall, its rituals shopping and decorating, and its heaven is a thriving economy. That is, Santa is the savior, not Jesus, because he ‘saves’ retailers from end of the year red ink.”

And it is not just the religious that are victim to this holiday commercialization; I have seen this take root in so many families. Families go into debt to make sure their kids get every last thing on their Christmas lists. People literally trample over other people because getting a deal on that HD TV is more important than an actual human being.

Christmas is no longer deemed a success based off of quality time with family and friends, teaching our kids how to serve one another, or spending time reflecting on the religious significance; rather, it is deemed a success based off what was or was not under the tree on Christmas morning.

At one point this was true even for my own family, and I am a pastor for crying out loud!

I have four children, and they, like most American kids, love everything about Christmas. Sure, they love Jesus and putting ornaments on their Jesse Tree. But, they also love presents and toys and inflatable Santa Clauses in people’s front yards. They think the song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is the funniest thing they have ever heard and die laughing at the keychain reindeer that poops candy. 

And despite my best efforts, the American culture has led them to grow up in a consumer driven environment, an environment that when not intentionally fought infiltrates every aspect of life – even Christmas – actually scratch that, especially Christmas. And I let it happen! 

This came to an apex two Christmases ago when all my little blessings came busting down the stairs at a sharp 5:30am ready to tear into the pile of presents, not just under the tree but next to it, in front of it, and adjacent to it. After all the presents had been opened {at approximately 5:36am} and our living room floor was covered in the carnage of wrapping paper and empty toy boxes, I overheard a short conversation between my two oldest listing all the gifts on their list that they DID NOT receive. It had not even been 10 minutes after opening a brand new haul of gifts and they were focused on what wasn’t under the tree, much less the eternal meaning of this holiday!

It was in that moment I realized that we had missed the boat. That we had lost a fight in the lives of our kids that we didn’t even know we were in. See, not only had we allowed the idol of materialism to sneak into our Christmas, we worked extremely hard to purchase these idols, bring them into our home, and wrap them in shiny paper!

After that Christmas, things in our family drastically changed. We took a sharp 180 degree turn away from the stuff and back toward the true meaning of Christmas.

Our kids still get presents, but they also have to work to raise money to purchase gifts to give away to others as well. Last year it was a roof for a family in Uganda and shoes for the two children we sponsor through World Vision. One year, my daughter sold tickets to an outdoor showing of Polar Express so she could buy a cow for a family in Tanzania. Yes, an actual cow that would bring financial stability to the life of that family for generations to come.

We also implemented the want, need, wear, and read concept. {Each kid gets something they want, something they need, something they can wear, and something they can read.} But, even then we altered a bit by combining the something they need to always be something they can also wear. We did this, yes, to fight materialism and entitlement, but also because of simple math. I have four kids, and even with this boundary we are still purchasing 12 gifts {not to mention buying presents for nieces and nephews – of which I have 9}. The cost of it all adds up quickly. Finally, on Christmas morning, we have a rule that no one lays a finger on any present until after we have read the account of Jesus’s birth from the Bible and thanked God for the gift of his Son through prayer.

Our communities have enough selfish, inwardly-focused people, but true acts of service and kindness are unfortunately more rare. So, as much as possible we want to raise kids that work hard in order to give generously, not consume extravagantly.  Especially during the Christmas season, but really … all year.


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