Christmas: The Missing Message
Feature Story: Richard F. Ames
What does Christmas mean to you? Does observing Christmas bring you closer to God? Or are “Christmas” traditions obscuring the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ’s real message?
What does Christmas mean to you? For many people, it is the most festive time of the year. Families come together to exchange gifts under a Christmas tree, perhaps near a fireplace where a Yule log is burning. Children beg Santa Claus to bring them their most desired presents. All around are traditional decorations—holly wreaths, mistletoe, bright lights and tinsel. From time to time, one may even find a “nativity” scene and a sincere desire to mark the birth of Jesus Christ.
For most retailers in professing Christian nations, the Christmas season is the most profitable time of the year, accounting for up to 40 percent—sometimes more—of annual sales. Christmas-related promotions may begin weeks—even months—before December 25. Santa Claus and his reindeer have been used to sell products ranging from soda to electric razors!
This year, in a time of economic downturn, businesses are concerned that Christmas revenues may be weak. As one reporter noted during “back to school shopping” season last August, “Consumers who feel threatened by the economy may delay their frugality until November and December. Little Jimmy needs notebooks, pencils and clothes for school. He does not need an XBox Kinect for Christmas” (Back-to-school shoppers aren’t scrimping—yet,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 18, 2011). It remains to be seen whether 2011 will reverse the anemic trends of some recent years.
Of course, for the wealthy, options abound. One famous upscale department store featured in its 2011 Christmas catalogue a life-sized edible gingerbread playhouse for children—at a price of $15,000!
Even for those of more modest means, “Christmas shopping” is one of the central traditions of the season. But the nature of Christmas shopping is changing in the Internet age. Earlier this year, British marketing firm eDigital Research reported that, in 2011, about one-third of consumers will be spending at least half of their Christmas-shopping budget online, while one in four will do up to three-fourths of their shopping on the Internet (“Gains for mobile shopping,” eDigital Research, August 24, 2011).
So, is Jesus’ message about consumerism? Is it a message of stress for those who rush about trying to stretch tight finances to purchase coveted consumer goods for friends and loved ones? Is it a message of guilt for those who do not spend enough, and a message of greed for those who are eager to receive the generous gifts of those around them?