It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And it’s starting to bug me just a little bit.
I like Christmas as much as the next Christian. By that I mean the feast of the Nativity. Even if you have seen your share of yules, you’ll be able to discover something new in the Gospel readings, in the idea of the Incarnation or in the image of Jesus “dwelling among us.” What’s more, Advent, the wonderful windup to Christmas, is a spiritual banquet, offering myriad ways of tasting God’s grace. Just think of the “O antiphons” sung at evening prayer and as the Gospel acclamations in the days preceding Christmas. “O Wisdom,” “O Lord,” “O Root of Jesse” and the rest date back to the ninth century. It takes a stony heart not to be moved by those ancient words. That Christmas I like.
The Christmas I don’t cotton to is the one you probably don’t like either: the commercial one. This year what irked me most were the hackneyed slogans companies deployed in their December campaigns, which tried to have it both ways: using religious themes without actually being religious. Call it faith-based advertising. (Inci-dentally, it’s not as if you have to go searching, like the Wise Men, for these catalogs, magazine ads and commercials; they are all but inescapable in December.)
Some aren’t half bad. This year J. C. Penney’s ads featured the slogan “The Joy of Giving.” (Giving, needless to say, is laudable.) On the other hand, the store’s standard ad slogan seems an unlikely one for a department store: “Every day matters.” Every day matters? When did Deepak Chopra start writing ad copy for J. C. Penney?
By the way, if you examine their flyers, you’ll discover that “Every day matters” is a registered trademark. This means, I suppose, that the next time you say to a friend, “Every day matters,” you owe J. C. Penney a few pennies. Try Carpe diem instead. That’s still free.
Some advertisers seemed unable to decide how religious their ads could be. Many stores want to glom onto the Christmas angle without being Christian, which would be a challenge even for Don Draper and his “Mad Men” copywriters. The cover of my Land’s End catalog, bursting with preppy families who divide their time evenly between laughing dementedly and petting horses, says, “Make it Merry!” Make what merry? Celebrating Christ’s birth or petting a horse?
Magic is another popular word on Madison Avenue. Pier One’s catalog said, “Make Christmas Magic!” All I can think of is Mary and Joseph standing around Harry Potter in a manger.
The winner of this year’s most unfortunate catch phrase is a tie between Macy’s and Eddie Bauer. Macy’s shopping bags say, “A million reasons to believe!” In what? What does Macy’s want us to believe in? That God became fully human? (Imagine that on a bag.)
Just as silly was the cover of the Eddie Bauer catalogue, which says, “We believe.” As with Macy’s, I was curious to find out just what Eddie Bauer believed in. The indwelling of God? The two natures of Jesus? Well, not exactly. Page three had their creed: “We believe in the world’s best down!” I just hope they’ve heard about the new Mass translations. In two years, they’ll have to say, “I believe in the world’s best down.”
I know this is the way marketing works, using anything to hawk a product. And I’m sorry to be a stickler, but it’s strange seeing the Christian faith being used and denied at the same time.
Nonetheless, I try not to get too upset about it, because I don’t want commercialism to ruin my Christmas Day. Or any day. Because I believe that, as that great spiritual master J. C. Penney once said, “Every day matters.”