The National Catholic Review

Now that your Christmas gifts are stored away (or returned), the Christmas tree ornaments are tucked away (or broken), and the Christmas tree needles are successfully vacuumed from your carpet (or not—in my family we’re still discovering in our shag, recreation-room carpet the needles from a notorious needle-shedding tree from 20 years past), it’s time to start thinking about Christmas 2002.

I hope next Christmas is a lot different from this one. Not that it wasn’t enjoyable, mind you. Rather, this was the year in which the Christmas commercialism wave (tsunami is more like it) seemed to crest. Perhaps what made it more noticeable were the post-Sept. 11 predictions about how we were going to see a far different Christmas, with less commercialism and more emphasis on the spirit of the season. This turned out to have been one of the more wrongheaded predictions of 2001.

If anything, the holiday commercialism was more intense, and the commercials more intrusive. For example, how many TV commercials for the Gap did you see? You know, the ones with various singers singing “Give a Little,” when they really meant “Buy a Lot”? And how many times did you see that annoying Jaguar commercial in which the wife gives her husband a little toy car, which prompts the husband to pout sullenly, until he sees in the window behind him...a new Jaguar? Hooray, Christmas wasn’t a waste after all! It reminded me of those odious Longines watch ads from years past where the woman opens a gift box and says, “I was hoping for a Longines.” I used to think: if she doesn’t clam up, next Christmas she’s not getting anything.

But what really dampened my holiday spirits were the increasing numbers of friends who normally rejoice during Yuletide, but who expressed variations of “I don’t like Christmas anymore.” Apparently, the increasing pressure to find the perfect gift, (e.g., a Jaguar), the increasing numbers of people on their card lists and the increasing numbers of holiday office parties now make Christmas, at least for some people, something to be dreaded.

In other words, a fair number of level-headed Christians dislike Christmas.

Along around the middle of December, I started to think that perhaps Easter offers us a better model for celebration. You never, for example, hear people saying, “Easter gets worse every year!” Or, “If I have to go to one more Easter party, I’ll throw up!”

For most Catholics, the focus of Easter is not gift-giving, card-sending, e-shopping or partygoing, but the liturgical events of Holy Week. I know many Catholics who spend a good deal of time considering what churches they will attend for each service: a real effort is made to find liturgies that will speak to them spiritually. And the more elaborate and time-consuming their plans, the more touching I find it. “Okay,” a particularly ambitious friend told me last year, “I’m going to St. Ignatius for the Holy Thursday Mass, to St. Francis Xavier for the Good Friday service, to the cathedral for the vigil, and on Sunday morning back to St. Ignatius.” He sounded like Eisenhower planning D-Day. In any event, liturgy, not shopping, still seems to lie at the center of Easter for most Catholics.

When I proposed this idea to a few people—that Christmas should be more like Easter—I noticed that the closer Dec. 25 drew, the more people were in favor of it.

On the other hand, I mentioned this to my mother, who quickly brought me down to earth. In our home neighborhood, she said, people have started to hang multicolored plastic eggs on their trees during Lent, and even put up pastel-colored “Easter lights” on their homes. Aghast, I mentioned this to a Jesuit friend.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” he said. “The Easter Bunny makes visits to the mall near my parents’ house and hands out toys.”

Anyway, so much for my revolutionary proposal. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a lot of Easter cards to address. And it’s never to early to start shopping for Pentecost.

James Martin, S.J., an associate editor of America, is author of In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.

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