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James Martin, S.J.December 13, 2010

Face it: The war on Christmas is lost.

When did it end? Well, there won't be any official declaration of surrender from churches, so it's hard to pin down. There will be no C.E. Day (Christmas Ends.) But, in my mind, the war was decided this year. This year almost every major department story put up its red-and-green decorations the day after Halloween; most marketers had expunged references to the Christian feast in their generic ads; "Cyber Monday" became a definitive addition to the lexicon as one more day to consume, and several years had passed since "Black Friday" became not simply a day to shop for bargains, but a time when Americans expect stories of shoppers being trampled (sometimes to death) at 4 a.m.

This was also the year when many Christians I know, who still celebrate the Birth of Christ, began to dread the season, to the point where they asked themselves an uncomfortable question: Is the one day that is still (more or less) reserved for religion (Dec. 25) worth the two months that precede it?

Anyway, after years of battles, the war has ended. Madison Avenue has annexed the valuable territory between Halloween and New Year's Day. BBD&O, take a bow. J. Walter Thompson, step into the winner's circle. DDB, congrats.

Now, if you're not Christian, you might say "So what?" But if you are, you might notice some sad results.

For one thing, many Christians (and non-Christians) now feel completely overwhelmed with the demands of the consumerist holiday. Not news, you say? Well, the difference now is that the pressure to buy, decorate, spend, send, mail, bake, prepare, party and plan, which used to be confined to ads for a few weeks after Thanksgiving is now a two-month bacchanal in newspapers, television, radio, your mailbox, your smart phone, your email, and on the web. Anything digital (and what is not these days?) is an opportunity for an ad placement. The push to buy is everywhere and anytime. What has changed is the omnipresence of the consumerist offensive.

One of the war's hidden casualties has been the ability of religious people to resist the commercialism and keep the day holy. The one who decides not to engage in an orgy of gift-giving, who eschews two months of bargain hunting, may feel like a spoilsport. You're not buying gifts? You're not sending cards? You're skipping parties? Scrooge.

What's a Christian to do?  Time to start working in the underground movement.

Read on.

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Martin Gallagher
13 years 7 months ago
Nice post, Fr. Martin.

I'm trying to promote an appreciation of advent with my kids.  Many other parents are doing the same.

david power
13 years 7 months ago
"Catholicism, in particular, has, for fifty years, now, been living through a sort of ragged Puritanism that doesn't recommend itself to many people other than theologians. "

What a great piece of phrasing!

Jim McCrea
13 years 7 months ago
If all the Christians - including Catholics - who didn't want to engage in the orgy of Mammon that Christmas has become didn't do it, things would change.

So much for Christianity taking hold in the lives of Christians when it comes to the Birth of the Savior.

Oh, I see, it's all about peer pressure, what about the kids, blah blah blah.

If that's the case, kwitcherbitchin.
13 years 7 months ago
Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.
Proverbs 11:6-8
david power
13 years 7 months ago
Who  decides when the war is over?"Mission Accomplished" signs anyone ? What was happening on the ground and in the minds  of Iraqis and Al Qaeda  escaped Rummy and W. But it was they who got the headline. 
 Walking away  from Golgotha John and the women disciples must have thought the war was over and that the multitudes had silenced Christ forever.
 This Christmas many many people will feel something in their souls and this will be followed up a lot more than what passes before their minds from the barrage of commercialism.  Every person who comes to Christ must have eaten ,drunk and was still not merry.That has been the experience of man for twenty centuries . On the parties and stuff not just religious but all of us should bear in mind what St Paul said about a true detachment . Parties,gifts (The Jesuit Guide),and all the other elements can be done with a healthy indifference and even with  joy. As the great MSW said it is not either/or but and/and.           
Beth Cioffoletti
13 years 7 months ago
I agree, the underground is where to be!

Many years ago (like the 70s and 80s) there was an organization that promoting simple living and keeping the sacredness in holidays.  They helped me to keep my sanity as I was raising my child.  I followed their publications for many years, and then somehow lost track of them.  Either they gave up for lack of a following or went deeper underground.

I am especially blessed this year to be out of my usual environment, tucked away in a Northern hideaway with nothing much to do but watch the snow.  I love the darkness, quiet and mystery of December.  It's a little like Xmas.

At the Trappist monastery near where I grew up the church was completely stark until Xmas day, when a simple wreath was put on the door.  Would that I could find an underground church like that!

Marie Rehbein
13 years 7 months ago
The other day my son and I were driving down one of the major streets of our city, and I pointed that one of those inflated Santa Claus figures had deflated.  My son said, "war on Christmas, drive-by shooting".
13 years 7 months ago
Father, don't get discouraged.  There has been talk that Christmas is too commercial since I was a kid.  And here we are still celebrating our Savior's birth.  Only a couple weeks ago we were at the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show and they had a 10 minute stable tableau with hymns about Christmas.  As good as I have ever seen and in the heart of New York City.  Mr. O'Laughlin told how the Christmas spirit got an agnostic and a Mormon into a Catholic Church for a sampling of Catholic liturgy.

Also, the commercial activity could be a way of making some people's Christmas a little nicer.  After all we have a serious unemployment problem in this country and consumer activity will help more than a few.  If everybody cut back, then this could be a grim Christmas for a lot more people who need the business this time of year to make it.  God moves in mysterious ways.

The real challenge is how do we channel our consumption into more wholesome ways not abandon consumption.  If we reduce consumption to any great extent, then we essentially unemploy tens of millions more. 
Peter Lakeonovich
13 years 7 months ago
As a young parent of a 13-month old, I couldn't agree with you more, Fr. Jim.
But all the "noise" leading up to Christmas (i.e., think the line outside St. Patrick's Cathedral before midnight Mass, tickets to which are not immune from the consumerism culture, and everything else surrounding it), all that "noise", I think, makes the calm and peace that set in when we sing Silent Night so much more appreciated.
David Harvie
13 years 7 months ago
No, Fr. Jim, you cannot lose hope...oy if you lose hope, then we are truly lost! 

I found a great counter-argument in Loyola Press's Advent blog (http://deepeningfriendship.loyolapress.com/2010/12/13/prayer-on-the-run/). 

It is all in the spirit in how things are done...finding God in all things and all times, right?  Happy Advent!


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