The Benefits of a Commercialized Christmas

I despise the commercialization of Christmas as much as the next Catholic, but we are foolish not to leverage the many (mixed) blessings afforded to us by technology and capitalism.

One of the cleverest mockeries of the virtue-signaling yard sign has to be this holiday-themed one. It reads:

IN THIS HOUSE, WE CELEBRATE
HAPPY HONDA DAYS 
LEXUS DECEMBER TO REMEMBER 
TOYOTATHON
MERCEDES WINTER EVENT 
CHEVY RED TAG SALES EVENT 
DECEMBER IS ABOUT SAVINGS

It’s deliciously perfect, poking fun both at the auto industry, for its egregious commercialization of Christmas, and at those who subscribe to what my friend and Spectator editor Matt Purple calls the Left’s version of the Nicene Creed.

It’s not really political defiance, observes Purple, but a hollow, self-serving profession of faith in progressive politics. By extension, the ironic mimicry of it, with its tongue-in-cheek celebration of holiday-themed car deals, is then not all that different, simply shifting the object of faith to our consumerist, capitalist culture. 

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That said, is the commercialization of Christmas all that bad?

In one sense, the answer must, of course, be…yes, it is. This year, I heard an ad on the radio in October alerting me to the fact that the “holiday season has begun.” No, actually, it hadn’t. If we’re talking about the Christmas holiday season, it would be a stretch, but you might say it begins at the beginning of Advent. Of course, Advent is supposed to be about preparing our hearts for the real Christmas season through self-denial: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, not parties and gift-buying. We’re supposed to go into the desert, not Target.   

Then again, if you go to Mass regularly, I’m guessing you have probably heard plenty of homilies denouncing the commercialization of Christmas. I certainly have—the deacon at my church, every Advent, recycles the same pre-Christmas homily denouncing its evils. It’s not a bad homily, and I suppose all of us, ever-tempted by mammon, benefit from getting our annual reminder to remember the true “reason for the season.” But I wonder if there might be some actual goods we miss if we attend only to complaining about how modern, avaricious capitalism distracts us from the true meaning of Christmas.

Consider our music options. When I was a child, my mother really enjoyed Lessons and Carols from King’s College at Cambridge. Sometimes, in December, we’d hear it played on the classical music station. PBS would offer a video recording of it, as well. It was delightful. But you had to schedule your whole week around it, otherwise you’d miss it.

Now, you can watch many years of Lessons and Carols from King’s College on YouTube (including from 1954!). You can listen to entire albums of it on Pandora, all for free—granted, of course, you have a smartphone or computer at your disposal. 

How about Handel’s Messiah? When I was a kid, the only way you’d hear that, short of an expensive concert in a big city, was buying a cd or tape of it. Now, you can watch entire performances of it, from some of the best musicians in the world. One version from the Sydney Opera House has been viewed two million times on YouTube! Today, if we so desire, we can fill our ears (and our homes) with the most beautiful Christmas music in the world for the entire month of December…for free! Thank you, free streaming content websites and apps!

Then there’s all the other edifying non-musical Christmas-related content. We have a plethora of Catholic podcasts—and radio programs that leverage the podcast apps—that can help us prepare our hearts during the Advent season and then celebrate the Octave of Christmas. A few decades ago, you were lucky if you had a Catholic radio station in your area. Otherwise, you had to buy a tape or a CD, perhaps from Lighthouse Media.

Or consider the many great religious publications which, even if they charge for a print subscription, offer free content online. Of course, there is Crisis, and its sister site, Catholic Exchange. But there are so many excellent other ones they are impossible to count. To name a few: Catholic World Report, The Catholic Thing, New Oxford Review, Catholic Answers, National Catholic Register, Catholic Stand. That doesn’t even count publications like First Things, which, though not explicitly Catholic, regularly publishes some of the greatest Catholic thinkers in the world. Thank you, podcasts and blogs!

Finally, consider Christmas decorations. Before the Internet, you’d have to either visit your local box store or find some Catholic store, either nearby or that sent out catalogs, to purchase whatever decor you desired to enrobe your domicile in the Christmas spirit. The stuff was likely produced on an assembly line in some communist country like China or Vietnam. 

Now, with a few clicks, we have innumerable options to buy beautiful, even bespoke Christmas decorations that fit our particular pieties and devotions. On Etsy, we can order custom Christmas decorations made by skilled artisans, many of them Catholic, across the United States. And we can get them shipped to our homes in a matter of days. Thank you, gig economy!

By this author:

Don’t get me wrong; I despise the commercialization of Christmas as much as the next Catholic. Every autumn, the Christmas sales begin earlier. And every year witnesses the appropriation of Christmas for explicitly un-Christian things. The Washington Post, on December 4th, published an article about LGBTQ+ holiday movies and another article about drag queens seeking to co-opt Christmas parades. No thank you, Hallmark. And no thank you, groomer.

That said, we are foolish not to leverage the many (mixed) blessings afforded to us by technology and capitalism. Yes, smartphones come with all manner of frustrations and temptations. But if you have one, why not use it to play beautiful, God-honoring Christmas music or orthodox Catholic podcasts on your commute or while ferrying kids to Nutcracker performances? 

Sure, social media reflects a certain degradation of human communication. So, why not post a link to a great Catholic article regarding St. Nicholas or Advent? And if you need Christmas decorations, forget about “made in China” and find a Catholic artist online who can ship you something wonderful that can be an heirloom for your children.

My grandfather, jokingly, once commented: “Santa killed Jesus.” There’s a grain of truth to that. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The commercialization of Christmas needn’t make us into scrooges if we can appropriate the technological and commercial opportunities availed to us. My grandfather, jokingly, once commented: “Santa killed Jesus.” There’s a grain of truth to that. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Tweet This

So, fill your house with Handel, pull up a podcast, and order an icon. And, if you’re feeling particularly punchy, order a custom-made “Happy Honda Days” for your lawn. It will at least get the neighbors talking!

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