Views that never cease

Consumerism hurting the real meaning of Christmas - Dr P R Kalia

Spending more isn’t celebrating better. Much like Christmas in the West, Indian ‘festival of lights’ has become a celebration of consumption. Buy gifts for friends and family, but when you’re giving or opening those presents take a moment to think about what you’re celebrating.

Christmas is no longer associated with the birth of Jesus Christ, like it is intended to be. It has become simply a gift-giving day. Where everyone gets sucked into the buy, buy, buy mentality, and they forget the real meaning of the holiday. Today it has become nothing more than the greatest gimmick for corporations to make millions at this time of the year. Christmas used to be a very special time just a few years ago, but how sad that we have relinquished our spirit of tradition to the way of commercialization.

Though it’s November, Christmas is still almost a month away, but one would think its next week with all the decorations already out. It used to seem like stores would wait until after Thanksgiving to bring out the Christmas gear, but each year it seems to come earlier and earlier. Soon you will be able to buy a Christmas tree in July. This is all part of a trend to commercialize Christmas.

Indeed, come festival time – any festival, Christmas, Dewali, Eid, Hanukah – pious laments are echoed in the media about the ‘commercialization’ of what are meant to be religious observances. Diwali festival, much like Christmas in the West, has also become commercialized into a vulgar show of purchasing power. Traditionally, it was a time for spirituality, being with the family.  Today, people spend far more than they can afford to with a view to providing proof of their alleged social success to their family and friends.

This cash-register religiosity is deemed deplorable, particularly in ‘poor’ countries, where it exploits religion in order to indulge itself. Lavish spending in the name of spiritual belief? What blasphemy.  And so it might be – in the Semitic tradition. The Semitic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – enjoin austerity as a core belief. The Biblical injunction that the rich man’s chances of getting to heaven are on a par with a camel passing through the eye of a needle makes wealth a sin.

In reality, however, many of the traditions we partake of at Christmas time didn’t start with Jesus’s birth. Things like gift-giving, caroling, and elaborate meals had been taking place for years before Jesus’s birth in celebration of the Winter Solstice. As the Christian religion began to spread in the years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the Winter Solstice celebration merged with the Christian celebration of Jesus’s birth. This was a secular celebration long before it was a Christian celebration. Where the early Christians acted for piety, the new crusaders — advertisers — acted merely for greed.

Americans routinely spend nearly $1,000 on gifts for friends and family. This mass consumption does not come without costs — and we don’t mean purchase costs. The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2000 calculated that human impact on the environment, which has increased by 50 percent during the last 30 years, is now 30 percent more than the planet can sustainably handle. This massive “ecological footprint” is largely driven by personal possessions. Material goods — the things of which Christmas presents are made — require energy and materials in production, transportation and disposal.

Anyway, what’s the purpose of Christmas? Christmas is supposed to be about Love. But, today majority of people just love Christmas because of the gift buying. Question arises, after-all what the Christmas is truly about. If you stop and think a minute, the wise men who came to see Christ, sacrificed by traveling many weeks, hardly resting to reach the star where Christ lay. This is sacrifice and love. There are people in this country that help the homeless, not only during the Christmas season, but all year by helping out at shelters. There are people who collect blankets, clothing, personal hygiene items throughout the year. On Christmas day, they go out into the city with these items and food they had collected the weeks and days before and distribute the items to the homeless. This is what the spirit of Christmas truly is.

It is evident that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas because we have fallen into the corporate gift buying trap. Is there any wrong with buying gifts? No, we don’t believe so. We guess the real complaint is that the commercialization of Christmas has tainted the real meaning of the holiday.

So, have fun, enjoy the season, encourage one another, and spend time with the people you love. If the commercialization of Christmas bothers you, ignore it. Even if most people don’t celebrate a baby in a manger, the holiday season is always filled with generosity, peace, and love. Remember what the season is about, and enjoy it.

[Dr. P. R. Kalia can be contacted at]



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