It is this time of year when I often hear folks lamenting (especially preachers!!!) over how "commercialized" Christmas has become. On the one hand, folks want to complain that the "reason for the season" has been forgotten, but on the other hand, they get right out in the mix with everyone else and shop. But I wonder if, instead of whining or putting on guilt-trips, we could finally just say that the commercialism can be quite a good thing?!?
If we go back and look at the story of St. Nicholas himself, a bishop of Myra in 40 CE, we find that the feast / festival or holiday that has come to be associated with him, has always carried a sense of gift-making, gift-buying and/or gift-giving. The spirit in which St. Nick (or Sinterklaas in Dutch and now Santa Claus in English) and his giving charades are celebrated today is not all a bad thing. I mean, on the one hand, we are boosting the economy when we get gifts (that is, if we buy them), which can be a good thing. I think, however, that the real problem arises when the focus is on "getting" gifts instead of "giving" them. A healthy middle ground kind of anticipates participating in both; this is a good, satisfying, communal practice!
Putting the thought into making or getting gifts can be very rewarding to both the giver and getter. This is not to say that one MUST give presents to others. It is, however, to suggest that commercialism isn't a demon that we must exorcise from the holiday in the name of pseudo-piety; in fact, it has always been a part of the festivities! Even for St. Nicholas, who, while a very serious man (probably not as jolly as we're prone to thinking), giving because God gave is central to the holy day we celebrate. Yes, Jesus is "the reason for the season" but our giving should be done in the spirit that we give because God gave first. And if giving takes buying or making, that's just fine; again, commercialism isn't always antithetical to religious faith. If giving simply means being present, that is, giving the gift of presence, then that is fine too! However, maybe we should be a little more cautious about how caustic we often are during Christmas about shopping and gift-giving. Besides, we don't condemn people for shopping throughout the other 11 months of the year! Sure, if we do all of this shopping during Christmas while ignoring everything else, that is problematic. But if we are doing it with the right motives, then there should be no real problem with it. This is not to say that people should spend beyond their means or shop just because they can, it is to say, however, that when we spend, we should do so with a sense of economic justice. Just as well, many should try to be a lot less hypocritical for, if they do not want to give gifts that is their choice but they should not condemn or patronize others, especially those with pure motives!