Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finding our true Christmas

Bad economy or not, Christmas must go on.

We hear every Christmastime from pure believers decrying the contamination of Christmas by commercialism. They bewail the loss of the true spirit of Christmas. Today’s consumer society, according to them, has eroded the spirituality and sacredness of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and that crass materialism is leading us to an immoral lifestyle.

But to retailers and shopping malls, Christmas is the largest economic stimulus the economy terribly needs during this financial crisis. Nothing can stop the Christmas shopping season. Oblivious of the big meltdown of financial giants on Wall Street, the ominous threat of bankruptcy by the auto industry, the massive loss of jobs, and the seeming inability of our government leaders and policymakers to stem the tides of recession or the possibility of depression, retail stores and shops will continue to introduce new products as people buy gifts, decorations, and festive items to celebrate Christmas the way they have known it since time immemorial.

When you and I were little kids, we looked forward to Christmas as that event when Dad and Mom would give us the gift we had always wanted. Price didn’t matter those days. But the modern age has changed everything, giving the consumers more choices. The best gift usually is the most expensive money can buy, and if one can afford it, what’s wrong with that? After all, it’s not the gift that really matters; it is the act of giving, the thought, the love, the joy—that’s what matters.

If only everyone can afford to buy a gift, then Christmas as a time of gift-giving could be a perfect event. But our society today is not configured perfectly, where everyone has equal means to satisfy their needs. The reality is that others are more equal; that only a few actually have the infinite resources to buy the best gifts they can give to their children while a majority of families take solace in making promises to their children of better days to come. I grew up savouring those promises and hoped the Big Day would bring something different.

To be cynical of today’s Christmas celebration as being tainted with too much commercialism is understandable, but to ignore the psychological value of giving and blaming Christmas for being commercialized is just hypocritical. It’s not the fault of Christmas that some of us can buy gifts while others can’t even provide a decent meal on the table. Christmas only highlights that disparity, which only tells us that as a society of caring people, we need to do more to spread the joy and cheer that Christmas is supposed to bring.

For instance, we can open up our homes this Christmas to the less fortunate. Adopting a homeless person is also giving, enabling another human being the warmth and comfort of a home, even if only for a night. Donating to the Daily Bread Food Bank or to the Salvation Army so they can share our goodwill to others is another way to give of ourselves this season.

As Christians, we don’t have to celebrate Christmas by surrounding ourselves with a sea of gifts just to remind us of God’s greatest gift to us. It is our faith in God’s selfless love and giving that we must affirm and live by daily. We don’t need the mass marketing of retailers and shops to prick our conscience so we can purchase their goods and give them away all in the name of Christmas. Christmastime has become to many people only a symbolic event, just as it is the biggest sales event for shoppers and retailers. But to Christian believers, the true meaning and spirit of Christmas is within us, every day, 24/7.

This means that if we subscribe to peace as one of the messages Christmas brings, then we must oppose all unjust wars such as the ongoing war in Iraq, the continuing hostilities between Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine, and the animosity against Islam under the guise of a war against terror. We can make a commitment to do so starting this Christmas and for all the days of the coming year.

This also means that we if believe in love that Christmas conveys, then we must embrace everyone as our brother and sister, that we are one in humanity with each other. In more practical terms, this means that we care if the people of Darfur must have to go through hunger and disease, or the people of Africa dying from AIDS, or the rest of the Third World continue to suffer from unfair trade agreements and exploitation of their cheap labour for the benefit of Western capitalism. Because we care, we will oppose the exploitation of the resources and economies of underdeveloped nations by the industrialized capitalist societies under the rubric of globalization. What better day to begin but this Christmas.

Finally, if glad tidings of joy are what Christmas ought to bring, then we must spread peace and love as the true message of Christmas to all, that in our heart of hearts, there is a place for everyone to be treated with respect and human dignity, regardless of who they are, rich or poor, believer or non-believer.

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