When I read the title of this blog to my immensely rational wife, she gave me that look–the one that says, “Are you completely insane?” To which I silently replied, No, honey. Not completely. But as The New York Times has crowned me “The King of Christmas Fiction”, I have a stake in this whole Christmas affair and I’m pretty sure that I’m right about this. So before writing me off, take a moment to hear me out.
Every Holiday Season, as predictable as Egg Nog and Mistletoe, comes the familiar whine that “Christmas is too commercialized.” Humbug.
They’re making commercialization sound like it’s a bad thing. It’s not. The dictionary definition of commercialization is:
…to manage an activity or event in a way to make a profit.
You mean, the way smart people manage charities and schools and hospitals–all worthwhile things in my book. Yes, profits are a good thing–even for “non-profits”. Profits assure survival and sustainability. Without profits, businesses, products and productions, charities, churches and organizations disappear. No worthwhile endeavor ever disappeared because it was too profitable. Never happened. Never will.
Before I became a full time novelist, I was a copy writer at a small advertising agency. It was my job to commercialize things. And I quickly learned, as the Ad Council’s slogan says, “A terrible thing happens without advertising. Nothing.”
Nothing indeed. Just try to imagine a non-commercial Christmas. Begin by wiping out the Christmas decorations around your house and neighborhood that were created by people and companies with the hope of…wait for it…profit. The big plastic manger scene on your church lawn? Gone. Christmas tree lots? Nope, just bare asphalt. Those downtown Christmas decorations? Non-existent. They were put up by the local chamber of commerce to attract crowds to the downtown shops and businesses because crowds bring shoppers and shoppers…profits.
But let’s keep going. What about the sounds and music of Christmas that evoke such joy? It’s precisely because of the commercial value of Christmas that talented singers and song writers–from Bing Crosby to Taylor Swift–have, (no doubt with their agents and record labels’ nudge) created that Christmas music we enjoy. And it’s also the reason that radio stations play them for free.
The Christmas movies? Yep, produced for a profit. So erase your Grinches and Charlie Brown Christmases, It’s a Wonderful Life (which, initially, wasn’t so profitable) and George C. Scott in The Christmas Carol.
And Books? Yep. Profit’s there too. Dickens was in a personal financial crisis–a condition he hoped to alleviate–when he wrote the Yuletide classic A Christmas Carol in Prose.
For many businesses, the Christmas season is when they make the bulk of their profits, if not all of them. And a good thing happens when businesses make a lot of profits. In most cases the people behind those businesses start giving away money. Not just by spending more–which they do–and not just in salaries and Christmas bonuses, but in charitable ways as well. As the chairman of a charitable organization, The Christmas Box International, I can attest that there is a direct correlation between profits and Americans’ charitable giving–which is why, when the economy fell half a decade ago, nearly a third of all the charities in America closed their doors.
So is the complaint of commercialization about the act of gift giving itself? Is it that the purchasing of material goods distract from the “true” meaning of Christmas? My answer: Only if you let it. Yes, I’m as repulsed as you are by the avarice and violence of the Black Friday Wal-mart scenes that populate Facebook’s newsfeed every Holiday season. But that’s a few incidents out of millions.
To me, the true meaning of Christmas is about a gift–the gift of God’s redemption and hope. And what better way to celebrate this supernal endowment than to give gifts ourselves? Isn’t that what the original Christmas celebrants–the wisemen and magi–showed us? And this is where the anti-commercialization whiners are quick to quote the usually brilliant Emerson,
Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself.
But let’s roast this chestnut. Seeing that it’s unlikely that Emerson was speaking literally, like, by gifting a portion of thyself, he meant giving a finger or a kidney (the latter of which would no doubt make a fine Christmas gift for someone in need), Emerson must have been referring to our time and attention, which, ironically, is exactly what was required of me to make the money to buy that gift I gave you!
As a child I remember saving dimes and nickels to buy my brother a gift for Christmas—a Mad magazine paperback book. It cost $3.95, a veritable fortune, requiring that I save for months. And what joy that piece of commercialization brought both of us on Christmas morning and beyond. I still smile when I think of it.
Without commercialization, Christmas would likely be more like Easter, memorialized with a few sermons and hymns in church, for those who go to church. There wouldn’t be a Christmas season, there would be a Christmas moment, forgotten as quickly as the week’s sermon.
The truth is, too often people whine about the commercialization of Christmas because it makes them feel morally superior to those materialistic hedons they’re judging. But all this smugness is little more than pious self-aggrandizement and I have a strong suspicion that those “morally superior-whiners” are the same people who are decrying Starbucks coffee for not commercializing Christmas by plastering the word Christmas all over their coffee cups. Sorry, whiners, you can’t drink your coffee and have it too.
The bottom line is I think it’s the whiners who are the ones with the problem of commercializing Christmas in their hearts. As for me, I don’t feel it. The music and decorations and store window displays have all happily conspired to bring me fond memories of the season and Christmases past.
So bring on the non-stop Christmas carols and incessant television commercials, Christmas sales, black Fridays and cyber Mondays. Deck the halls and street lamps with foil and glitter, sell us peppermint stick Ice Cream and Elfs on the Shelfs, because all that glitter and glam is just a reflection of something much more beautiful and memorable–a communal celebration of family and joy and love and, yes, even the truest meaning of Christmas.
And, in the words of Scrooge’s nephew Fred, all that Christmas cheer “hasn’t harmed me any.”
Share if you’re not a humbug! Richard Paul Evans is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than thirty books. His latest book, THE MISTLETOE INN, is currently a New York Times bestseller and is now on sale. You may order your copies now at Amazon, at a discount, by clicking this link. THE MISTLETOE INN