Festive 'Nog, Grog & Figgy Puddin'......
John A. Quayle
blueoval at SGI.NET
Wed Dec 22 00:26:58 MST 1999
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BreakPoint Commentary #91221 - 12/21/1999
O Come All Ye Shoppers: The Commercialization of Christmas
by Charles Colson
It was Christmas Eve, and the first of fourteen
thousand townspeople began streaming through the
building's huge double doors. A beam of light shone
down from above, as though from heaven itself,
highlighting an elaborate Nativity scene. Marble
angels gazed down upon the largest pipe organ in the
world. As people settled into their seats, the
organist struck a chord and led the crowd in singing
the first hymn: "O Come, All Ye Faithful."
Does this sound like a Christmas Eve service at a
1990s' megachurch? If you said "yes," you guessed
wrong. This spectacular Christmas celebration took
place, not in a church at all, but in a department
store. It was an annual attraction that drew
shoppers to the leading Philadelphia department
store, Wanamaker's, from the 1910s to the 1950s.
And it illustrates how America's Christmas
consumerism has some of its roots, ironically, in
our own Protestant tradition.
As strange as it may seem today, Christmas was not
always treated as a holiday in America. In the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, few Americans
really celebrated Christmas. Influenced by their
Puritan heritage, Congregationalists, Presbyterians,
Baptists, and Methodists viewed Christmas Day with
suspicion, regarding it as a Roman Catholic invention
with dubious origins. The emphasis on the Nativity,
they believed, grew out of devotion to Mary.
For example, in 1659 the Massachusetts General Court
outlawed the celebration of Christmas. In the 1770s a
Presbyterian teacher described Christmas as being
"like other Days, in every Way calm & temperate.
People go about their daily business with the same
Readiness." Even as late as the 1880s Methodists
insisted that Christmas was simply a day of family
reunions and good works. "We attach no holy
significance to the day," a Methodist publication
Protestant reluctance to celebrate Christmas had one
major side effect. In his book Consumer Rites,
Princeton professor Leigh Eric Schmidt writes that
keeping Christmas off the Church calendar helped pave
the way for its inclusion in the secular calendar.
While clergy downplayed Christmas, businessmen and
department store magnates like John Wanamaker stepped
in where angels feared to tread, fostering the
celebration of Christmas in the marketplace instead
of the church. As Schmidt put it, Christmas became
"one more market day, a profane time of work and
For some of us, this is shocking news. Could the roots
of Christmas consumerism be in our own tradition?
Well, history suggests that Christmas became such
a commercialized holiday, in part, because
Protestants did not make it a holy day.
Of course, the celebration of Christmas in the
marketplace is not all-bad. Many of us delight in
shopping in stores decked with boughs of holly while
listening to Yuletide carols as we select gifts for
our friends and families.
So if we're partly responsible, let's make up for it.
Instead of just griping about the commercialization of
Christmas, let's do something about it. Let's make
up for our past errors by filling our churches this
Christmas. If we present to the world a worshipping
community, they'll be drawn to the real thing--not a
manufactured substitute. If our candle-lit Churches
and Cathedrals are full of Christians living in real
harmony and love, then nothing in those
glittering shopping malls can possibly compare.
Because there, in the community of faith, we can
fully grasp the significance of our Savior's birth.
And nothing gives us more cause for joyous
celebration than that.
Copyright (c) 1999 Prison Fellowship Ministries
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