Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

O’Reilly and Buttars are Right

December 10, 2008

The Lord does care about Christmas retail campaigns!

Jesus Returns To Give Consumers Christmas Pep Talk

warning: contains satirical references to Christ. Do not click if you find such humor offensive

How Do We Measure Economics?

December 6, 2008

Mary Nelson, president emeritus of faith-based community development corporation Bethel New Life and contributor to Sojourners recently took issue with the narrow perspective with which our society and commentators view economics.

I’m tired of all the frantic talk about how much or little consumers are spending over this Holiday time. Something’s wrong with an economy based on consumer spending, with kids thinking the measure of parents’ love is the gifts they get. We need to figure out a new kind of gauge of well-being, of quality of life, not only for individuals in families, but for communities as well. Studies share that people who are rich in relationships, who are involved in sharing beyond themselves, live longer and have a higher quality of life. A recent radio show shared ways to make this Holiday time special for kids…doing things with them, together volunteering in homeless shelters or food programs, baking cookies and sharing them with a homeless shelter. A different measure (“A Different Economic Measure: Quality of Life and an Economic Bill of Rights,”).

In our modern culture, economics has come to refer almost exclusively to finance. We seem to think that it can all be quantified in concrete figures, such as profits and losses, market share, job numbers, import/export ratios, stock valuation, or GDP.

The word “economics” comes from the Greek oikonomia, “household management.” Budgets and finance are certainly an important part of managing a household, but they are hardly the only aspects. One who runs a household without taking into consideration the holistic well-being of the family—the distribution of materials, the relationships, the emotional growth, etc—are likely to find their family crumbling around them.

Mary rightfully points out this problem. The conventional economic indicators are grossly inadequate to answering the real question of our economic well-being, of whether or not the financial and productive activity is contributing to the health of our society. Slavish devotion to those indicators will lead to economic recommendations—Increase consumer spending! Get people borrowing!—which will not be conducive to the well-being of society.

We need to try to take into account the humanistic aspects of our economy. Is the wealth generated being distributed in a meaningful way throughout the economy, or does it pool among a few? Is that wealth meeting their needs for food, shelter, mental and emotional growth, etc? How are those at the lower margins doing? Is there a sense of security about provisioning, or is society anxious about their future prospects? Are people happy?

British Economist E.F. Schumacher insisted that we needed to take into consideration the human aspects of economics. From Schumacher’s ideas has grown the concept of the more holistic Buddhist economics. Some have even tried to find more holistic indicators, such as a Gross National happiness.

Given the financial troubles we’re facing right now, this may be an ideal time to reflect and reorient. I’m confident that we will better help society restore and maintain a healthy household if we must find a way to reclaim that broader perspective of economics.

Stop the Cavalry

December 5, 2008

One of my favorite quasi-Christmas songs, particularly in light of the last few years. It was fun to find the video recently. Rather poignant.

Chris Buttars’ Christmas Demands

December 3, 2008

Since the rest of the Utah blogosphere is abuzz with the news of Chris Buttars’ Christmas buffoonery, I might as well get into the game.

The West Jordan Republican is having a resolution drafted for the 2009 Legislature that he said asks retailers not to “exclude Christmas from your holiday greetings.” Resolutions, of course, cannot be enforced.

Buttars said he is seeking the resolution because he was contacted by several employees of a retailer he declined to name that had been told they couldn’t say “Merry Christmas” to customers.

“We have a war on Christmas,” Buttars said, invoking the battle fought this time of year by conservatives nationwide, including, since 2005, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, who has said the issue is at the center of the nation’s culture war ( “Buttars says bah to ‘holiday’ greetings,” Deseret News).

Oh, so many buttons. Where to begin? How about the fact that the entire War on Christmas is a complete canard? Or that trying to repair the integrity of Christmas through marketing slogans is oxymoronic? Rob of The Utah Amicus recently noted

…I don’t know of anyone who has been converted to a Christ-like-life by the words, “Christmas Sale.” Although I uphold any person’s freewill to patronize an establishment because they do use the word Christmas in their advertising, or when greeting customers, it is my opinion that the real war is within, and it’s not promoting Christ’s love when we force establishments to use the word Christmas so that we will give them our dollars regardless if they believe in the word, and it’s significance, or not…isn’t turning the words, “Merry Christmas” into a wedge issue to divide us, and forcing its use to insure the exchange of money about as un-Christ-like as it gets ( “Davis County Clipper Partylines—Is there still a war against Christmas?“) ?

Then there is the fact that the U.S. is not a Christian nation as Buttars believes. Not to mention the fact that such legislation is either an infringement on freedom of speech (by pressuring people to change the terminology they choose) or—as a resolution with no enforcement power—is nothing more than message legislation, and thus a pointless waste of legislator time and taxpayer money.

Buttars did it again. Every time you think he can’t get any more ridiculous, he trumps himself. If you were to try to dream up a caricature of the modern conservative, could you outdo him?

Celebrating Christmas

November 30, 2008

Given our goal of making Christmas less superficial and material, more spiritual and meaningful, my wife and I have spent a fair amount of time mulling over how to accomplish this. It isn’t enough merely to avoid shopping on Buy Nothing Day, or to limit the money spent on gifts. There needs to be positive steps, rather than merely negative ones (Christmas commission rather than merely Christmas omission). What do you do to replace the malls and credit card charges?

We find that it starts with emphasizing activities. There are many community events available this time of year which can help make the season memorable. In theory, I’m less reluctant to spend money on events than gifts: while the event itself is more transient than a “thing,” the impact can last far longer than most material gifts. In practice, there are so many free events celebrating Christmas that we rarely attend events which charge.

For us, one of the greatest aspects of the Christmas experience is music. While I’m no fan of most of the “Christmas contemporary” genre, I find great joy in traditional Christmas music. There is little we look forward to more than the Christmas Carol Service of Salt Lake’s Cathedral of the Madeleine. The traditional Catholic music is so ethereal and reverential, and the Cathedral is such a gorgeous setting. We find ourselves awed every time. If you are interested, call early for (free) tickets.

They don’t seem to have any specifically Christmas programs, but I’ve attended a couple services at Salt Lake City’s Calvary Baptist Church in December. I really enjoy Gospel music, and the services are always jubilant. It’s a nice change of perspective.

There are virtually nonstop concerts around Temple Square for your enjoyment throughout December.

Last year we found that the Utah Cultural Celebration Center had a dozen or so Christmas concerts in December, from musical traditions around the world. My favorite was the Peruvian group—Andean music is entrancing.

Another event at the Cultural Celebration Center is the Trees of Diversity exhibit. Years ago, I went to the Festival of Trees and was terribly disappointed. Most of the trees were nothing more than marketing promotions: The Jazz had donated a tree with ornaments of players and logos; KSL’s tree was covered with news anchors, logos, and topped with a news chopper; Michael McLean had a tree adorned with CD cases from his latest albums. Do those displays say anything meaningful about Christmas? The Trees of Diversity exhibit, on the other hand, was beautiful. Each tree was decorated with handcrafted ornaments from a given traditional culture. We could see what each group valued about Christmas, and we learned a little something about their culture.

Convention says that the gift-giving tradition on Christmas is meant to represent God’s gift to the world of His Son, Jesus Christ. But a crucial aspect of that gift is that the gift of Jesus and the Atonement was given to a world entirely undeserving, and yet one in desperate need of that gift. In the same spirit, I think we symbolize the Christmas gift so much more by giving to those in need. So many lack material or spiritual sustenance. I can’t imagine a better gift to our Father than to memorialize his Son through service. Do we or our families need the new fashions, gadgets, or gizmos which typically make up Christmas? Or could our resources meet more crucial needs in others?

Giving generously to charity is certainly worthwhile. The Salvation Army and (for us Mormons) the LDS humanitarian services are a couple of the most prominent options. Several local organizations are sponsoring the Angel Tree program in Utah, which is a good way to connect specific individuals/families with donors, making it a more personal act of service. The Feminist Mormon Housewives team has created a Kiva Account to help raise funds for third-world people through the concept of microcredit, pioneered by Grameen Bank. One year we worked with my extended family to raise the funds to send an African student to college in concert with Signs of Hope international.

We have increasingly been looking to find situations in which we can contribute time as well as money. Last year a family in our neighborhood with three children under eight-years-old made a couple dozen Christmas cards, and then spent a day in a nursing home delivering cards, singing songs, and talking with the residents. For a recent Christmas, we arranged for our extended family to purchase materials for and then together assemble newborn “kits” for the Teddy Bear Den to distribute to needy single mothers. All of the young children in the family eagerly participated in filling the kits, thrilled to know that they were helping “babies.”

We still do some traditional gift-giving. I am intrigued by the idea of celebrating Christmas entirely without exchanging gifts, partly because I realize that celebrating Buy Nothing Day accomplishes nothing if you just spend the money a few days later. While we haven’t gone that far yet, we try to make as many of our gifts as possible. Over the last several years, we’ve had a lot of fun learning how to make wind-chimes, lamps, bean-bag chairs, homebound journals, art, etc. It isn’t necessarily cheaper than purchased gifts, but they are more personal.

When we must buy gifts (or the supplies for gifts), we try to shop locally owned businesses as much as possible. One good option in SLC is Earth Goods General Store, which honored Buy Nothing Day by remaining closed Friday, and which specializes in environmentally friendly items.

For a few more days, you have the option of a viewing the Old World Christmas Market at Gallivan Plaza, where you can buy hand crafted gifts from local artisans.

No doubt, it takes more work to make time for the various events and the service activities in which we want to participate. It can be hard to resist the allure of stuff. But we’ve found that our holiday is strangely less stressful and more rich as we focus on relationships and experiences.

What do you do to make your Christmas season meaningful? What events go on in your community, here or elsewhere, which you look forward to?

Buy Nothing Day

November 26, 2008

For me, the day after Thanksgiving has always been the real holiday. Neither the turkey nor the wall-to-wall football has ever excited me. But Friday was the day for unpacking the Christmas decorations, dusting off the holiday records, and welcoming in the Christmas season. This, I loved.

Among our Friday traditions was the mall crawl. Our family would pile into the van and brave the packed freeway to SLC, where we would wander three or four of the malls. We never got up in the wee hours to make the opening rush—as a family of night owls, I’m not sure you could get us up and out the door before first light if the house was on fire. But once we had taken care of the morning festivities, we wandered the malls until closing time.

Looking back, I’m rather embarrassed. Much of the thrill was simply seeing all the things I wanted, all the thing I might possibly get. Occasionally we would get gifts for others on the trip, but the tradition was primarily an opportunity to finalize our wishlists. Virtually our first act of the season was to pay homage to commercialism.

I’ve grown older, hopefully wiser, and have come to understand the shallow nature of consumerism, and appreciate the importance of sustainable living and simplicity. I’m no longer interested in celebrating C.S. Lewis’ aptly named “Rush.” Now I’m an advocate of Buy Nothing Day.

Honoring Buy Nothing Day isn’t very difficult. You simply don’t go shopping. There are plenty of other activities with which to fill your time.

Why not usher in the celebration of our Lord and elder brother by spending quality time with family? Black Friday is often spent with family, but I’m skeptical that time spent in lines, rushing to catch some special before stock runs out, or weaving over blacktop looking for a decent parking spot qualifies as quality time. Instead, why not spend the day making your Christmas decor? It isn’t so long ago that homes were not dressed for the holidays by Wal-Mart and Target. Families made their decorations, from the tree ornaments, to paper snowflakes, to the wreath, and even the nativity. How often do people still make those paper chains with which to count down the days until Christmas? While those earlier families may not financially have had the option of buying pre-made Christmas furnishings, I think they may have been better for the time together making their Christmases.

Not all of my enjoyment of Black Friday came from avarice. I am an extrovert by nature, and am energized by crowds. Being in among the (more or less) jolly throngs thrilled me. I love traditional Christmas music (and some few contemporary creations). Fortunately, I find that there are plenty of ways to enjoy the multitudes without offering up sacrifices at the altar of corporatism. Temple Square lights up for the season on Friday. Starting at 4:30, SLC’s Gallivan Center will host a “lights on” celebration, with a concert by Kurt Bestor and a children’s choir. Those less clumsy than I might enjoy Gallivan’s ice skating. Gateway is also sponsoring music and a tree lighting—just don’t be seduced into the stores lining the way.

Several local charitable and progressive groups are sponsoring at Coat Exchange at the Salt Lake City Library plaza, from 10:00-3:00 on Friday. Helping out at this or some other charitable activity would be a wonderful way to start the season.

What other traditions do you have to begin the holiday off right? What traditions have you considered starting? What other things are happening in your communities to ring in the season without a cash register?

Addendum

We just got through with being interviewed by Chris Jones for KUTV (channel 2) news about this post. Apparently he wanted to do a report on Buy Nothing Day in Utah, and googled my post. They came to our house, asked us some questions, and filmed us decorating our tree. Of all the posts I’d written, this is not the one I’d expected to get media attention. If you’re interested in seeing me being a stammering fool (as opposed to a typing fool), keep an eye on the news.

Real Christmas Spirit

December 18, 2007

Now here‘s a family which understands Christmas.

No doubt, they are hardly unique. I’m sure there are many individuals and families around the nation (and world) who forgo the conventional commodified Christmas for one more representative of him for whom the holiday is named. But we’re so bombarded by slick ads, cloying Christmas specials and bad music that these simple and yet powerful acts of Christian charity are overlooked and undervalued.

The Brand family may not be receiving presents this year, but the gifts they will obtain through their unselfishness will be priceless.

(Thanks to Farnsworth for the heads-up)

War on Christmas

November 30, 2007

It seems that over the course of the last few years, members of the Right have become agitated over some sinister Left-wing “War on Christmas.” Ron Paul laments the decline of Christmas at the hands of the the supposed “anti-religious elites” among the liberals (Paul’s notion that “a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers” shows an astonishing lack of understanding about the writings of the Founders, but I’ll address the Right-wing church-and-state foolishness another time). Dr. Dobson implores his legions to avoid patronizing businesses which market the “holidays” instead of Christmas. Bill O’Reilly insists to a scornful David Letterman that “you can’t say ‘Christmas’ ” because “politically correct people” are trying to “erode our traditions.” The American Family Association mounts a consumer campaign against the Gap because—you guessed it—it lacks the proper number of references to Christmas.

How silly.

I would agree that there are problems with the modern celebration of Christmas. And, as usual, the Right is barking up the wrong tree.

Why in the world do these people think that the Savior cares whether he is referred to in a marketing slogan? Merry Christmas—and don’t forget to check out our specials on aisle seven! Merry Christmas, brought to you by Target! This makes the season more meaningful? You think you’re gonna find Jesus in Wal-Mart?

Somehow, I don’t think so.

Christmas hasn’t been secularized by Jesus-hating Liberals. Christmas has been secularized by commercialism and by a society which has given into the orgy of consumerism. Oh sure, we give gifts in remembrance of the gift of the Savior. Somehow I don’t think that the gift exchanges and gift rotations so common in Christmas today capture the spirit of the Lord’s unselfish gift of His son.

Several decades ago, C.S. Lewis , brilliant wit that he was, penned “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus,” a wonderful satire about a fantastical land in which two celebrations “Crissmas” and “Exmas” (marked by a tradition Lewis refers to as “The Rush”) were celebrated on the same day.

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

My wife and I have decided to try to avoid the retailers and their holiday Rush altogether. We have noticed, like Lewis, that the atmosphere of commercialism detracts from the beauty of Christmas. There is nothing innately wrong with getting a gift for those you love. I’ve had fun during past Christmases in which I’ve really done some searching to try to find gifts which will wow my wife (and often gone well over budget in the process…). But ultimately, we’ve come to realize that the more involved we are in looking for gifts and spending money, the less we are focused on the meaning of the Savior’s birth. The less focused we are on the Savior at Christmas, the more superficial it ultimately feels. While we are really excited to open our presents, the afterglow rapidly vanishes. And the harried “Rush” of shopping often overwhelmed the joy of the season. So we minimize the gift exchanges we participate in, try to make as many gifts we give as possible, and try to spend our holiday season giving to those in need and spending quality time with friends and family. Nothing could be more pleasant—and the cheer lasts much longer!

I suspect that if the Right-Wing Christmas alarmists worried more about selfless service in the manner of Him for whom the holiday is named, and fretted less about the marketing verbiage of Wal-Mart, Sears, and the Gap, they might have the kind of merry and sacred Christmas they so desire.