The sanctimonious, the puritans of all stripes, and the killjoys in general raise the issue annually.
Knock it off. Christmas has been commercialized since year one of the “Current Era.”
Blame it on the Three Kings. They started the gift-giving right in the manger. Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar “presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
And that’s the way it’s been ever since. In Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge has been visited by Marley’s ghost and undergoes a magnificent change of heart, does Scrooge go to church? Or does he go shopping?
Same with the Three Kings and their gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had to go to the bazaar -- as the mall was then called -- and buy them.
The Medieval legend of the “Gifts of the Magi” says Melchior was from Persia and a Zoroastrian, Casper was from India so presumably an adherent of Hinduism, and Balthazar was from Ethiopia and not only black but Jewish. As was Jesus himself, of course. And, although the subject hadn’t come up yet, Muslims consider Jesus – Isa – to be a prophet of Islam. Christmas is for everybody.
The Three Kings invented many important Christmas traditions. For example, the completely inappropriate Christmas present. Balthazar brought myrrh. Myrrh was used for embalming. Creepy thing to wrap up in festive paper and a bow and give to a newborn baby, yeah?
And the way-too-practical Christmas present. Melchior brought frankincense. Frankincense is a kind of incense, which is to say room freshener. This is useful when swaddling clothes need to be changed, especially if you’re changing them in a manager, but... Really. Melchior is the forerunner of the aunt who always gave me socks.
Plus the Christmas-present-you-aren’t-allowed-to-play-with. Casper brought gold. I’m sure the baby Jesus would have preferred a stuffed animal camel or something from Fisher-Price.
We don’t know much about the later life of St. Joseph, but it is to be hoped that he used the gold to open a franchised chain of carpentry shops in Egypt – with bargain sale extravaganzas during the Holiday Season. (“Members of the Christ family were, by the way, undocumented aliens in Egypt. I said Christmas is for everybody.)
All of this commercialization of Christmas is in place by Chapter 2, verse 11 of The Gospel According to Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.
Whether you’re Christian on not, you don’t have to go very far in the rest of the New Testament to find every element of our loud, gaudy, hectic, mercantile Yuletide blow-out.
“Shepherds abiding in the field” saw colorful Christmas lights that “shone round about them.” And “they were sore afraid” the way my wife is when I stand in the front yard slush and connect the socket that lights up the bulbs on the plywood reindeer and sleigh that are about to fall off our roof.(Luke 2:8-9)
Christmas music – playing over loudspeakers, in stores, restaurants, bars, and on the streets from Halloween until “Auld Lang Syne” takes over – has its precedent. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Presumably with caroling, though presumably not with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” (Luke 2:13)
We love these songs almost as much as we love shopping. Admit it, you’d rather hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” a dozen times than listen even once to “I Don’t F**K With You” by Big Sean featuring E-40, which is currently #11 on the Billboard Top 100 and rising.
John the Baptist speaks of Xmas trees. “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down.” I think Xmas trees are what John is talking about, because even the most unbearable vegan wouldn’t serve pinecone pudding for Christmas dinner. (Matthew 3:10)
There’s Santa. Technically St. Nick is a saint. But do saints dress like that? And go up and down chimneys? Their halos would get sooty. Do saints have a reindeer named “Cupid”? I’ve never hear of a saint with “a little round belly / That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.” I’ve never heard of a saint that laughed much at all. And saints are a pretty svelte bunch, what with all the fasting and suffering.
Plus “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth/And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath”? Saints are tobacco-free. But Santa is implicit in “That thine alms be in secret.” (Matthew 6:4)
And there’s also a vision of sugar-plums in “when thou doest alms...”(which I’m taking to include PlayStation 4s, Disney “Frozen” merchandise, Aerospatiale gift certificates, and things in little blue boxes looking as much as possible like they came from Tiffany’s) “...let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” That’s certainly the case if I’ve got my bank statement in one hand and my credit card in the other. (Matthew 6:3)
By the way, killjoys, American charitable giving goes up by 42 percent during this season of crass materialistic greed and excess.
I don’t think Jesus is too upset by our holiday eating and drinking. His most famous miracle was making a few loaves and fishes feed a multitude. And his second most famous miracle was turning water into wine. I assume he turned something else into aspirin and black coffee the next morning. (John 2:7-9, 6:9-13)
Jesus even mentions office Christmas parties, or occasions like them. “But I say onto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” True, Jesus doesn’t mention Christmas office parties approvingly. But he clearly understands the spirit of the season and describes it pretty much the same way as my wife. (Matthew 5:28)
The Commercialization of Christmas is a (more eggnog, please!) joyful and inclusive and non-denominational and, for that matter, secular-humanistic way to express the Christian virtues.
Love (...but don’t unwrap it at the office Christmas party).
Hope (...it’s not another necktie with purple boughs of holly like last year).
And, most of all, Faith.
You say you have none? You don’t even tear-up when “Miracle on 34th Street” comes on TV?
Okay, then you write the 2014 version of the 1897 editorial in The New York Sun:
No, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus. He doesn’t exist anymore than love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they don’t, which is why your life is so empty that you spend it writing useless letters to newspapers asking silly questions. How splendid the world is with no Santa Claus! It’s almost as splendid as it would be with no Virginias. (Your existence contributes to over-population, climate change, and species extinction.) With no Santa Claus there’s no stupid childlike faith, no lousy poetry, and no fake patriarchal gender-privileged romance to make this existence even more intolerable than it already is.