Let’s Change What Christmas Means In America
Christmas does anything but make people happy and feel connected
Until we change Christmas in America, let's wish each other Merry Chinamas!
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“Get in the Christmas spirit!” People say this to me all the time. To put a smile on my face, to feel some sort of natural high associated with ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ But it can be hard to feel authentically happy on Christmas. What was once a time dedicated for family to congregate and share love, and a time to help others, has been tainted. It’s nothing like that now. It’s a time filled with anxieties brought up by chaotic shopping experiences and the consequential stress from credit card bills. Not only that, it’s become a holiday of debated meaning religiously and culturally. It’s time to change this as a country.
The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion nationwide, the National Retail Federation estimates. To do that, Americans will run up credit card bills, take on extra shifts and work overtime, and send US dollars to China. The pressure advertisers put on Americans to convince them that feeling loved and special by receiving and giving gifts is driving Americans into debt. With advertising being so effective, especially with big data driving personalized content and ads, companies are raking it in at the expense of ordinary Americans. With 40% of Americans unable to afford a $400 hospital visit, it’s not hard to see where Christmas has been corrupted. It simply doesn't make us happy.
Furthermore, the politicians want us to spend lots of money to boost the economy. Now you know why President Trump delayed tariffs on Chinese imported consumer goods? Correct, he wants retail sales to stay high through the holidays for his 2020 re-election bid.
So Merry Chinamas to all!
But what if we didn’t buy half that stuff from Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon and others? ABC News says if that money was spent entirely on US made products it would create 4.6 million jobs. But it doesn't even have to be that big. If each of us spent just $64 on American made goods during our holiday shopping, the result would be 200,000 new jobs (ABC News). Buying local could have booming ramifications for our economy.
So what does it say if you cannot afford to participate in this epic bastion of consumerism and capitalism? What does it mean for families when parents have to tell their kids that they’re sorry that they can’t afford this year’s gifts? God forbid that this equates to a lack of happiness or a sense of inadequacy. Material possessions and consumption should not be where we derive our happiness. Why? The desire to wanting more leads to an endless cycle of non-fulfillment, nothing will be enough.
But that wasn't what it was supposed to be about, was it?
Let's look at the legend of good ol’ Santa Clause? What’s not to love? A big tummied, jolly man who eats cookies all night. Sounds great! But Saint Nicholas, the monk much admired for his piety, never perpetuated values of mass consumption. Instead, it is said he gave away all his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. Santa Clause arrived in the US in the early 1890s but not in the image we know him as today. Instead, the Salvation Army dressed unemployed men as Santa Clause and sent them out in the streets of New York to solicit donations to feed needy families. Times have changed. Moreover, many people around the world are critical of the image of Santa Clause, either because he represents the secular side of Christianity at the expense of the religious, but also because he can represent a figure of western influence and globalism that crushes the diverse cultural identities across the globe.
How about religiously? Is it truly religious? While 51% of Americans say Christmas is a religious holiday, do the Christians really spend their time worshipping anything other than the 1 hour they go to mass? No, they don’t. They spend time and money running around shopping malls and on e-commerce sites. If Christians say that going to Church for 1 hour is a religious holiday, then they too are lying to themselves. The same goes for Hannukah. Nowhere traditionally does Judaism indicate that Hannukah, a holiday aimed to celebrate the miracle of god’s help in a fight for independence, is about gift-giving. In fact, the traditional Jewish holiday for giving gifts is Purim, in the spring. Hanukkah is a recent, mostly American phenomenon, that owes much to the influence of Christmas and the related social exclusion Jewish children might feel during this time of the year.
What about the other 49%? They rather not even say Merry Christmas because they don't feel part of this religious tradition. They will tell you Happy Holidays. Do you know in Japan, they say Merry Christmas to celebrate their romantic version of the holiday. And really, what's the big deal? I say Happy Dilawali, Happy Chinese New Year, and Ramadan Kareem. I don't say "Happy Holidays" to them, do I? This is absurd.
So let's take back Christmas as a country to reflect both cultural and religious holiday. Moreover, to represent a united country. Here is what I simply suggest.
- Don’t spend over $100 on Christmas presents. A small gesture is enough! And lets only buy USA made products.
- Take your other money and spend it on FOOD! Family get-togethers, Friendsmas.
- Take the other money and spend it on an experience. Go on a ski trip, visit a different city, just get out of your homes and go somewhere with family. Many of you do it, but we should all do it.
- Take the last bit and give it. Christmas is about giving. Give to homeless shelters, food banks or others.
And when we do this, let’s tell everyone “Merry Christmas” and reclaim Christmas for our country. For those who it is religious then it has meaning and for those who it isn’t, they too can be proud to say “Merry Christmas” as a cultural and community holiday we can all support as Americans!