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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Values

Well, before the gluttony of our feeding-frenzy Thanksgiving Day feasts could wear off, many of us were engaging in gluttony of another kind: Black Friday. At least as far back as 1841, marketers and retailers have been using the image of Santa Claus to entice holiday buyers to part with their money. Over the years this marketing device has taken a life of its own, and now Christmas buying accounts for approximately 25 percent of annual consumer sales.
I acknowledge that at this point in history, our Christmas buying may well float not only our economy, but several other nations’ economies as well; however, as this column deals with family issues and not economics, I am comfortable with framing this issue as it relates to families. The Christmas buying so often bemoaned has not always been our tradition. In fact, the Christmas holiday itself has not always been popular in the US. In the 1600’s the Puritans made it illegal to mention St. Nicholas, exchange gifts, sing carols, etc.; however, some of the early settlements enjoyed Christmas as best they could with the challenges of early American life. Christmas did not become a Federal holiday until June, 1870.
Christmas marketing took a turn toward what we know today when in 1931 Coca-Cola began using Santa in advertising and in 1939 Montgomery Ward handed out a poem about everyone’s favorite reindeer, the subject of which was later recorded as the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry; which continues to be the second most popular song of all time, right behind “White Christmas”. The recognition that a time of gift giving in the name of love, could be marketed to and even enhanced by said marketing, was coupled to our capitalist economy and consumerism society, all but drowning out the original purpose for the holiday.
I believe you will find it very difficult to fight our culture, especially on an issue that permeates our economy so completely. So I encourage you to behave as if in a rip tide and swim parallel to culture, not against it. In practical terms this means three things:
· Insure your family understands why your family exchanges gifts. Gift giving is one of the five love languages and has been an almost universal way to express love as far back as we have a historical record; so make sure you take the time to have age appropriate conversations about this process, being grateful for the gifts and more importantly, the love behind them.
· Make a renewed commitment to serving others during the holiday season. Most charitable organizations find themselves in greater need of help and financial assistance during this time of year, so you should be able to easily find an organization worthy of your time and money. Serving others, especially those who have a greater need, tends to help us realize the proper place our own challenges belong.
· Reevaluate your spiritual life and your personal growth. In almost every culture, in almost every time in history, the marking of the passing of the year has long been a time of reflection and making changes. Take advantage of the school holiday and begin this process by talking as a family one evening with hot cocoa and s’mores. You can draw up a plan of action for the coming year and follow up during your family meetings.

The key take away for this week is to try to avoid the guilt and angst the holiday season can bring by embracing the positive of the holiday season, as opposed to trying to struggling in a fight you can’t win. Communicate love, both inside and outside your family during the holiday season and you may find yourself making a statement against rapaciousness after all.

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