Saturday, December 09, 2006

Christmas, Holidays & Commerce

by Tibor R. Machan

There has been much fuss lately about some people referring to Christmas as "the Holidays" and it is a bit strange. After all, "holiday" has the term "holy" in it, so those using it may be said to acknowledge the holiness of these days, something one would not expect from heathens, atheists, or agnostics. For the latter nothing much qualifies as holy since that term signifies something otherworldly, supernatural.

But perhaps the insistence on using "Christmas" has a somewhat insidious, religiously intolerant source. It may be the effort of some Christians to lock up the holidays for themselves alone, a kind of imperialism we have been witnessing the last several years from people who are willing to go the great lengths of brutality and violence to lock up the entire world for their own religion. Christians, however, were supposed to have been guided by the philosophy of Jesus, who hadn't adopted the aggressive stance of Islam's prophet, Mohammed, so it is entirely unbecoming of Christians to lord their religion over others. Especially in America, which has for over two centuries been a country that has welcomed members of all kinds of faiths.

Despite the insistence of some, America wasn't established as a Christian country—its legal system does not invoke any religion in some official sense in which, say, even England does (being officially Anglican). As to the argument about the American founders, two recent books make it abundantly clear that among them they had no agreed-upon common religious allegiance other than belief in God. But belief in God is common among Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and many other faiths. So at most America can be regarded as a religious country, which using the term "holiday" by no stretch of the imagination disputes!

There is another bit of controversy, though, surrounding the holidays, namely, whether all the commercial activity during them somehow serves to demean them. One thing in favor of this idea is that Christmas ought to be a time when we are more concerned with spiritual than with earthly matters. So all the focus on gifts and such would appear to reject this notion.

Yet, especially for Christians, earth is just as important as will be the world beyond, assuming such exists, which, of course, Christianity does assume. Yet according to Christianity the earth is a creation of God and Jesus himself became a human being for a while, thus honoring the earthliness of the rest of us who will live here for a good bit before heading elsewhere. And while here on earth, we are also supposed to be generous, kind, charitable, and friendly, all of which involves, at least to some extent, looking out for our fellows' earthly needs, wants and desires.

It is a large measure of our goodness, according to Christian ethics, that we act accordingly and Christmas is especially suited for it, when we are supposed to think of what our relatives, friends and other associates might like from us. Being remembered, for example, via cards, invitations to parties, gifts and so forth is certainly part of the thoughtfulness we ought to exhibit this time of the year and going about looking for a finding gifts is certainly a part of what such consideration involves.

No doubt, one can overdo everything, including focusing so much on buying things for those we care for, although mostly people tend to be involved in finding just the right thing, which is what all the running around is about. (As a father of three grown children, it is becoming more and more difficult to tell just exactly what would make them most pleased, so I need to invest some time in shopping!)

The commerce that's done during the holidays is, in fact, all to the good—it usually brings joy to those receiving gifts, to those finding just the right gift to give, and to whose producing and selling what will become gifts so they, in turn, can go out and do all this as well. I see nothing but a win-win situation here, all around, so the complaints really have no basis so far as I can see.

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