When I was a boy, many a holiday season ago, there was a palpable sense of “holiday cheer” from Thanksgiving to Christmas through to the New Year: people smiled and laughed; opened doors for one another and helped people cross the street; greeted strangers with a warm smile and a wave; kept the elevator door open for that slow moving senior citizen; always tipped lavishly; and made church services an integral part of the holiday season—joyously and gratefully, as people counted their several blessings throughout the holiday season.
Thanksgiving was, uniquely, its own deeply memorable holiday as well as the forerunner to Christmas—a harbinger of Christmas, so to speak. For us, the focus on Thanksgiving was family and friends. And our family’s best friends, the Craigs, usually joined us (or we them)—which trebled our joy, for Pete and Virginia were wonderfully urbane, contagiously witty, warm, caring, kind, and just plain fun to be around.
People—friends, family— dominated the holiday. We watched no TV. We sat and talked for hours—first over mountains of roast Turkey, stuffing (‘wet and dry’), cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn bread freshly baked, and pumpkin pie. Then when dinner was over we reassembled in the living room for more conversation, in the enjoyment of each other. For us—and for me— this was heaven itself: People loving people.
Christmas was more strictly a family affair (the Craigs usually visited us on the 26th or thereabouts). It began with a midnight church service on Christmas Eve, then the Christmas Day service, and, in our church, properly ended with The Boar’s Head Festival days later—a huge, magnificent and unforgettable costume-and-carol pageant (copied from England) celebrating the Christ infant’s coming to bring light and joy to a dark and sinful world—which was put on, properly, after Christmas and before the celebration of the New Year.
Christmas gifts were not just received with joy but given with joy; old animosities and hurts were entirely forgotten if not forgiven; and though Santa had, once again, managed somehow to work his way down then up again in our old chimney in the bringing of gifts—it was the birth of the Christ child, the symbol of love and forgiveness and goodness for all mankind, which ran like a golden thread all through the holiday season, reinforced by sermon and carol and liturgy. In short, it was a blessed holiday, whose effects outlasted the holiday itself. Yes, for one brief shining moment during the year, the cosmos radiated love, and forgiveness, and good cheer…We all genuinely felt better, more humane, happier, more content.
Then in the 60’s began the slow commercialization—the corporatization—of the holidays, aided by TV with its hugely profitable advertising. With what societal result? Thanksgiving and Christmas, once beacons of love and joy, have become subservient to holiday sporting affairs; the underlying religious basis for the holidays has been transmogrified in a larger realm of commercial activity whose end is profit–and more profit. Even the symbols of Christmas—the crèche, the Christ infant, the three Wise men—in many cases have been outlawed on public property. Conversation and deep, meaningful dialogue have devolved into a mere collective rooting for one’s team to win; and Christian love into the camaraderie of ‘high-fiving’ over a big play. The Christ child, in short, has been smuggled out of the season altogether by Corporate America.
Again, with what general societal result? People now regularly get into fights , and even killed, at sporting events; one’s personality—and especially one’s free time—and the very clothing on one’s back—are now tied to a sport’s team or a specific player. Women, I remember, used to dress and act like women. Now they dress and act like male athletes. People’s attire—and identity— are tied, if not to sports then to a corporate Logos. And to add insult to injury we are obsessed with (media-created) celebrity, which is nothing but the cooked-up hype of Corporate America given as pablum to a mindless and de-spiritualized society. We have seen a tectonic shift away from spiritual inwardness to mere showy outwardness, from Love to Thingness.
“Celebrity” is nothing but the advertising of a person: the media create celebrity, hype it, and control it—in order to sell things to a public only too willing to buy. What great deed did Paris Hilton do to result in all that media attention?—Nothing. But it certainly made the Rupert Murdochs of the media world richer.
Today, to state the obvious, technology is in the ascendant. People have a text conversation while ignoring the person they are sitting with! Game-playing takes precedence over thinking and dialoging. Cell phones and gaming both have left society stupider and shallower.
So, we have in only a few decades gone from deep spiritual significance in the meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas to the worship of meaningless sporting events in our new cathedral called the stadium, with its high priest the coach and its apostles the players. Our identity and personality used to have some inner meaning and value, and bring real joy. Now it’s all outward glitter and inward emptiness—texting with nothing to say; game-addiction with nothing to show for the hours and years wasted.
Corporate America, in its single-minded, all-consuming drive for more and more profit, has led us all astray, like a Pied Piper—and we, like the silly children in the story, have followed this Piper even to our own intellectual and spiritual degradation.
Len Sive Jr