It’s a dilemma that grows worse with each passing season – we want to celebrate the birth of our Savior but don’t appreciate the commercialization (or consumerism) of Christmas. We abhor the insolence and pressure of buying ever-more expensive gifts, “keeping up with the Joneses” when decorating our homes, and the hassle of battling materialistic crowds of shoppers – all to enrich greedy merchants who profit from the madness.
On the other hand, most people don’t want to forgo Christmas entirely. Who wouldn’t want to hear beautiful Christmas songs or spend time with their family and friends in joyous celebration? But how do we reconcile the anger we feel seeing Christ pushed from the holiday as businesses secularize our celebration?
We see Christmas referred to as X-Mas, a blatant removal of Christ from the occasion. Eventually the phrase was replaced entirely with “holiday season”. We have “holiday trees” instead of Christmas trees and the socially accepted greeting is “Happy Holidays”. How do we keep Christ in Christmas when retailers prefer generic, non-Christian-specific items because they apply to a wider audience and thus, generate more profits? How can we blend Christmas activities with the real reason for the season and celebrate the birth of Christ without offending others?
How Christmas became commercialized
The commercialization of Christmas is not a new. For many centuries, Christians have battled against the commercialization of Christmas, typically winning the war only to find society gradually shift back to pagan-like celebrations – where the Christmas celebration is believed to have originated.
The Feast of Saturnalia in early Rome took place from December 17 through the 24th and was marked with celebratory parties and gift-giving to children. This was gradually replaced with Christmas celebration of Christ’s birth date. The holiday began as a pagan celebration, then morphed into a Christian holiday more than 2,000 years ago.
By the 1600’s, wealthy households exchanged expensive gifts during an occasion they called “Christmastime” while Christians fought the commercialization of their holiday. By 1647, the English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas as a pagan event. This was followed soon after by a ban in Boston in 1659. But nothing could halt the commercialized Christmas fever. By 1747, the first Christmas tree appeared in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. By the 1820, publishers were selling “gift books” and twenty years later, the image of Santa Claus appeared setting off the Christmas card tradition. By 1850, Harriet Beecher wrote, “Christmas is coming in a fortnight and I have got to think up presents for everybody! Dear me, it’s so tedious!”
The secularization of Christmas did not occur overnight – and keeping Christmas a Christ-centered event requires steadfast commitment from Christians over a sustained period of time.
How Christian families can counter the commercialization of Christmas
Despite the difficulty, Christians must consciously oppose the commercialization of Christmas. For instance, in 2005, when the city of Boston changed the name of their gigantic city Christmas tree to “holiday tree”, the Nova Scotian tree farmer who annually donated the tree said he would rather put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a “holiday tree”. His opposition touched not only Boston, but the entire country as word of his disapproval spread through national news outlets.
Be vocal – let retailers know (nicely) when you disapprove
You can oppose the commercialization of Christmas by contacting retailers and product manufacturers to express disapproval. Take the time to email or call vendors and let them know you do not approve of their lack of Christ-centered Christmas items. Vote with your wallet and refuse to be a patron of businesses that remove Christ from the equation. Conversely, let businesses know when you approve of their practices. Let stores know you appreciate their Christian-centered goods and marketing.
Can your singular voice impact the policies of a huge corporation and really make a difference? Sears, Kmart, Wal-Mart and Target have all been targeted for replacing the word “Christmas” with “Holiday”. In all cases, the companies reversed their stance and re-introduced “Christmas” in their ads (note that Best Buy was also targeted but refused to use “Christmas” in their advertising campaigns – the primary reason they were added to our list of anti-religious/un-Christian-like businesses).
Make gifts for others
Instead of purchasing gifts from a store, use your talents to make gifts for others. Even better, let the entire family participate. Make nativity stones, nativity puppets, and wooden or cardboard nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus. Check publications like Good Housekeeping and Country Living, and social networks like Pinterest for ideas.
By local or from independent retailers
Don’t forget the local and independent Christian retailers. Many smaller businesses, especially in the Midwest, strongly adhere to Christian standards and many have begun to sell online too. And true faith-based retailers not only support the true meaning of Christmas but operate differently too. I know – my wife runs an online boutique that is “faith-based” (Ivy and Pearl Boutique at https://www.ivyandpearlboutique.com) and her company policies reflect our Christian standards.
If you must utilize a corporate entity that does not espouse Christian standards, only purchase gifts that relate to Jesus – Christ-centered books, statues, paintings, pictures, and ornaments make great Christmas gifts. Purchases of these products will impact their bottom line and influence future offerings.
Buy Christ centric decorations
When decorating, is the Christ Child the center of your decorations? If not, you’re helping to commercialize Christmas. Correct this by buying Christ-centered decorations, wrapping paper, ornaments, and Christmas cards. Build or purchase a manger scene for your yard to really spread the message.
Don’t exclude non-Christians though – our most basic tenet is love. Don’t use the occasion to force others to accept Christ in Christmas. Buy Happy Hanukkah cards for your Jewish friends or Happy New Year’s cards for your atheist friends.
Listen to Christ-centered Christmas music
Listen to Christ-centered Christmas music, especially through online services that algorithmically determine playlists according to which tracks listeners play. This will help promote Christian music and ensure it remains relevant in a world that is working hard to hijack Christmas music from Christians.
Structure Christmas activities and create a family tradition
Create a Christ-centered holiday family tradition that you can pass to your children. Establish a routine for the Christmas holidays, one that you repeat each year. Routine practices are learned by children and result in family traditions that can carry forward for many generations. For instance, make it a point to decorate the Christmas tree with Christ-centered ornaments and nothing more. Do the same for outside decorations and make sure a manger scene is the centerpiece of your decorations.
While doing this, make sure everyone understands the symbolism of the decorations – that lights represent the stars the wise men used to find baby Jesus, the Christmas tree represents life, and presents represent the gifts offered to Jesus and facilitate the deep-centered Christian concept of charity.
Other ways to create a Christ-centered Christmas tradition for your family
Make family the center of the Christmas celebration – and not just immediate family. Take the time to visit family and friends. Children will see and feel the happiness that accompanies being with those we love.
As a family, donate to charity – money, goods, or volunteer hours. Instead of focusing on the question, “What do you want for Christmas?”, turn it around and make the standard Christmas question “What can we do to help others this Christmas?” Think of these as “gifts” given to others in need and an opportunity to minister to others through your actions. Remind your children about Matthew 25:37-40 where Jesus told his disciples, “I assure you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Prepare Christmas meals together as a family and make it memorable. Make a gingerbread nativity scene, candy scriptures, or a birthday cake for Jesus. And if you really want to prepare a meal that your children will never forget, make a traditional Bethlehem dinner and dine in the same circumstances Jesus would have dined in.
Watch Christmas-centered movies together – as a family.
On Christmas Eve, read the New Testament’s version of Jesus’ birth to the entire family. Make it a big deal. Bake cookies, sit in front of the fireplace, laugh, have fun. Finish the evening with a family board game or watch a Christian Christmas movie. Maybe pick a favorite that you watch every year.
On Christmas day, review the story of the birth of Jesus, possibly from a favorite Children’s book.
Do something completely different and out of the ordinary. For instance, act out the nativity scene, write a Christmas letter to Jesus, or travel throughout the neighborhood leaving thank-you notes in mailboxes for those who displayed nativity scenes in their yard.
Above all, before opening Christmas presents, stress the meaning of gift-giving and emphasize the importance of charity.
Consciously oppose the commercialization of Christmas through your actions
More than 80% of the population celebrate Christmas. This makes it an optimal time to share the love of Christ with all. If you want to ensure “Christ” retains his importance in “Christmas”, make sure you model Christian behavior during the holiday season for all to see.