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Time To Curb The Rampant Spirituality Of Christmas

Ingratitude. That’s what I think every time I come across one of the millions of messages scattering across the mediascape that decry the “rampant materialism” of Christmas.

It’s become an easy habit to make snide remarks about materialism and commercialism, about how gifts aren’t really what’s important, and how spending has become too important a part of the Christmas holiday. Facebook and Twitter especially have become favorite places for declarations about how buying gifts for people is superficial and gets in the way of what truly matters. People reset their account graphics to warnings about the evil of gifts.

This mountain of anti-materialism is manifestation of a growing problem: The rampant spirituality of Christmas.

By the time I went to bed last night, it had become unbearable. I have spent every day since Thanksgiving making my way through heaps of unsolicited messages against materialism from every conceivable source, sanctimonious sermons about how the focus on giving gifts has obscured the spirituality of Christmas.

Every time I see this message, the same thought comes to mind: If your spirituality can be so easily obscured, just by people giving nice things to each other, it isn’t really a very powerful spirituality, is it? I mean, people keep saying that the true meaning of Christmas is spiritual, the story of an all-powerful magical being. Then, they say that this all-powerful magical being is unable to overcome the allure of shopping malls.

If spirituality really has any benefit to people, then people will be attracted to it. They won’t be able to stay away from it. If, on the other hand, spirituality is irrelevant to people’s concerns, then people will be put off into the margins. It looks like the latter is the case.

Proponents of Christmas spirituality, instead of throwing an annual tantrum against the material world that we all live in, ought to take some time to consider why increasing numbers of people think that their stories are irrelevant. Then, they should adapt. Traditions that don’t evolve can’t expect to keep people’s attention.

now on sale. buy nowBesides, the anti-materialism of the devotees of Christmas spirituality aren’t even being honest. What do all these people, who make self-righteous messages about transcending the material world, do when someone gives them a gift? They take it, happily, but not before making a belittling statement about how the best things in life are free. They’re like Pope Benedict XVI, who admonishes people to “look beyond the glitter” of Christmas, while he’s standing holding a golden scepter, wearing an outlandish costume, living in a palace and owning more jewelry than any other man on earth.

That’s really rude, if you think about it. The money that people spend on gifts is a concrete manifestation of the work that they’ve done during the year. A gift can represent an hour, or a day, or a week of somebody’s life. That’s time that can’t be reclaimed.

The material things that people give are expressions of devotion and affection. They’re symbols, but they’re useful, too. Material things aren’t all that matter in life, but they’re extremely important. We may not live by bread alone, but without bread, we’re toast. Spirituality won’t keep you warm on a cold winter’s night. It won’t feed you when you’re hungry. It won’t buy you medicine. Materialism will.

Spirituality asks for 10 percent of your earnings every week, in return for nothing but a predictable sermon about the same old book over and over again. When it’s time to pass the collection plate, spirituality suddenly doesn’t mind materialism so much. The spiritual organizations, too, will perish if all they get from their members is a smile and the repetition of a careworn story about a baby born in a barn. Spirituality craves material things – for itself.

If you want to support spirituality in your personal life, that’s your choice. Preaching at everybody else that a spiritual Christmas is the only right choice is tacky, though. It’s missing a tremendous realm of value, too.

Children know what Christmas is good for. They get excited about opening gifts. Secretly, adults get excited about that, too. Let’s trust that feeling. Material generosity matters. It’s part of what keeps society from falling apart.

10 thoughts on “Time To Curb The Rampant Spirituality Of Christmas”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Merry And Happy CHRISTmas to you

    1. Rowan says:

      Oh, how very non pushy of you, Anonymous!

      Thank you for not coming right out and proving my point about the sermonizing of rampant Christmas spirituality!

      Just because I’m keeping track of these statistics, I’m wondering if you could tell me how many people you have successfully converted to Christianity by shouting CHRIST at them. It’s such a compassionate and loving approach you’ve developed. Have you shared it with others so that your true religion can grow?

      I can tell that you must be very confident in your spirituality, by the way you were willing to sign your name to the comment. Glad to meet you, neighbor!

      1. Anonymous says:

        You are a terribly angry man, Rowan. It will consume you. But Merry CHRISTmas just the same.

        1. Rowan says:

          Here you come again, accusing me of being angry. Then you shout at me the name of your religious leader in all caps again.

          Looks like you’ve got a little anger problem yourself.

          And if this CHRIST in Christmas is really your savior, why are you so ashamed to have your real name associated with him? Deep psychology there.

          You haven’t got the emotion quite right, actually. I’m not angry so much as I am exasperated and overwhelmed by the anti-materialist “real meaning of Christmas” meme preached at me day after day for the last month and a half.

          I note, anonymous, that you haven’t actually responded with any substance to any of the points made by the article. Why is that? Can’t you deal with them? You have what is supposed to be the most powerful magical being ever on your side. Why can’t you actually summon the power to enter a genuine discussion?

          You seem afraid. I don’t pretend to know whether that fear will consume you, as you pretend to know my future.

          What I can say is that coming here and shouting “CHRIST” at me only reinforces my perception that the spirituality of Christmas is an empty hoax that cannot withstand the slightest critical examination.

        2. Rowan says:

          Update: 9 months later, and I still haven’t been consumed.

  2. Tom says:

    White Christmases are becoming rarer:

  3. Bill says:

    I’m a shameless Christmas materialist, but with a weird twist. I love giving gifts, but I’m just not much into receiving them. I drive my kids nuts when they ask what I want for Christmas and I say “oh, some nice warm rag socks, maybe a sweatshirt, or a new pair of work gloves. And underwear is always great” (saves me the dreaded chore of clothes shopping for myself). And every year their reply is the same: “We are NOT giving you underwear and socks for Christmas, Pop!” So I almost never get what I really want. Sigh.

    On the other hand, I typically go nuts gifting other people…because its fun. I don’t buy much, preferring to make or do things I know will be meaningful to the recipients. I’ve just finished four days out in the rain and cold building a new corral fence out behind my wife’s horse barn. Backbreaking work…I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had places, but the result is great, and she is pleased. That means the world to me.

    My wife is a (non-psycho) Christian, with a profound spiritual attachment to this season, but also with a serious addiction to Christmas lights, trees, ribbons and bows, gifts, carols, and meals. Me, on alternate days I’m either a pantheist or an atheist (I find it depends largely on the weather). Somehow, we have managed to make it work for the past 30 years. I wish everyone else could make it work, too. I wish you comfort in your own skin, and the confidence to allow others to be comfortable in theirs, too. We’re actually all on the same side, despite all appearances.

    A very Merry Christmas to you.

    1. Rowan says:

      Bill, the underwear thing is a bit weird, but you’re not hurting anyone with it (except maybe straining the eye-rolling muscles of your children) so more power to you. I’m glad you and your wife have worked out a way to be different from each other but to remain together.

      People of all sorts of religious and non-religious perspectives ought to be able to follow their consciences in freedom. They also should have the right to be non-violently obnoxious towards people of other perspectives. I support the right of “Anonymous” and his/her ilk to shout CHRIST at people.

      I just wanted to say that, from my perspective, it’s tiresome and rude, not at all wholesome and sweet feeling, when people send out massive amounts of anti-materialist propaganda. It’s just my own reaction to what normally seems to me to be a one-sided discussion.

  4. Connie Livengood says:

    I am a Christian, I Love the Lord and all He is and can be to each of us and certainly believe Christ is what Christmas is all about. I believe the Bible from beginning to end and cherish in the beautiful story of Jesus birth and its surroundings and how the Christmas story is new every year to my heart. To me and my family, Christmas is all about Christ. I also love giving, I give 1 small gift in the name of LOVE and all that LOVE is, to each of my children and to my wonderful husband. I personally believe you can over-do and under-do anything and gift giving fits into that category. I believe gift giving should be year round to show those you LOVE you appreciate them, not just at Christmas. A gift does not necessarily have to be gift wrapped, it can be a good deed, a few special words, have everyone over and fix a wonderful meal of all their favoriate foods, take someone to a special place etc.
    I have friends of many faiths and love each of them and respect them. However I am not ashamed of who and how I believe.
    Happpy New Year to everyone and I Pray you find the happiness and joy “if you haven’t already” your heart is seeking.
    Connie Livengood

  5. Rowan says:

    Update: The price of the “rustic” sign declaring that “The best things in life aren’t things” has now increased from $18.95 to $19.95… and the seller urges us to “order soon” because only 5 of these things are left in stock (although when they’re sold, 5 more will be put into stock).

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