It's the most wonderful time of the year! Except that the local Christmas music station stopped playing Christmas music at noon today... today still being Christmas. Of course, it must be that once all the gifts have been unwrapped and the veritable orgy of consumeristic delight and gift-giving and feigned thanks for yet another tchotchke has ended that Christmas is truly over.
At this time of year, every year, we have two main currents set in opposition to each other. One current is the consumerist strain that traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving, although that is changing. The other current is the counter-current of "Christmas is about family / caring for others / hope and love." These currents oppose one another even though one always wins.
If everyone seems to agree that family /caring for others is the most worthwhile part of Christmas, its true spirit, then why does consumerism always seem to win? I think, at its heart, it's about the struggle of Christianity in a different light. Christianity was a religion that was oppressed by the political and religious authorities of its day and saw itself as a 'counter-cultural' movement. Early Christians were to be the leaven of the world. When Christianity was tolerated and then made the state religion in Rome, however, that changed. How can you be a counter-cultural movement when you are de facto the culture? It's about like when a 28 year old in the business world finally realizes that he is no longer fighting 'The Man' but is, in fact, 'The Man' as he covets that promotion and that corner office. He has become something he often derided and swore he never would be.
Being the 'counter-culture', the leaven, the oppressed minority has a purifying effect. Because you can change little, you cannot be blamed for failure, and your oppression shows the rightness of the cause. When you are no longer the minority, however, you have power. You can be blamed for failure, and the rightness of the cause can be corrupted by political necessities and being "practical."
In America, consumerism is our culture. The news has covered sales reports as a gauge of the true health of our nation; we are only as strong as our impulse to buy everything that we are told that we need. The counter-current of "Christmas is not about the gifts, it's about family / joy / caring for others" provides a nice feeling that we are truly righteous and it gives us a battle to wage. It is a unifying effect. People can nod to each other in the store, fellow comrades in the battle against the degradation of Christmas by consumeristic forces while at the same time getting that 'must have' gift item. We get to play both sides of the fence, enjoying the comforts of consumerism while feeling vindicated by the rightness of the cause.
But oh well! Christ has been born, and our Savior reigns!