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Meanings of Christmas Revisited
Emma Thompson, whom I rather enjoy as an actress, came out recently with the proclamation that "Christmas should be about love, not just what we can buy and sell." So, the 44 year old actress is reported, in the British magazine THE WEEK (Nov. 11), to have banned presents for Christmas, so as to protest commercialism.
Nearly twenty years ago, on December 24, 1984, I wrote about this in a column and I think it's worth repeating now what I said back then. Here it goes:
I have this wish that we be spared this year all the talk about how Christmas is turning into a commercial orgy, how people so shamelessly indulge their desires, whims, and materialistic concerns and thus forget the true, spiritual meaning of the season.
When the world is clamoring for a better life, when we are wringing our hands about unemployment, hunger, destitution and sickness, let us for once admit that what we really want is for everyone to buy a great deal and produce a lot. Why shouldn't Christmas be a time to want more and better and to resolve to do what is necessary to get it-earn more, work harder, produce and create?
The spirituality of Christmas is mysterious and it should be private and intimate. But the wish for nice gifts, the desire to please, the search for a good buy-these can be quite public. If there is more of it everywhere, the country, perhaps the world, can look forward to deflecting an economic depression.
Americans have for decades been the main hope of this world. That great revolutionary society, the Soviet Union, counts on America to feed its people, even as it condemns capitalism. The rest of the world sells us cars, oil, shoes, coffee and more, while we sell them some of what we make. We buy more than they do because we produce more and can afford more. Except for a few, foreigners admire America, mainly because they know the value of freedom better than we do. That is why they wish to come here and why the dollar is so strong-they know which country is most likely to keep up its productivity, its economic prudence, which creates jobs and good investments.
We should keep it up. A Christmas brimming with goodies encourages people to do more for themselves. That is how progress can be maintained. We discover more, we learn more, we want more-and better, of course. A new piece of software, a new car, a new dress, a new book, even a new heart-and on and on. All of that is wonderful, even though it isn't all there is to life.
Wishing to be surrounded with interesting things, with sources of pleasure and satisfaction, is quite what everyone would like. It is a matter of how much folks will do about it.
As an ex-European, I know that Americans work harder, more productively. They like the idea of fulfillment in life. They are practical, pragmatic, utilitarian; yet they are also generous, joyful, cheerful. Everywhere in America, one sees people walking about laughing, sitting about smiling, kidding, showing that above all they tend to enjoy life rather than regard it as a great pain.
So this Christmas, let us relax about our interest in all the goodies people want to sell us. We should enjoy shopping, we should defy the calls for feeling guilty and ashamed.
We should flaunt the fact that we like life here on earth. We should indulge, sensibly, but unashamed. We should enjoy all there is to give, to take, to play with, to use, and think of what we might have next. That is the way the world can be better fed and housed, become more healthy and even wiser, since the time required to gain wisdom is affordable only when one has some wealth.
Christmas could have far worse uses than running about to chase good times, good buys, good gifts and good cheer. It could pit us against one another. It could make us feel resentful, envious and jealous. Isn't it far better that it prompts us to cheer, to seek pleasure? We should not be denied such innocent hedonism. We are creatures of this earth and our nature is creative, inventive, exploratory, adventurous. Why be surprised, then, that we would seek and make newer and better things? That is most human of us, indeed.
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