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I remember clearly how I felt, in the early 1960s, attending IIT and attempting to do Christmas shopping in Chicago's Loop and Englewood, that the spirit of Christmas had given way to the spirit of commercialism.
As time passed, the Christmas season expanded: its end, formerly anchored in Christmas Eve day, slipped to Christmas Day (Open Until Noon For Your Last Minute Shopping Convenience!), and its beginning slipped earlier and earlier.
The day after Thanksgiving has become a national joke, with hordes of shoppers fighting, pulling, shoving, mauling (malling?) each other to be first to the sale bargains. Christmas carols hit the radio the day after Halloween; commercial decorations go up in early November (I've seen some in October ... or am I having nightmares again?); some neighbors keep outdoor lights up all year and light them as early as they see fit — off with the Halloween lights, on with the Christmas lights.
Stan Freberg's "Green Christmas" of 1958 was an early spoof of the commercial takeover of Christmas. I could make the case that Christmas Commercialization is at least that old. Once upon a time, people would pen greetings to a few friends through the post. Today, Christmas card lists are pages long and we fret that Molly and Sam (what's their last name?) sent us a card with no return address, and we can't send them one because they moved 15 years ago and we've lost their "new" address.
The WWW tells me the first Christmas cards were printed in England in 1843 as a vehicle to inspire the recipients of said cards, friends of Sir Henry Cole, to give charitably to those in need during the season. The cards started a minor furor, as the painted subject represented a happy family sharing a lovely meal. A meal, complete with wine. Children sharing wine with their family, having their morals corrupted? Shame!
Perhaps I might make the case that Christmas commercialization is more like 165 years old. I used to think that "they" were taking Christ out of Christmas with this commercialization. But now I realize that the commercialization of Christmas is only another part of the workings of the Mighty Engine of American Commerce, which has made the United States the world power that, for better or worse, it is today.
The same engine that has given us two- and three- and four-thousand-square-foot dwellings that can be kept at 68 degrees in summer and 75 degrees in winter, safe from wind and rain and snow; 400- and 800-cubic-foot closets to hold our clothes for every season and occasion; automobiles that burn up an eighth of the oil used in the world today; a lifestyle that would have made a 17th-century king or emperor green with envy.
Who among us would trade what we have today for the Christmas of 1843?
Well, whoever would, of course, can. Do your Christmas shopping early — in January, perhaps. Buy a 10th as much as you normally would, just a token that you can wrap and say, "Merry Christmas," as you present it to your friend, child, lover, mate.
Take the rest, invest it in the Mighty Engine for 11 months and in December, draw it out and send it to someone you don't know who can only wish for a pair of shoes or a sweater.
As the season nears, avoid the stores; reach out for your friends. If you are Christian, sing your own Christmas Carols and don't worry that others do not do so for you. Learn the customs of other faiths. Remember, Christmas is a celebration of love and hope, not a competition. Love those who have a different culture and heritage from you. Respect that tradition as you would your own. Saying "Happy Holiday" to one of non-Christian upbringing doesn't reject your own faith, but only reaffirms that all people are of one, the Family of Mankind.
"They" can't take Christ out of my Christmas: My Christmas is not anywhere "they" can reach it. But I can take Christmas out of my life, throw it away through selfishness and narrowness. I can deny it by confusing it with the jingle bells of the cash machine. Or I can hold it fast and safe within my heart and use that as a guide as to how to relate to others.
My Christmas should never have been in the marketplace; that I once thought it was Christmas I was seeing in the stores was a mistake; fooled again by the marketing agents who seek to circumscribe my life, to tell me what is fashionable to believe.
I am happy to share your Holiday tree, would you like to share my Christmas tree? See how alike they are!
I wish this season of hope will be filled with joy for each of you; I hope you will find peace within yourselves, within your families and your world; if you would be home for the holidays, I wish you can be; if you cannot, I wish you warmth and peace in the memories of past gatherings.
I wish you love, from and for all those you know, but especially from yourself for yourself, for now and for the future. And as I celebrate the Christmas that dwells in my heart, I will be thinking of you.
Greg Morgan is an Oak Park resident.
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