In my latest "In Good Faith" column I take on mall Santas and encourage people to forget about the true spirit of Christmas.
Rescuing Christmas from the Mall
I have nothing against mall Santas. Out of uniform, they’re some of the jolliest people I know. So why can’t I stand going to the mall at Christmastime? It may be the endless soundtrack of Christmas carols, the tinseled decorations on steroids, or the forced joy that pervades each level. Obviously the hyper-consumerism is a turn-off but I think ultimately it’s just the lack of anything having to do with faith: God is nowhere to be found. And “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” bumper stickers in the parking lot aren’t helpful.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties I used to do all my Christmas shopping at the mall on Christmas Eve. This was before I started working on Christmas Eve and it was long before I had a wife and kids. Toss in those variables and I’d have about as much success shopping on Christmas Eve as Shaquille O’Neal getting hired as one of Santa’s elves.
The sad reality is that I loved shopping on Christmas Eve. There was a certain adrenaline-pumping desperation to the whole affair and the place was full of like-minded procrastinators. This fraternity (yes, it was mostly men) were men (did I mention it was mostly men?) on a mission. There’s nothing like a deadline to focus your gift-buying intentions. As the clock ticked toward closing time a new mind-set always emerged – a cloudy vision about what the people in my life truly craved. “I’m sure Mom has always wanted a gift pack of stale coffee from Gloria Jean’s” and “I know my brother will just love this two-in-one fountain pen/compass set from The Sharper Image. Isn’t he always finding himself lost in the woods and needing to take dictation?”
Even though I no longer shop on Christmas Eve, there is a better way to enjoy this season of preparation than to engage in mall-induced competitive shopping. Rather than bemoan the fact that the American Christmas experience has precious little to do with the Savior’s birth, I offer you several suggestions to undermine the mall Christmas virus. And I won’t even suggest that you get your shopping done throughout the year; unless you’re like my wife Bryna, it’s impossible.
- Forget About the “True Spirit of Christmas.” Despite the barrage of holiday catalogues, we’re not there yet. Focus instead on the “True Spirit of Advent,” the four-week period of spiritual preparation that precedes Christmas Day. If we acknowledge and recapture the meaning of Advent in the midst of our seasonal preparations, we leave room in our hearts and minds to prepare for the coming of Christ. Plus, if you forget about the true spirit of Christmas, you’ll have less guilt about participating in the competition for a parking spot. It’s a blood sport – cut off that old lady!
- Spend Time in Church. This sounds obvious and, coming from a parish priest, even self-serving. But spending time in pre-Christmas worship reminds us that holy waiting is an important discipline and it may be our only refuge from hearing Christmas carols (unlike the rest of society, we wait until it’s actually Christmas to start singing them). Embracing the season of Advent is the best antidote to the “Christmas-Industrial Complex” and you’ll really only be able to do this in church. Have you ever tried to find the Advent aisle at Wal-Mart?
- Let the Grinch Guide You Through the Season. This may sound odd, but reading the classic story by Dr. Seuss is a wonderful way to expose holiday consumerism and move toward the deeper meaning. In response to the Grinch’s rumination that “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store,” we can answer with a resounding, “Amen!”
I should admit to a recurring mall fantasy. I’d like to go to a large suburban mall and find the back room that contains the sound system. Then I’d take it over for an hour or two. I’d replace “Walking in a winter wonderland” with “Come thou long expected Jesus” and I’d substitute “Frosty the Snowman” with “O come, O come Emmanuel.” Then I’d just stroll around poking into The Gap and Starbucks to see people’s expressions. Maybe it wouldn’t affect anyone but maybe it would change the focus, if only for a moment. Maybe people would recognize the true gift of the season: God’s love for us in sending his only son to live and walk among us.
Here’s hoping that this December you will be overextended in praise and thanksgiving rather than credit card debt.