Spirit of holiday season obscured by material obsession

By Lauren Kelly

In every holiday movie that is shown on cable TV in December, there’s inevitably a character who has lost faith in the season and has no Christmas spirit. These famous characters, from the Grinch to Scrooge, always find the true meaning of Christmas by the end of the film and everyone is happy.

I am very much a Grinch during the holidays, but I don’t see myself having an epiphany and suddenly being overcome with Christmas joy at the end of this year’s festivities. I’ve become severely disenchanted by the winter holidays during the past few years, and I am not looking forward to celebrating another soul sucking, routine Christmas with a family I don’t particularly care for.

When I was younger, I loved the holiday for the reason most kids do—you get a lot of free toys. Now it’s just an excuse to drink too much wine and eat an unhealthy amount of mashed potatoes and toffee squares.

But besides the drab routine of gift-giving and family dinner, I’m realizing there is a much darker side to the “season of giving” that many people glaze over.

The utter consumer frenzy known as Christmas costs much more than the price that appears on shoppers’ receipts. The environmental impact alone is abominable. Between the never-ending gift wrap, packaging, plastic toys that break after a week and never-worn sweaters being thrown in the garbage, we are clearly hurting the earth by consuming so much. The majority of Americans are content in celebrating Christmas by purchasing silly, cheap gifts from a big box store and caving in to their screaming child’s demands for a Hannah Montana toy, Tickle-Me-Elmo or Furby, regardless of the unseen impacts.

The obsession with Christmas shopping has become so intense that it’s causing fatalities—literally. On Black Friday in 2008, a Wal-Mart employee in Long Island, N.Y. was trampled to death as a mob of shoppers stampeded the store when it opened. During the incident, a pregnant woman also suffered minor injuries and was taken to the hospital.

Besides being tragic, the fact that there are Christmas casualties is unsettling. Maybe I’m being overly negative, but it seems Americans are celebrating Christmas in a completely inauthentic way that is contrary to the traditional intention of the holiday. Many people in this country think celebrating the holidays means buying hundreds of dollars worth of products, in effect putting a monetary value on their loved ones.

But what is the real meaning of Christmas? Is there one?

As a child, I was told by my Catholic relatives that we were celebrating Jesus’ birthday, but even at age 9 I knew it was a sham. It’s highly unlikely Jesus was really born on Dec. 25, year zero.

After asking a few dozen people what Christmas means to them, I’ve realized that the answer is different for everyone. For some it’s about spending time with family, for others it’s about the food and drink and for others still, it’s about worshiping the birth of baby Jesus. I like a nice dinner, red wine and the smell of gingerbread cookies, but that’s not enough to keep the magic of the season alive for me.

There isn’t really a “true meaning of Christmas.” It’s completely subjective.

The only positive thing I could see myself celebrating, besides seemingly infinite toffee squares, is the winter solstice. Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year, so that means every day after that will be slightly longer, probably a much-welcomed thought for any Chicagoan living through a notorious Windy City winter.

I’m not sure if my heart is two sizes too small, or if my brain thinks about things twice as hard. Either way, I’m going to try get through this holiday season without being trampled.