With this hot cash register, I thee wed

Cash Drawer PhotoThree of the major festivals of the church year are Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. In America, we celebrate Christmas with abandon, Easter with a minor uptick in chocolate sales, and Pentecost hardly at all.

If you’ve ever wondered why, Leigh Eric Scmidt’s Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays is a must read. It shows how the holidays that are celebrated most in America are those that have been most commercialized. Those holidays that lend themselves to a heady mixture of faith and merchandising become humongous celebrations while others are forgotten and celebrated by only the most devout. Merchants and advertisers have been crucial, Schmidt argues, to promoting holidays in a grand, carnivalesque manner.

I thought of this when reading a wonderful piece in the New York Times that says that California merchants are worried about the economic impact of Proposition 8, which amends the state constitution to define marriage as an institution involving one man and one woman:

Arturo Cobos, a manager at Kard Zone in the city’s traditionally gay Castro neighborhood, said he had done “big sales” of same-sex wedding cards and other trinkets since marriages began in June, but had recently stopped stocking new goods.

“We were afraid that they would pass Proposition 8,” Mr. Cobos said, “and that’s exactly what happened.”

In Palm Springs, another gay-friendly city, Mayor Steve Pougnet said he had performed 115 same-sex weddings since June, when such ceremonies began, some of which had as many as 180 guests. By contrast, this week the city has canceled eight planned ceremonies.

“That’s a huge economic impact, which is gone in these difficult economic times,” said Mr. Pougnet, who is openly gay and married his partner in September.

The article suggests that California can’t afford this economic blow considering the state’s budget deficit has swelled to $11.2 billion for the coming year. Frank Schubert, Proposition 8′s campaign manager, suggests that any impact is overstated:

“This is an issue of restoring the institution of marriage as it always existed,” said Mr. Schubert, noting that same-sex marriage had only briefly been legal. “I can’t imagine that returning to the history of 4,000 years before that is going to cause an economic upheaval.”

It’s just a great idea for an article but I wish that there had been some discussion of how businesses affect the entire wedding-industrial complex. A few years ago I reviewed Rebecca Mead’s One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding for the Wall Street Journal. The book does a fantastic job of looking at the excesses of the wedding industry and how they have helped turn weddings into today’s insane and ridiculous suck of money, time and energy. From my review:

In Ms. Mead’s mind, the wedding as a rite of passage no longer signals a couple’s transition to adulthood. Instead, she says, the contemporary wedding marks the move from one type of consumer to another. It is an event “shaped as much by commerce or marketing as it is by those influences couples might prefer to think of as affecting their nuptial choices, such as social propriety, religious observance, or familial expectation.”

As we look at Proposition 8 and it’s fallout, it’s good to keep in mind all of the groups who have a vested interest in one side or the other. And as we spend so much time on social propriety, religious observation and family expectation, let’s not neglect American consumerism.

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  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA by Julia Alvarez is a thorough expose on that “Hispanic” tradition of the quinceanera. Fact is, it doesn’t come from Spain, has pagan origins from South America, and has become highly Americanized from the American marketing machine. Yes, a couple can host a daughter’s quince at Walt Disney World, who offers a special (pricey) package. It has also become balkanized as the American quince has amalgamated pieces of tradition from multiple Hispanic traditions.

    In America we vote based on the Almighty dollar. That is truly the American god.

  • Julia

    Interesting, that the Catholic Church is taking a new interest in the “Hispanic” tradition of the Qunceanera and using it as an opportunity to strengthen young people with their religion, instead of battling against the tradition.
    It’s sort of the reverse of the commercialization of holy days. Catholics have always been good at attaching religious meaning to indigenous cultural events.

    The USCCB website has a list of 15 questions and answers about the quinceanera, for which there is now an officially accepted set of prayers. Here’s question #1:

    1. What is a quinceañera?
    The quinceañera is a traditional celebration of life and gratitude to God on the occasion of the fifteenth birthday of a young Hispanic woman. The ritual emphasizes her passage from childhood to adulthood. The family usually requests a Mass or a blessing to be held in the Church. The rite is frequently celebrated in several countries in the Americas, including Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. It is frequently requested by Hispanic Catholics in the dioceses of the United States of America.

    Source: (scroll down aways to see all of them)

    The American use of the term “Hispanic” is interesting. We use it for people in the Americas whose country was colonized by people from Hispania – Spain & Portugal. But a great deal of what is called “Hispanic” in the US is actually American Indian-derived and would leave people from Hispania baffled. Interesting that we don’t use the term “Hispanic” for people who are actually from Spain and Portugal.

    It’s kind of like calling American Catholics “Roman” instead of the more accurate “Latin”. The “Hispanic” and “Roman” monikers must be akin to the Quakers calling all non-Quakers “English” – kind of plausible, but not really.

  • Dave

    Julia said:

    [...A] great deal of what is called “Hispanic” in the US is actually American Indian-derived and would leave people from Hispania baffled.

    This would not be the first time that Christianity had cheerfully absorbed Pagan folkways intact. Think of that the next time you trim a “Christmas” tree or hunt for “Easter” eggs.

  • BevH

    The American wedding symbolizes the transition of the man and a woman as becoming a family of consumers. It is expected that these two will produce a family of consumers. Also, this article reminds me of the movement of mega-churches that seem to see potential worshippers as consumers, and attempt to lure them in with special amenities. When did this happen? When did religion become a marketing ploy to sell more Christmas decorations and wedding cakes? My parents constantly remind me that, “It wasn’t like this when we were younger…”