Christmas wars vs. consumption wars

christmasChristmas gift giving puts our little household in a quandary. I spend hours figuring out what to get my husband for Christmas to show him the careful thought and energy I put in to finding him something he wants. He, in turn, will wait until Christmas Eve and then complain about the traffic he has to fight to get me a video game. After a long trip to the mall, I gush about finding the perfect gift for family members. He wails about the mass consumption that reeks during Christmas. Ah yes, the time of year when people give out of love and give out of necessity.

I want to commend Time magazine’s Amy Sullivan for finding a pretty fresh Christmas story on how Christians are fighting consumerism. The story begins, though, about Christmas wars–or conservatives defending “Merry Christmas” as opposed to “Happy Holidays.” Sullivan juxtaposes the two issues as though one is admirable while one is not.

[T]he Colorado-based nonprofit Focus on the Family is continuing its Stand for Christmas campaign to highlight the offenses of Christmas-denying retailers. The campaign was launched, according to its website, because “citizens across the nation were growing dissatisfied with the tendency of corporations to omit references to Christmas from holiday promotions.”

But to a growing group of Christians, the focus on the commercial aspect of Christmas is the greatest threat to one of Christianity’s holiest days.

I’m not sure it has to be either/or: Either you support corporations using “Merry Christmas” or you can oppose the mass consumerism during Christmas. I’m not saying I’m in either of these camps, but can’t someone be in both?

Nevertheless, this is what the story is really about:

[Portland, Ore., pastor Rick] McKinley is one of the leaders of an effort to do away with the frenzied activity and extravagant gift-giving of a commercial Christmas. Through a savvy viral video and marketing effort, the so-called Advent Conspiracy movement has exploded. Hundreds of churches on four continents and in at least 17 countries have signed up to participate. The Advent Conspiracy video has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube, and the movement boasts nearly 45,000 fans on Facebook.

I flipped through Advent Conspiracy after it came out in October and watched the video, and opposing Christmas wars just didn’t feel like the thrust of the movement. They ask people to consider buying one less gift. So it isn’t as though they have given up shopping altogether. Here’s more from the story:

In many ways, Advent Conspiracy has appropriated some of the traditional arguments of the conservative Christians who see themselves as defenders of Christmas. A popular rallying cry of the foot soldiers in the war on Christmas is “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Often, however, it seems that being able to score a half-price Nintendo DSi and a “Merry Christmas” from the checkout clerk is the real prize. The Religious Right has spent decades casting secular culture as the enemy. And yet instead of critiquing the values of the consumer marketplace, many conservative Christians have embraced it as the battleground they seek to reclaim.

This reads like a jab to Focus on the Family and friends. Don’t get me wrong. I would be delighted to read about an end to Christmas wars in the appropriate context (a column, perhaps), but the angle feels a bit forced. It also appears that she just spoke with McKinley and one anonymous youth pastor. Why not call the defenders of “Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” and get their take, if that’s going to be the angle?

The story appropriately shows how Christians are changing a longstanding Christmas tradition in order to fight consumeristic impulses. Why can’t it explore that idea and leave it at that? I guess, then, there would be no political implication.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this picture I took while getting our Christmas tree in Green Bay this year. It amused me that a typo could have a religious twist.

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  • Mollie

    Maybe there really were prophets there!

  • michael

    Socks. Nothing says thoughtfulness, love, and care quite like new socks. Especially one of those nice bundles that comes six pairs to a pack.

  • Karen H.

    Even better: knitted socks.

  • Jerry

    I think the Advent Conspiracy is a neat idea but I do agree with you that sometimes simply telling a story is much too hard for some people to do.

  • Dave


    It seems to me that the war against “Happy Holidays” is pure culture war of the Pat Buchanan style, with no real religious content; while the movement to marginally de-commercialize Christmas is an outreach to the soul of the consumer, a different kind of project altogether. JMHO. I would not be surprised if a MSM reporter could sniff this out without being able to articulate it completely.

    BTW my Unitarian Universalist church harbors a “shut down the Christmas machine” advocate whose spirituality can best be described as developing Buddhist. It’s a complex thing.

  • Brian Walden

    I think the way people who both want to fight the consumerism present in the way Christmas is typically celebrated in America and also want to see Christmas specifically promoted in shops is that it’s the responsibility of those who follow the Christian liturgical calender to live by it and not let Advent become a season of constant shopping and Christmas parties, but it’s only natural for store owners to take advantage of a situation where many people are buying gifts and to advertise the occasion – they just want to see some honesty in admitting they’re adverting goods for Christmas.

    Stores have no problem mentioning Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s day by name. It’s only for Christmas that some stores ban the name of the holiday – even though that holiday is essential for them staying in business.