Christmas, Culture, and Christ: Do We Need a Little Christmas?

In the Broadway musical Mame, eccentric Mame Dennis loses her fortune in the Wall Street crash of 1929. Believing that she and her household need some cheering up, she sings what has now become a popular holiday song, “We Need a Little Christmas.” The final chorus rings with seasonal desire:

Slice up the fruitcake;
It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.
For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”
Need a little Christmas now.
Need a little Christmas now.

Question: Do we need a little Christmas now? Though our nation’s financial downturn is not as bad as it was in 1929, do we also need a little Christmas? Maybe a lot of Christmas?

Yes, we do, says an expert who is quoted in today’s New York Times. Stephanie Clifford, in “For a Weekend, at Least, Retailers See Record Numbers,” notes an increase in shopping volume this year. Here’s how her article begins:

Black Friday crowd waiting to get into the Apple Store on 5th Ave. in New York. Photo from JoeInQueens via Flickr.

Spurred by aggressive promotions from retailers, American consumers opened their wallets over the holiday weekend in a way they had not since before the recession, setting records in sales and traffic.

The National Retail Federation said Sunday that spending per shopper surged 9.1 percent over last year — the biggest increase since 2006 — to an average of almost $400 a customer. In all, 6.6 percent more shoppers visited stores on the Thanksgiving weekend than last year.

So, though the economy is still sputtering, more people are shopping and shoppers are spending more money.

Why? Because we need Christmas. That’s the opinion of Margaret Taylor, vice president and senior credit officer in the corporate finance group at Moody’s Investor’s Service, who said, “With consumers, it’s emotional, so they might feel they need Christmas this year.”

Because we need Christmas, record numbers of us were out shopping, not just on Black Friday, but even on Thanksgiving night. Was it worth it? Did shoppers get a magic dose of the Christmas spirit? Clifford suggests that this was not true for everyone:

Kyun Il Bae, 21, and In Jung Choi, 21, South Korean students studying in New York State, said they had heard about the event [the opening of the Macy’s flagship store at midnight after Thanksgiving] and wanted to see what it was like. “I just like the atmosphere,” Mr. Bae said. “It’s a popular place, and I heard this is crazy.” Later, in the store, Mr. Bae did not seem as enthusiastic. He shrugged when asked if he had found any good deals, and looked more exhausted than invigorated.

Hmmm. “More exhausted and invigorated.” I don’t need that kind of Christmas.

A have a couple of thoughts about what we need in this holiday season. First, I think we need a little Advent. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, this won’t surprise you. Advent offers what most secular and even many religious celebrations of Christmas do not: quite, rest, reflection, waiting, hoping. If you’d like to know more about Advent, you can read my blog series, What is Advent? or, if you’re so inclined, get my e-book, Discovering Advent: How to Experience the Power of Waiting on God at Christmastime.

Second, I’d suggest that we actually need not just a little but a lot of Christmas. But, as you might expect, I’m not recommending more shopping or bigger stacks of presents by the Christmas tree. Rather, I think we need to experience in a deeper way the true meaning of Christmas, the celebration of God coming in the baby Jesus, the Word-made-flesh who lived among us. When times are hard, we need to realize that God is not watching us from a distance. In Jesus, he has joined us in this life, feeling our struggles and pains. The Incarnation underscores how much God cares about this world and how much he loves us.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need more shopping. I don’t need more presents. But I desperately need to know that God is with me, that God cares about my life, and that he understands my struggles. So, I don’t need a little Christmas. I need a lot of Christmas. How about you?

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