This essay is part of our Patheos Holiday Monitor question of the week: "Can we - or should we - resist holiday consumerism?" For more, visit the Patheos Holiday Monitor page.
They said it was going to be a good Black Friday this year, with consumers planning to roar into the malls on the day after Thanksgiving to buy more for Christmas than they did last year. It's not that people have more money. It's just that they can't stand to restrain their Christmas shopping anymore. Earlier this month, they voted against paying taxes for the fast-growing health care needs of diabetics. Instead, they want to pay for the Christmas sugarplums that cause the diabetes. They voted against paying taxes for the war in Afghanistan. Instead, they want to pay for World of Warcraft video games for the kids. They decided not to pay their house mortgages anymore, since their homes are worth less than their home loans. Instead, they will buy dollhouses for Christmas.
People have coped with too many grown-up challenges in the past few years. They now want to focus on the childish joys of the holidays. The recession may have left people as homeless as Joseph and Mary, but they are planning to buy Three Wise Men's worth of booty to lay on the manger hay in front of their kids -- and themselves -- this Christmas.
I suppose there's a hint of Scrooge in my analysis of the upcoming season, a dash of disdain for the commercialization of Christmas in a time when so many people are hurting for life's basics. But when I step back from it all -- two thousand years back -- it looks different.
"Man does not live by bread alone" (Dt. 8:3). Maybe that is why the Three Wise Men, upon encountering the Christ at the first Christmas, presented him with non-essentials. Cool, impractical gifts. Not unemployment checks, food stamps, or subsidized housing vouchers. They didn't pay down the national debt; they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Humans need more than basic sustenance. We need food for the soul and for the imagination, and sometimes that needs to take downright frivolous forms.
It's time to throw a snowball at The Great and Terrible Recession. Time to pelt the ruins of the economy with roasted chestnuts. Time to wash away political rancor with wassail. Maybe it is time to forget the national debt and rack up a bit more personal debt, just to get the soul out of the doldrums.
The bills will come, surely enough, after the happy holiday haze has passed, and we'll all be back to grown-up reality again. So a happy Black Friday, and a very merry Christmas to all . . . whether we can afford it or not!