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.
When writing my book A Mindful Christmas: How to Create a Meaningful Peaceful Holiday, I asked people what they did and did not like about Christmas.
Most Americans feel that Christmas Day is the most stressful day of the year. The expectations of perfection that we see in movies and advertising have put an enormous amount of pressure on us. Christmas is too over commercialized, too expensive, and causes too much stress. We live in a consumer society and we measure success in terms of how much we have materially. We have come to value things over being. No longer is it enough to keep up with the Jones; we want to run them down! The obsession with possessions is a reflection of spiritual emptiness.
The over-commercialization and consumerism of Christmas is the main reason that we feel a loss of meaning and a lack of the connectedness we long for. The true meaning has been replaced with holiday hysteria. As a result, many people dread the coming of what could be a joyful and uplifting season. It's no wonder so many people have diminished feelings, even depression surrounding this holiday with all of the obligations including the expense, the shopping, crowds, parties, and the list goes on. We have let our modern commercial culture take away the message of this holiday. Where is the meaning? Why go through all of this just for one day? Most people feel terribly overwhelmed by this holiday!
Yet the challenges we face over Christmas can be seen as gifts in and of themselves. The silver lining is the ability to set our priorities straight and to teach ourselves and our children that we need to get back to basics and re-examine our values. A meaningful Christmas doesn't come from the things we receive but comes from how we live with what we do have.
Money isn't the answer to a meaningful Christmas either. Whether we spend $100 or $10,000 we may still feel let down by a Christmas that lacked meaning and connection. We have gotten hooked on this holiday for all the wrong reasons. Things and money don't guarantee happiness, and they aren't the source of fulfillment.
Yet, when some critical disaster strikes, whether it is global or in our own home, we realize what is really important and what matters to us most. Christmas gives us the opportunity to express our deepest values and to put our priorities in perspective.
We could all have less stress and less anxiety around the Christmas holiday if we stopped celebrating it with mass consumerism and extravagance. Keeping Christmas simple and toned down is possible. All you have to do is commit to keeping it debt free, communicate honestly, and stay true to yourself and your values.
To begin a "Mindful Christmas"experience, here are three questions worth considering:
What are my intentions?
What can I do without?
What is necessary?
Done properly, the Christmas holiday happens in the heart.
Our most cherished memories are about how we felt when we looked back on our Christmases. The most important and meaningful Christmases are about connecting with the people we love. Most people don't even remember the gifts that they received. The memories that we build are much more important!