I don’t try to hide it: I’m a Scrooge. I don’t like the Christmas holiday as it’s celebrated in the United States much at all. In my opinion, Christmas has degenerated into Crassmas. Bah humbug!
I’ll admit that some of my antipathy toward this holiday is petty and non-unique. I hate most holiday decorations, whether they be for Christmas, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, or, worst of all, Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy understated seasonal decorations. I find a display of a few gourds and corn husks in the fall a tasteful and appropriate celebration of the autumnal harvest. I think that wreath of fallen evergreen boughs and some scented candles add a wonderful ambiance to dark winter days and I find the fractal silhouette of a tree or shrub bejeweled in twinkling white lights cheering and beautiful to behold. I hate, on the other hand, big plastic bright-orange jack-o-lanterns, oversize plastic nativity scenes illuminated with electric lights, paperboard posters of turkeys in pilgrim hats hanging on the wall, and just about anything inflatable–from ghosts to snow men to Santa Claus–cluttering up the front yard of people with too much time and too little taste. Even holiday lights can be taken too far by those with no restraint. A shrub or two strung with a single color can be striking. However, I see no beauty in having every shrub in one’s lawn encircled and every architectural detail on one’s house outlined in a loud rainbow of chasing, flashing, strobing lights. That’s the very visual harbinger of Crassmas.
However, the true horror of Crassmas is often much harder to see. Sometimes it’s just as gaudy, just as bright, but in other ways, it’s so ingrained, pervasive, and taken for granted that we don’t always recognize it. Most of my dislike for the holiday comes from the overcommercialization of gift giving. The importance of Black Friday (and now Cyber Monday) to the retail economy has distorted the meaning and practice of the Christmas beyond recognition. I wouldn’t mind it if the holiday was a simply a religious commemoration of the birth of Jesus or a secular celebration of light, love, and hope in the darkness of winter. But we don’t have the 12 days of Christmas. We have the 10 weeks of Crassmas. It used to be that the post-Thanksgiving donning of holiday decorations signaled the beginning of the holiday shopping season. I thought that was bad enough since the holiday for which these decorations were ostensibly displayed and the day on which those gifts would be exchanged lay more than a month in the future. However, I now commonly see Christmas shopping displays going up the day after Halloween in many retailers. Counting the post-Christmas sales, that’s nearly 3 months of Christmas from preface to climax to denouement! I’m sorry, but I just don’t have that much holiday cheer.
The impulse to spend, spend, spend on gifts for anyone and everyone may drive our economic growth in the short-term, but it’s certainly our doom long-term. I believe it to be incontrovertibly clear that our present patterns of throw-away consumption are environmentally unsustainable. Lester Brown has done an excellent job of documenting the many ways that’s true in his books The Eco-Economy & Plan B 2.0. Aside from the ecological significance, the emphasis on material consumption has eroded the values around which Christmas was established. (I won’t get into a discussion of the multiple layers of Christian and pagan symbolism and ritual that have accreted into our modern celebration of Christmas. Suffice it to say, there’s some deeper core to the holiday than a new Xbox 360 under the sacrificial fir tree festooned with multicolored blinking lights.)
The Center for the New American Dream, an organization I support, has written some useful materials on how to counter this trend toward overconsumption. The Web also hosts many guides to “green giving” (see TreeHugger, et. al.), though many of these are still too focused on material giving, even if the products themselves are sustainably produced. Green gifts are a step in the right direction, but miss a larger point. We should, of course, be “greening” in all arenas, not just holiday gift-giving, by moving toward a fully sustainable economy and system of production as described by Hawkens, Lovins, & Lovins in Natural Capitalism). However, what these “green guides” sometimes miss by concentrating on the gifts themselves is the larger point of staying focused on values and meaning in our holiday celebrations. The mindless exchange of material proxies is still mindless whether the gift is a junky, disposable, plastic trinket manufactured with toxic byproducts in a third-world sweatshop or whether it’s a reusable, remanufacturable, recyclable, multi-functional objet d’art produced locally by skilled craftsman working at a living wage using organic, renewable resources.
Avoiding Crassmass and celebrating Christmas (or your substitute secular or nonsecular holiday of choice) is not about anxiously searching every store in hopes of buying the perfect gift, green or otherwise, but about calmly finding and expressing a true appreciation of and connection to the important people in our lives and a reverence for and communion with the Creation in which we are privileged to participate.