For decades, many Americans have lamented the commercialization of Christmas. It's the theme of countless TV shows and movies that have a well-meant core message against excessive materialism.
In "A Charlie Brown Christmas," the 1965 CBS classic that airs annually, Snoopy pauses from nailing up lights to hand Charlie Brown a decorating-contest flier that reads, "Find the true meaning of Christmas. Win money, money, money."
"Oh no!" Charlie Brown moans, "My own dog -- gone commercial. I can't stand it."
Later, after Linus recites the Luke 2:8-14 passage about the Christ Child's birth, Charlie Brown happily heads outside. Spying the wildly decorated doghouse, he proclaims, "This commercial dog will not ruin my Christmas."
This Christmas season, the National Retail Federation (NRF) is projecting upward of $586 billion in revenue, with increasing amounts from online sales. For the 61 total retail days in November and December, merchants have hired between 585,000 and 625,000 seasonal employees, the NRF estimates. Without Christmas-inspired Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, when businesses finally go into the black) America's economy would be in even greater doldrums than it is. Hanukkah and Kwanzaa account for some of the gift-buying, but the big dog is Christmas, despite the Grinches' best efforts at rendering it a generic "holiday."
The irony is that commercialism, which so dominates the Christmas season, is also the carrier of the real meaning of Christmas in a powerful form: music. The well-loved carols played over intercoms and on radio stations and even on many online sites smuggle the 2,000-year-old story of the birth of Jesus right past the Grinch patrols. Add to that performers in all genres cranking out Christmas albums.
Walk into any store or mall, big or small, and you'll hear Christmas music, from timeless tunes to more modern offerings such as "Silver Bells." In the most evangelical of the carols, the reason for the birth of Jesus is captured with precision: "Hark! The herald angels sing / Glory to the newborn King."
As much as some secularists might hope the Christmas season devolves into a meaningless exercise in gift-buying, merchants know shoppers respond to the underlying message. It's the primal, heartfelt wonder of it all that C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia called "the deeper magic." Materialism can be a false religion in and of itself. But without the lure of holiday gift-buying, when else would nonbelievers subject themselves willingly to the siren songs of salvation?
Can the most hard-bitten Scrooge really steel himself against humming along to the strains of "Joy to the World"? The beloved carol, penned by the English lyricist Isaac Watts at the turn of the 17th century and put to music in 1836 by New Jersey native Lowell Mason, is an irresistible ode to, well, joy. Drawing inspiration from the 98th Psalm, Watts crafted a poem celebrating the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a Messiah: "Joy to the world! The Lord is come / Let earth receive her King."
That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
The Washington Times
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