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The commercialization of the holiday season

Carter Boyd | Monday, November 18, 2013

It has already started. Many people are starting to play Christmas music again, and some never even turned it off from last year. As Thanksgiving approaches, Christmas lights, ornaments, trees and decorations are popping up in dorms on campus and in towns across the country. It’s only November and people apparently are already looking forward to the date commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. 
This in essence seems to be the problem. A growing number of people seem to look forward to Christmas for the food, the gifts and social parties rather than because of a deep-rooted appreciation of the real reason for the season. The commercial materialism that has absorbed the American holiday season has gotten to the point of no return. But with society’s expectations, what do we honestly expect?  We chase that almighty dollar by keeping stores open all hours of the night, even on Thanksgiving Day.  But has our economy pushed us into these decisions, or is that an excuse by the retailers? 
Last week, with the release of the Play Station 4, many parents drove to the store and obtained gifts for Santa Claus to bring on Christmas morning. And for those parents waiting to actually shop in December, they can forget about purchasing the most coveted gifts for their children. This trend will only get worse as commercial materialism continues during the holiday season.   
The development of this commercial materialism has degraded, if not destroyed, much of the value of one secular holiday and another liturgical season. The secular holiday, Thanksgiving, is often affected in the hustle and bustle to get ready for Dec. 25th. Of course, Thanksgiving does have religious roots, with tradition often traced back to early Pilgrims in the new land. It was also a day of Thanksgiving that was publically upheld by President George Washington, who proclaimed the day as a way for Americans to “acknowledge the providence of the Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits.” This tradition continued annually with deep roots in religious thought until twentieth-century, politically-correct America removed these roots and declared Thanksgiving a secular holiday that would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November. 
Thanksgiving exists today as a secular holiday, but many believers still take this time to give thanks to God for his blessings on this day. Non-believers and believers alike can share in the day’s spirit of solidarity as Thanksgiving still grants us a time to reflect on our blessings, living in America with liberty and justice for all. I am sure many of us have fond memories of Thanksgiving dinners with family and friends when we were younger. Attending Mass has always been a part of my family’s Thanksgiving Day.
It is also rather odd that the excessive commercialism of a religious holiday, Christmas, inhibits us from properly celebrating a secular holiday, Thanksgiving. Black Friday, a day of shopping for deals with stores opening in the early hours of the morning, brings all the materialism of Christmas without the real reason for the season. But where should it all begin and end? Do we even know? Maybe the buying and selling is not really the problem, but rather our focus should be on each person’s level of responsibility and sincerity in giving. It is important for Catholics in particular to remember the true meaning of the season.
For Catholics, the excessive commercialism of Christmas and the Christmas season has also strongly degraded the liturgical season of Advent, a time of waiting in hopeful expectation for the coming of Christ Jesus the Messiah, Lord God incarnate. Technically, the Christmas season begins on Christmas itself and continues for the following eleven days, commemorated in popular culture by the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It seems that the secularized American retailers and shops are ready to start the after-Christmas sales already on Dec. 26. 
With a materialistic Christmas, we have to obtain and receive first before we can give, but in the true spirit of Christmas, we should first give (what we already have, talents or time volunteering) and then later receive (blessings and love in return). The most important quality of giving a gift is that it comes from our hearts unconditionally and without expectation. 
As we progress further into November, let us first celebrate with friends and family what we have to be thankful for before we enter the Advent season, so that we can properly prepare for the celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world on Christmas. Let us somehow try to maintain a good balance, a balance in which we can prepare for the Lord in a loving, joyful and thankful way. Continue the spirit of true generosity and compassion. Kindle the fire at Thanksgiving, building it into the season of Advent.

Carter Boyd is a sophomore studying science-business. He can be reached at cboyd1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.