Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Putting the X in Xmas

I don't often disagree with Dennis Prager, but I think his column on the commercialization of Christmas misses the point. Dennis argues that the marketing pressure put on us to buy presents is "overwhelmingly good and wholesome," and he takes to task those who decry the stripping of Christmas of its meaningfulness.

Dennis states the governing rule of criticism thusly: Before you criticize something, imagine its alternative.

This is a powerful formulation, and one I've seen Dennis use many times. The problem, in this case, is that he imagines only one alternative, and that he assumes that alternative is one where no stores put up Christmas decorations and no one buys gifts. He concludes that "[not] having a special time of year such as Christmas time, a major part of which is gift buying, would be an incalculable loss to society."

If that were the only alternative, if that were what critics were advocating, then I'd agree. But it's not. Those who complain of the commercialization of Christmas don't want to do away with it entirely. They simply want it toned down. They don't have a problem with the exchange of presents. They simply want that aspect of it put into perspective, so that the real significance of the holiday doesn't get smothered.

I agree with Dennis that "[s]pending one's money on presents for people is one of the nicest traditions in society." At the same time, the observance and reverence of our ancient, holy traditions are important to our spiritual wellness. Neither of these sentiments need overshadow the other. There is room for both and, in balance, both practices are enriched.

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