As an interesting counterpoint to Rabbi Marc Soloway’s piece “What Shall We Buy for Chanukah?”, there was a piece in the news last weekend about a fuss Focus on the Family is making over the level of “holiday-ness” of various retailers.
“For the third year in a row, Focus is taking retailers to task for using generic language like ‘season’s greetings’ and ‘holiday sales’ with no reference to ‘Christmas,’ calling the omission an insult to the Christian faith.
“’The eradication of Christmas is a politically correct idea that we can’t have sacred ideas in our culture,’ said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for Focus Action, the political arm of the family group in north Colorado Springs.”
Paradoxically, I believe this attitude around retailer’s behavior at this time of year merely increases the association between Christmas and the crass commercialism that has arguably led to the secularization of the holiday itself over the last two hundred years, a trend that is also decried by many Christians in the developed world.
I was in Israel two years ago during the week between Thanksgiving (here) and Chanukah. At the same time that life in the US was surround-sound “holiday music” and blaring commercialism, in Israel one could hardly tell there was anything going on, just days before Chanukah. Yes, there were subtle (and some not so subtle) signs in some retailers’ windows, but the atmosphere didn’t pound it into your skull every waking moment. There wasn’t a commercial hint that Christmas was a mere three weeks away, even in the Christian quarter of the Old City. It was an incredibly refreshing – even liberating – experience that put religious observance vs. secular commercialism into stark contrast. I suspect that for better or worse, Israel’s economy is not as seasonally impacted by holiday shopping as the rest of the Westernized world, nor is it as dependent on that consumerism.
To Rabbi Marc’s point, it would be better if, at this time of year, Christians as well as Jews could concentrate on generosity of spirit, measured by gifts to the needy (people and organizations) and generating light to dark parts of the world (through, for example, Reading Village’s “Light Up Literacy” program) rather than measuring love for family and friends by the size or number of gifts given and received. If non-profit organizations had all the money they needed, think of how many fulfilling jobs could be created by people helping other people who help those in need. We hope you’ll share the spirit this season.