Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Giving Gifts at Christmas is Good: But Get a Grip!

I've been making a list of 'Christmas' videos, in another blog. ("- - - Videos of Christmas Lights, Holiday Lights, and Music" Apathetic Lemming of the North (last updated December 22, 2009))

Santa Claus and Hot Lingerie Models

One of them's a rather nice "Carol of the Bells" music track, with a slide show of Christmas-themed graphics and photos. The (automatically-selected) frame from that particular video was, in this case, not at all that typical of the show as a whole:

"It's Good to be Santa?"

"A Christmas Tradition"? As one of my grown kids said, seeing that picture, "it's good to be Santa." If most of the helpers looked like that, yeah: until Mrs. Claus caught on, at least.

Those ladies weren't the "hot lingerie models," by the way. The Oddly Enough blog posted "The Steamy Lingerie Models who Saved Christmas!" Yesterday. I thought it was funny: but your experience may vary. It reads in part:
"...My publisher gave me a hefty advance to write a feel-good new Christmas story for children, to take its place up there with 'The Polar Express' and such-like.

"I'm required to use the phrase 'Steamy Lingerie Models' in the title because it seems research shows that dads do 80 percent of the holiday book shopping for their kids...."
(Oddly Enough (December 21, 2009))

Christmas: Not the Season to Overspend

Which brings me to what may become a sort of Christmas tradition in this blog: a harangue about some deplorable aspect of the holiday season.

I wrote about the warm-fuzzies approach to "the true meaning of Christmas" in television programming last year. What I find particularly irksome there is that so much of it is aimed at children.

Well, that was last year. I may get back to 'and the real meaning of Christmas is being all fuzzy and nice' another time - but this time I've decided to go ballistic over the crass commercialism that as so grievously afflicted this holy season.

Don't get me wrong: I actually like the glitz and kitsch of pre-Christmas marketing. For a fellow who likes Mozart, Hokusai, and Rembrandt, I've got a pretty high tolerance for tasteless showiness and excessively garish or sentimental art. Maybe because when it's done by someone who isn't a Euro-American, it's often been called called "folk art."

Which is another topic.

As I wrote in another blog: "...Nothing quite says 'it's Christmas!' like a snowboarding polar bear and blue poinsettias...."

I think there are better ways to say "it's Christmas" - but there's nothing quite like this season's marketing.

Going Crazy at Christmas? You've Got Company

This is the time of year where headlines like "authorities find bodies in apparent murder-suicide" appear with accounts of (generally husbands and/or boyfriends) who snapped: next to ads for Jamaican vacations, 50-dollar toys and the latest in Christmas bling.
'We'd Solve All Our Problems by Banning Something I Don't Like' - Not
We'd solve all our problems by banning television/newspapers/whatever? I don't think so. Technology makes it easier for us to do what we want to: but I don't buy the idea that television or any other gadget makes us want to do something. Cain predates Bing Crosby's specials by millennia; and we had thieves and murderers long before television, steam engines, the moldboard plow, and steel knives were around.

Of course, there's the idea that we'd solve all our problems if America - and the world - were run along groovier lines. Capitalism has its problems - but so does every system that involves human beings. I've written about that before (August 8, 2009) Bottom line: I think there were reasons why people were trying to break out of countries run by commissars, and occasionally trying to break into America.
Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and All That
Quite a few cultures and religions make a big deal out of the winter solstice. For people living in what's laughably called the northern temperate zone, the day when night stops getting longer and there's evidence that life will return to the world is cause for celebration.

The Catholic Church doesn't miss many opportunities to use symbols. Talking about Christmas festivities being deliberately placed on and near the winter solstice, the Pope said:
"...Beyond its historical dimension, this mystery of salvation also has a cosmic dimension: Christ is the sun of grace who, with his life, 'transfigures and enflames the expectant universe' (cf. Liturgy)...."
(Benedict XVI (December 21, 2008))
What bothers a lot of folks about Christmas isn't where in is on the calendar: It's the stress involved in getting gifts. Lots of them. Preferably expensive ones.

As the old song goes:
"...I'll go in the red like a knucklehead
"Cuz I'll squander all my pay.

"Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas
"Shopping sure drives me berserk
"On the day before, I rush in a store
"Like a pure bewildered yerk...."
(YouTube video via Apathetic Lemming of the North (December 15, 2009")

Giving Gifts at Christmas: It's Some Kinda Plot, Right?

Actually, there's something to the idea that there's a hidden motive behind the crazy overspending on gifts in America (and, quite possibly, elsewhere) this time of year.

Yes, manufacturers and retailers benefit when people buy their products: and they've learned to whip up perceived needs for their tomato slicers; diamond-tipped solid gold swizzle sticks; and all the rest.

They're not the ones who got the ball rolling, though, on giving gifts for Christmas. The Catholic Church encouraged - and encourages - people to do so.

But, follow the trail back a bit further and you'll find another responsible party: God.
"...For us, God has become a gift. He has given himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, he has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high. Christmas has become the Feast of gifts in imitation of God who has given himself to us. Let us allow our heart, our soul and our mind to be touched by this fact! Among the many gifts that we buy and receive, let us not forget the true gift: to give each other something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our time to God. In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is created...."
(Benedict XVI (December 24, 2006))
Yes, people have made a mess of this pious custom of exchanging and giving gifts. No surprises there: It's what we do. People have made a mess of marriage, too. For starters, that Ephesians thing? (September 24, 2009)

Picking up on the Pope's remarks, where'd he'd said: "In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is created."
"...During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord’s words: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite those who will invite you in return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you" (cf. Lk 14:12-14). This also means: when you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back. This is what God has done: he invites us to his wedding feast, something which we cannot reciprocate, but can only receive with joy. Let us imitate him! Let us love God and, starting from him, let us also love man, so that, starting from man, we can then rediscover God in a new way!..."
(Benedict XVI (December 24, 2006))
I've run into worse advice.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.