Last month, Gallup rolled out its annual poll regarding how much Americans intend to spend on Christmas gifts. Surprisingly, average spending on gifts was expected to jump $100 from last year’s amount, for a grand total of $830 per person.
Such a finding oddly underscores what C.S. Lewis once labeled as “the third thing called Christmas,” better known to us as “the commercial racket.” Writing in 1957, Lewis noted that Christmas gift-giving had exploded exponentially, but in return had brought extensive stress and unhappiness to the season:
- It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to 'keep' it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out -- physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
- Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?
- Things are given as presents which no mortal every bought for himself -- gaudy and useless gadgets, 'novelties' because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?
- The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.”
Lewis’ words, written nearly 60 years ago, provide an uncanny description of what the Christmas season has become today. Is it time that we step back, reduce the spending and rush, and instead seek to recapture the Christmas season as a time of quiet reflection, reverence, and genuine regard for the needs of others?
Image Credit: Unefemme.net
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.