To quote the great theologian Lucy Van Pelt, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”
I’ve always found a certain irony in that line, given that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was originally sponsored by the altruistic folks at Coca-Cola; in early airings, the can that Linus manages to shoot off of the fence with a snowball was actually a Coke.
However, the point was manifest: Yes, the Christmas season is overly commercialized, and the antidote isn’t to give into it but to anchor ourselves in the true meaning of the holiday, which is the birth of our Savior as Christians.
If you haven’t managed to catch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in the last half-century, I apologize for the spoilers. At least you can still wait with bated breath to find out what happens to the poxed little sapling Charlie picks out from the Christmas tree lot.
But I digress. There’s a third option to the commercialization/Christian dichotomy coming out of Merrie England, which is either ingenious or horrifying, depending on how you look at it.
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At Lady Lumley’s School in Pickering, North Yorkshire, Christmas has been “banned” by officials for being too commercial — unless, of course, the students can convince one of the holiday’s apparatchiks otherwise.
“In an assembly this week, ‘Father Christmas’ told students about the true meaning of Christmas being ‘lost and buried under an avalanche of commercialization’ before announcing the holiday was canceled,” Fox News reported.
“Cards, gifts and Christmas activities were banned unless ‘persuasive arguments’ can be made to argue the real meaning of Christmas, he said.
“Children at the secondary school now have until November 30 to email their teacher to persuade her the school should celebrate Christmas.”
Do you think this was a good way to teach children about the meaning of Christmas?
Leaving aside the obvious supererogatory red tape of making the teachers intermediaries in this whole shebang (I don’t think even Thomas Sowell’s arguments about the value of middlemen would justify this arrangement), this is more interesting than it might appear on its face.
“In assemblies this week, Mrs. Paul, one of our teachers of (religious education), spoke about Christmas and whether the message of Christmas has been lost and buried under an avalanche of commercialization,” headteacher Richard Bramley said.
“Christmas is a day celebrating the birth of Jesus and should be a time of goodwill to all, yet it can be a very stressful, expensive, argumentative and lonely time.”
Parents had mixed takes on the whole thing.
“I understand the way the RE teacher is trying to educate the kids. But it’s the way the kids have been told … Mine came in upset,” one parent said.
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“What’s all this about kids not being able to celebrate Christmas??” another wrote.
However, others seemed to agree with the message.
“Don’t know the details, but this actually sounds like quite a good exercise — getting everyone to actually think about what Christmas really is and why we should celebrate it,” one person said.
In terms of giving everyone a caveat lector on this matter, here’s my personal opinion: The only thing more annoying about Christmas than the over-commercialization of the holiday are the people and/or institutions that cannot be helped but to bang on about the over-commercialization of the holiday.
If you’re a Christian and don’t want to participate in the more capitalistic aspects of the season, you don’t have to. Like so many other things in this world, it’s a choice that is neither moral nor amoral. The controversy over this is also used far too often as a trojan horse to sneak anti-consumerist piffle into the holiday discussion by people who care exponentially less about the birth of Jesus than the habits of the earth-bound humans they’re fond of castigating.
As long as my consumption and celebration of the season is within scriptural boundaries and I still remember that this is, first and foremost, about the virgin birth of Jesus, I don’t particularly feel I need to be lectured by you or anyone else about what presents I buy or charities I give to. I doubt I’m alone in this; I’m sure at least some of those fictive couples in those rebarbative, interchangeable commercials in which they exchange bow-wrapped luxury crossovers under a synthetic Hollywood snowfall remember Luke 2 and keep it close to their hearts as they try out the heated seats.
This all being said, I have to throw some minor props in the direction of Pickering, North Yorkshire. The reason is encapsulated in that response where the parent complains about “the way the kids have been told… Mine came in upset.”
With all due respect, sir or madam, you’re sending your progeny to a religious school and you’re doing so of your own volition. Part of their education, one therefore assumes, involves the inculcation of Christian virtues.
It’s not like the headteacher was reading them Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” (A popular second to “The Night Before Christmas” around the hearth on Dec. 24, as I’m sure you all know.) Their religious ed teachers came up with a unique way to get them to think about the birth of Jesus and how our increasingly secular world celebrates it. I’ve already delineated good reasons to be against this setup. A kid having a conniption isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s one of the things that leads me to believe the faculty at Lady Lumley made the right choice. Pun unintended given the season, but at least you can’t criticize them for giving in to the snowflake mentality.
Of course, the idea of Christmas being cancellable may present other theological issues, but one can’t help but sympathize with Headteacher Bramley when he points out how the religious ed teacher “cited the example of Christmas cards which bear no relation to the origin or meaning of Christmas but carry symbols we now recognize as associated with the holiday season, e.g Santa Claus who, in his modern incarnation, was probably invented by the Coca Cola company!”
As previously stated, Coca-Cola brought us “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” too. Both of these institutions — Charlie Brown and Saint Nick — can be in concert with or in opposition to the spirit of the holiday. Santa Claus can remind us to be cheerful givers for those in dire need even as we think we have too little of our own. He can also be a secular figure of avarice, stoking envy because of how little we believe we have.
As for Coca-Cola’s other baby, well, you don’t necessarily need to be Charlie Brown every waking moment of the season, always picking out the metaphorical dying seedling without ever glancing at the “great big shiny aluminum Christmas tree” because it would be “too consumerist.” On the other hand, it’s probably not a good idea to be Lucy Van Pelt, always fixated on whether Santa will bring you real estate. Whether this will teach the children of Lady Lumley’s the difference is anyone’s guess, and whether the faculty’s heart is in the right place is debatable. However, you can’t fault them for inducing boredom in religious studies.
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