This article belongs to Great American Dumb Ideas column.
In the beginning
Carols and bells are incessant. Shoppers riot in stores for the latest gimmicks and toys. Credit card balances expand. Liquor and wine sales boom along with attempted suicides. The Post Office is swamped. The churches overflow. Welcome to the American Christmas madhouse, one of the most unspiritual celebrations in the history of humans.
Are we winning the War on Christmas, or has Christmas won and turned us into materialist zombies and automated Christians?
A righteous war on Christmas would not be a war on Christianity, as many preachers would like us to think. The preachers, like the merchants, see Christmas as their peak earning season. Christianity, like any religion or belief system, is free for the taking. This leaves the preachers, unlike the stores, with nothing to sell, so their task is to convince us that we need them when, in fact, they are only parts of a materialistic Christmas ritual. They end up putting on a good show with church services, sermons, and all the old emotional mumbo-jumbo.
Spirituality, of course, knows no season and has little to do with religiosity; it can be practiced by anyone of any religion, or by anyone of no religion. The question is not about the exercise of a spiritual life, but about minimizing the harmful effects of materialism.
Mental health experts are often called on to tend the personal wreckage left in the wake of seasonal over-indulgence: the family conflict, depression, and substance abuse associated with the December holidays. The shrinks are often followed by the financial counselors helping people deal with post-holiday debt.
Winter is a cold and dismal time of year for many of us. The excitement of Christmas lifts our depression for a little while. Sadly, like any addiction, the obsession wares off leaving us with a horrible hangover. Then, too, social pressure pushes us along as we commit irrational acts of spending, giving, eating, and drinking. So, Christmas is like a warm shower on a cold day: it feels good, but next day, when the warm water is turned off, we return to cold reality.
Christmas is a very selfish celebration because we give presents and spend money for emotional reasons more often than because others need or want what we give. Just look at the long lines of people after Christmas trying to exchange our gifts for something they really need or want while strangers who might actually need something we could give them are ignored.
Various sources, including Forbes Magazine and The Guardian, put the average per person Christmas spending at about $800.00 in the United States This amount of money, deposited in any good mutual fund every year, would make a young adult a millionaire by retirement age.
Making money on it
The retail merchants, preachers, therapists, and credit card companies rake in profit during and after the holiday season. What more is to be said? Interestingly enough, one way to reduce Christmas stress is to join the money-makers with something to sell or a service to offer. That way you keep busy with business and have an excuse for dodging some of the usual madness.
Is there a better idea?
The solution to Christmas misery is simple, costs nothing, and builds character. Whenever I suggested these ideas to a client in psychotherapy, I saw a smile of relief often followed by deep concern about what others would think if they violated Christmas traditions.
Q: How can I ever get the living room decorated in time?
A: Just don't do it.
Q: How can I get the exterior home lights and tree up in time?
A: Just don't do it, and save electricity.
Q: How can I ever get all the greeting cards sent on time?
A: Just don't do it.
Q: If I serve wine at Christmas, how can I keep Uncle Bill sober?
A: Just don't do it, give Uncle Bill a list of AA meetings.
Q: In fact, who should we invite over for dinner?
A: Just don't do it, go feed the homeless.
Q: I can't afford all the nice things I want to buy!
A: Give only your love and cut up your credit cards.
You can guess the rest, and you understand the message unless you are rationalizing like a president stuck in
Don't get nasty about it; let others do as they must. Just say, "No," to Christmas.
Any Christmas misery you have, blame yourself. The American Christmas is a Seasonal Self-inflicted disorder, so to everyone, I wish a Happy-Just-Don't-Do.