Santa kneels before the Child

Holidays and consumerism

Aurelio Porfiri 

When we approach certain holidays, such as Christmas, we can measure how consumerism has eroded the deep meaning of these holidays, which should not be linked to “consuming” something but to rediscover that deep sense of our Christian life. Instead, capitalism and consumerism have covered everything with an economic veneer, making everything, including ourselves and what surrounds us, a bargaining chip. For heaven’s sake, I’m not proposing a kind of communism, but between this and the erosion of the values brought by capitalism, I imagine there must also be a middle ground.

To elucidate this, I can only remember a not very remote time, when I taught in Shanghai as a guest choir conductor. I remember once when I visited during the Christmas holidays, I was able to see how Christmas was lived in this great Chinese city, subject to the religious control that we all know of. Well, I remember that the Christmas atmosphere came out of the shops, with Jingle Bells and Adeste Fideles echoing here and there. Yet if you looked inside, you realized that in the crib instead of the baby Jesus they put a snowman. It seemed to me a powerful metaphor for understanding how these consumerist parties offer us an envelope without the content. Unfortunately, where the strong signs of religion should be, we find it hard to see them by now. Everything seems to be resolved in a horizontal encounter, from which the verticality that gave meaning to every celebration and every Christian commitment seems to escape.

After all, Christmas is a holiday that is meant to be celebrated by all, even by those who are not interested in the religious dimension of existence, who is not moved in front of a child who is born? Yet this is not a birth like any other, because the Christian belief tells us that that child is the Son of God, God became man through a virginal birth. It is not just any birth, but an unheard-of event in the history of humanity.

In itself, there is no harm in rejoicing even through a certain consumerism of the Christmas atmosphere, if we speak about the profound reasons why this holiday exists. Yet, as I said, many often overlook these reasons because we don’t find them where they should be. Then we are content to contemplate an absence, as if we put all the gift packages on one side, without ever opening them.