Do We Need a Material Component at the Holidays to Add Significance?


So from Halloween through New Year’s Day commerce is of the essence . . . for most of us anyway. Of course, the cultural significance we add to this time of year is ostensibly more sanctified or at least supernal. We sing hymns of thanksgiving and praise. We extend benedictions of peace and joy. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the ancient Pagan festivals as well are at their heart metaphors for the rebirth of light in the world and in our spirits. Yes, yes, yes, but my question is, we humans being what we are, would the holidays be as all-consuming (pun-intended) if there was not the over-the-top acquisition syndrome? It’s easy to rail against the materialism, yet not so easy to retreat from it. We can take a principled stand, but we risk disappointing those we love. Is it truly loving to make a gift of our self-centered principles rather than the iPod that Junior has been obsessing about since August, or that cashmere cardigan that Mom can’t afford but would be delighted to wear on New Year’s Eve? I don’t know. Just asking.

What I do know, or I should say it’s my postulate that without the presents, the decorations, the smell of an evergreen unnaturally propped and adorned in our living room, and a spread of delectable treats hiding every inch of mahogany on our dining room table, the cultural significance of the holidays and indeed their essential spiritual message would pass with barely a ripple instead of the tidal wave of celebration which we attempt to ride every December, upright upon our lighted surfboards, in our Santa hats and red trunks with the green holly-leaved print. The love, the joy, the light and the rebirth come folded within the wrapped and ribboned boxes with all the stuff. So it goes.

Edward F. Petersen, Creative Director of American Public House Review

Check out our holiday features on American Public House Review. We’ll sip a Celebration Ale in the Landing, tell you about the history of wassailing, and offer a recipe for that eponymous cocktail.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. The conclusion drawn upon is incorrect on several grounds. Christmas is the more direct implication on this and can be used as the primary example. The celebration of Christmas has always been the celebration of the birth of Jesus and not gift giving. Gift giving didn’t come into it’s own until recently. The Catholic church has always celebrated this with significance and gifts were not part of it. As long as Christianity survives in its purity, religious holidays will have the meaning.
    A second point is the human need to celebrate. We love any occassion to hold some type of feast. You see this type of celebration on Sundays in the fall and February. Yes, I am referring to Football. The New Year is another celebration we encounter. The two types of celebrations point to the lack of gifts. All that is needed is a common reason for a group to gather. The Super Bowl has become a yearly celebration for many.
    A celebration of holidays requires meaning. Halloween, Christmas and Easter are three religious holidays with meaning. If Christianity dies, so do these holidays. Yet, New Year’s and the Super Bowl are not tied with religion and they prosper. Materialism does not exist in gifts with these holidays. If gifts do not keep these relevant, then what keeps these two relevant?

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