When the holidays roll around, one of the things I never fail to do is visit my favorite shopping center and spend four or five hours enjoying all the commercialism. I wallow in it.
In my town, there are plenty of people who would be happy to tell me that there is something shameful about my behavior and that I am missing the "true meaning" of Christmas or Hanukkah by allowing myself to be seduced by crass materialism. In a way, it is true that I am easy to seduce where holiday commercialism is concerned. I do love to look at all the new fashions, the toys, the games, the electric appliances, and the sporting goods. Heck, I even like the cardboard Santa Clauses, the artificial Christmas trees, the bright display lights, the sugar-laden goodies, and the acquisitive little kids.
But it is not necessarily true that I therefore miss the "true meaning" of the holidays. It is just that to me the holidays mean something different from what they mean to that annual chorus of puritans on the right and the left who feel obligated to convince me that commercialism sins and falls short of the Greater Glory of either God or the Revolution. To me, commercialism is part of the "true meaning" of the holidays. So one of the reasons I go downtown to wallow in commercialism is just to touch base, to tell myself that it is all still there, and, more important, to tell myself that, however deformed, the political and economic institutions that make it all possible are still there.
I enjoy the commercialism because I know that without political liberty and economic freedom, none of this would be possible. As long as I see commercialism during the holidays, then I know that I am still living in at least a semi-free society.
But it is during the holidays that all the enemies of freedom across the spectrum get together and agree on one thing: that commercialism is evil. They can't stand to have people see what freedom has to offer, especially when they have nothing to offer but stale dogma.
In my town, a local left-leaning radio station never fails to play over and over again Stan Freberg's "Green Christmas," in which a brisk musical tempo mingles with ringing cash registers. Local religious leaders join the chorus by calling on citizens to rediscover the spiritual meaning of the holidays through "sacrifice."
But you can find this anti-commercialism mentality anywhere. Since 1955, U.S. News and World Report has run an annual editorial entitled "Someday—a Real Christmas." The editorial laments that "this is an age of decaying morals and of crass materialism" and that "the real Christmas will never come through the electric display of slogans or the myriads of tinseled trees exhibited along our thoroughfares."
And then there is the little book I found in the library called Have a Natural Christmas, which is published by Rodale Press and apparently comes out annually. The book contains a "collection of Christmas ideas based on creativity and on the use of natural and recycled materials, instead of on conspicuous consumption." To avoid an unnatural Christmas and to consume inconspicuously, the book suggests that you spend many hours baking, cooking, and fashioning little knickknack gifts out of the stuff you find out in the garage. According to the book, we should all do this because "we no longer feel in living partnership with nature. By benefitting from its exploitation, we have forfeited the conviction of being part of it—a belief that once gave meaning and perspective to human life."
What I fear is that some year I am going to go downtown and find neither a white Christmas nor a blue Christmas nor even a green Christmas. I shall find a gray Christmas. The lights will be off. People will be walking around with hollow eyes and shrunken bodies. Commercial products won't be around to oppress us because there won't be many of them left. People won't be wandering happily through commercial displays; they will be standing in long lines hoping to get what few products are left. Everyone will have discovered a new "partnership with nature" because many people will be spending time sleeping under bushes, picking wild berries, digging roots, and trying to survive bad weather. And there will be no more Santa Clauses and advertising slogans to beguile us. Those shall have been replaced by huge images of the latest dictator and by his slogans.
As much as I don't mind holiday commercialism, there is a sense in which I really don't even mind the annual detractors of commercialism. As long as they are pitching their foolishness, I know that commercialism still exists.
More important, I know that freedom still exists. And because of freedom, the religionists, the environmentalists, and the anticapitalists are still free to prattle.
So I say, Have yourself a commercial little Christmas. Make those cash registers ring. Commercialism is the triumph of capitalism. Commercialism is the showcase of what a free economy has to offer. Commercialism reflects the spirit of freedom, which, by the way, is still our best hope for peace on earth and good will toward men.
Gaines Smith is a free-lance writer and editor who lives Eugene, Oregon.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Have Yourself a Commercial Little Christmas".