How capitalism stole Christmas

Friday, December 16, 2011

by Tavae Samuelu, Grassroots Fundraising Coordinator
Despite the many emails reminding me ‘tis the giving season, I find myself struggling to conjure up the warm and fuzzies that the last two weeks of the year demand. At the risk of sounding like the Grinch, I don’t like “the giving season.” There are few seasons that do stay on my radar: football season, basketball season, and winter (solely because it determines my outerwear). Perhaps it’s because I’ve never known Christmas as a holiday doused in presents and candy cane thoughts.
As the daughter of a Pentecostal Christian pastor, Christmas means additional days in church instead of just the usual marathon services on Sunday. Each year while other children enjoyed tales of Santa Clause and reindeer, I learned about the three wise men and what a manger is. I have heard the story of Jesus’s birth at least 22 times in multiple languages. Correction: 23 times because I’m sure I attended one of JC’s birthday parties in utero. My family got our first Christmas tree when I was about eight or nine years old. It wasn’t some large gesture to embrace pagan symbols. The tree was symbolic of assimilation. My parents were learning how to be American. 

Soon after the tree, presents appeared, modest piles that sat comfortably underneath perpetually falling pine needles. My mom had just started working. We were suddenly a two-income family that had room to provide for basic needs and satisfy wants. Christmas became a celebration of upward mobility with each superfluous decoration or gift signifying our move from low-income to middle class. It wasn’t long before my mom became too busy with work to shop, so our thoughtfully chosen presents devolved into cold hard cash to be spent at our leisure. I remember my older sister ear-marking her holiday money long before she received it. The details around the beginnings of our Savior became blurred; Jesus registered somewhere above a tree but below an after-Christmas Day sale. For holidays, my sisters and I shared the American value of capitalism.

I’m an adult now with the ability to define the holidays for myself, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve got nothing. Ethnic Studies has left me disillusioned with the Christianity that informed generations of my family’s values. Jesus’s birthday party looks much like my own; I raise a glass, and then I move on. The commercial aspects of the holidays fill me with resentment and confusion. I’m looking at you producers of Glee. Sweet little ditties that were once cute now sound creepy. How does Santa know if I’m naughty or nice? Why do I have to subscribe to his morals? When did holidays become another tool of “the man?”

In all these jaded self-indulgent musings, I’ve decided that this season I’m giving myself a new holiday. It will be called 121511 (to be read: twelve fifteen eleven) commemorating its inception. The values and practices of this new holiday are to be determined, but it will be marked by a lack of color coordination and sardonic air. I’ll know it's gotten some traction when Target tries to co-opt it with an annoyingly adorable commercial and Hallmark starts distributing 121511 holiday cards. Yes, the irony of this indicator is intended.

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