I was walking around a big store in July, and I wondered how they made enough money to keep the staff around. There was almost no one in the store at that time. How could they keep the doors open? A store clerk asked if I needed any help and so I asked her about it. She smiled and said that magical word – Christmas. She went on to relate that the store did 40-50% of their business during the Christmas season. So, if business is down during the holidays, then there is big trouble for the company. With that in mind, things like Black Friday and putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving began to make some sense.
Even so, it seems sad that it is this way. I think about Scrooge and the fact that the night before Christmas day was a time to go to midnight mass or service (hence the name Christ-mass). Then on Christmas day, the shops were open and food and presents were purchased. Decorations were put up and trees dressed and parties and banquets were held. (There was no long and concerted decorating before hand.) How long did they celebrate? See the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” for an answer. I heard or read somewhere that in Russia, gifts were given on the Feast of St. Nicholas, so that Nativity (Christmas) would be a time to be in Church. I cannot speak for all cultures, but for the one that I live in, all of these things are gone or have mutated. What is the force behind these changes?
The force behind this change is commerce, and this force has its own icon. It is the smiling face of “St. Consumo” (Santa Claus -The name of St. Consumo was first given to me many years ago by an old friend. Where he got it, I do not know). Of course, St. Consumo is often referred to as St. Nick and in this we can see the confusing transformation from this
For an Orthodox Christian, the loss in this transformation is great and the true story of this great man, St. Nicholas, is hidden and forgotten.
Sometime ago, I read an article about how the Jews stole Christmas. At first, I thought this would be some anti-Semitic work, but it wasn’t that at all. The author confirmed what I had noticed when I walked around the malls after Thanksgiving when the work of St. Consumo begins in ernest. I listened to the background music and rarely did I hear a hymn or carol that spoke directly about the birth of Christ. What I heard was the great songs written by talented composers and are played so often that these songs have become the new traditions of the season (Songs like “Silver Bells”, “I’ll be home for Christmas”, “White Christmas”, and so on). These songs are wonderful pieces of music and many of them were written by Jewish composers not in some secret attempt to steal away the message of Christmas, but to catch some of the emotional and romantic aspects of the season. Now they have become the hymns of St. Consumo. The process has continued with new Consumo hymns like “Jingle Bell Rock” and sadly “Grandma got run over by a raindeer.”
All these kinds of things (Like refusing to say “Merry Christmas”) makes us think that there is a war on Christmas. Clearly, the commercial force is not intentionally anti-Christian, but for us there is another power behind the commercial force and this force is orchestrating the problem and creating a sense of war. Of course, the secular world knows nothing about this and laughs at the very idea.
What confuses us is that if there is a war, why are there positive things about the present situation? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with giving gifts to people you love or receiving gifts from them. Those who follow the “Old Calendar” have the chance to return to the traditions that I mentioned before. We can give gifts on St. Nicholas day and even on December 25 (New Calendar) if we wish, and then on January 6-7, we can come to Church and celebrate the Nativity without any emphasis on buying or giving gifts. Since January 6-7 is actually December 25 on the old calendar, some Orthodox wait and give gifts after the Church services have ended.
Decorations and Christmas trees are beautiful to see and I am glad that at least for the present, the season is still called Christmas. There is joy in the air, a sense of anticipation, and many participate in organizations that feed the poor. Families gather together and even speak words of forgiveness. Stores who employ thousands of people are able to raise enough money to pay their employees when the lean summer months come to pass.
All this happens in a fallen world where St. Consumo seems to reign and so it can confuse us all. What can we do? With respect other religions and if they have legitimate celebrations during this time, I am happy to say Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or even Happy Holidays. But I also have the right to say and to hear Merry Christmas. I should work to be sure that to my family and especially to my children, St. Nicholas is never absorbed into St. Consumo. I will enjoy giving gifts, but may I never think that this is the reason for the season. May I never forget the poor. May I never be Scrooge. May I always sing “Silent Night” and “Away in the Manger” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” more than “Silver Bells” or “White Christmas,” though I will sing those too. Though it be a powerful struggle, may I fast in preparation for Nativity and anticipate the birth of my Savior more than the giving of gifts. I understand what St. Consumo represents, so may I never allow him to dominate my world.
I’ll end with this story. Once Matushka Elisabeth asked me what all children will eventually ask – is Santa real. Is he alive? I told her the story of St. Nicholas and then I asked her, “When you are with Jesus, are you alive or dead?” She responded that you were alive. I told her that Nicholas was a saint and so he was with Jesus. Therefore, is St. Nicholas alive or dead? She responded that he was alive and so very real. “Now,” I asked her, “does he come down chimneys?” No, he doesn’t because he is so much greater than St. Consumo.
Merry Christmas to all of you and may the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ bring light to all the dark places of the world and in our souls. Christ is born! Glorify Him!