So, how funny would it be if this is the last thing you ever read? I don't think the Mayans were real specific about just WHEN the world would end today, but it could happen before you get to my last line. Or in an hour. In which case you have a little time to make amends, apologize for your behavior, and ponder one last time whether missing church was such a good idea after all.
Not long ago, Newsweek (itself ironically dying away from the printed word) ran the bylined story of a neurosurgeon who claimed that he’d died and seen heaven, blah, blah blah -- and I guess we are supposed to believe him, because he says there was no other medical or scientific explanation for his "vision,” which tracked pretty closely to the well-worn "light at the end of the tunnel" account of others before him who had similar near-death experiences. The fact that he is hyping a book about all of this -- rather than out feeding the poor in Haiti or India -- does give one pause. Don't know about you, but if I thought for a moment I could be justified by works, I'd be sweeping sand at the Jersey shore tomorrow.
But assuming we are still here at the stroke of midnight (having spent most of the day in our backyard "survival" underground bunkers), we can put aside our concerns about the afterlife and focus on the true meaning of the season upon us: conspicuous consumption.
Gift-giving at this time of year is said to have begun during the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient festival that took place in late December and may have influenced Christmas customs. On Christmas, Christians exchange gifts because gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were given to the infant Jesus by the Biblical Magi (even though yet another Newsweek story says there is no consistent Gospel reference to the Three Wise Men.) At any rate, I’m sure if there was some gift-giving at Bethlehem, the givers had no idea what they were starting. Unless, of course, they shopped on Thanksgiving afternoon at Target for the gold, frankincense and myrrh.
It seems somehow wrong to belabor the commercialization of Christmas to an audience of folks in the adverting business, who, if they were as successful as their job descriptions say they should be, would make EVERY day Christmas -- or some similar excuse for buying stuff that we could well live without.
Given the persistently precarious state of the economy, one feels a certain patriotic obligation to get out there and shop. With each swipe of the credit card, the season seems to be more about the willingness of "the consumer" to support the retail economy than any celebration of the birth of a savior, commemoration of the rededication of a Holy Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BC (although ironically, again, there is no reference to it in the Mishna), nor a reaffirmation and restoration of rootedness in African culture (sorry if I left anyone out).
Research has shown that buyers get more joy out of gift-giving than do the recipients of those gifts, hence the emergence of re-gifting and returns for credit that will go further toward what you really wanted during the post-season sales. Who among us hasn't held our breath in joyous anticipation while someone opens our gift -- only to be crestfallen when the much-contemplated gift is tossed aside in the race to open the next? Or the gift is received with mild indifference because the color is wrong or the fabric is too starchy?
Here's a thought. Let's rename the season something else -- say, Festivus, to pick a name at random -- and still spend like the lemmings we are, but instead of giving everything to each other, let's give it to people who have nothing. There are plenty of them out there.
Hmmm, what a radical idea -- putting the Christ (or at least the concept thereof) back in Christmas.