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  • We all like to grouse about how Christmas has been commercialized. We might even realize that people have been complaining about how Christmas is being stolen by commerce for several hundred years. As one account puts it, "The modern holiday first took form among the urban upper classes, where wives and mothers had the leisure to embroider the celebratory rituals of home life."

    By 1830, trade in Christmas goods was already robust. Some say that the seminal event in this cultural and economic transformation was the publication in 1822 of Clement Moore's poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas. That saint was actually a swarthy ascetic priest from Asia Minor, but never mind. How Nicholas was cloned into innumerable Santas who look nothing like him is another story.

    Driving into Demre, Turkey – in ancient times Myra, the birthplace of St. Nicholas – you come upon a large billboard picturing a jolly Santa. Arriving in the town square, you encounter a larger-than-life statue of a red-suited Santa standing on a 10-foot pedestal ringing a bell. You find these displays in a country where 99% of everyone is Muslim.

    Even though Xmas hype goes pretty far back and pretty far away, somehow it never ceases to gnaw at me. From the Black Friday excesses that inevitably lead to New Years day hangovers, most everything about Christmas that was ever sacred has gotten lost in the gimme-din.

    I don't know how the whole illuminate-your-property-with-twinkly-colored-lights-and-garish-secular-ornaments thing came to pass. The whole spectacle irritates me, but grousing about it marks one as very grinchy, so I usually shut up about it.

    Justifying the ill-fated 2003 invasion of Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld quipped, "You go to war with the army you have." I guess the same could be said about this season: we celebrate Christmas with the traditions we have. But that was the wrong war, and what we have are the wrong traditions.

    Just look at how the simple joys of house decorating that Pete Bridgeman celebrates have been turned into a competitive sport that the rich do most tastefully. The collage up front shows the handiwork of a company that you can hire to turn your abode into a winter wonderland of wattage for a not inconsiderable sum.

    The Christmas spirit – like so many other good things – has been outsourced, and has been for quite a long time. So long, in fact, that we have come to feel that's the way things must be. But deep down, we wish to not have to swim against the swift currents of commercial culture just to redeem Christ's simple gift of love. Why is that so hard?

    @image: collage of marketing images from
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