Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Cure for Christmas affluenza.

Hi everyone,

Yep, getting ready for final exams and a cold clobbered me last week.

This week, I'm thinking about how badly we've screwed up Christmas. :^)

Saturday's column:

Seasonal shopping got you down? Here’s a cure for Christmas affluenza

Got Christmas affluenza? There’s a cure.

If you’ve ventured into the maelstrom of traffic and survived the angry, exhausted shoppers thronging the malls, Christmas shopping begins to look like a psychological disorder. Call it shoppaholism or affluenza.

We’ve watched the contagion spread for years: Christmas presents have replaced Christmas spirit, the true message of the season swallowed by the cocaine of commercialism. The news we hear is not about Peace on Earth but about frantic holiday shoppers who seemed to believe a new TV was more important than the seasonal temp worker they trampled to death. Maybe everyone is infected.

This illness, spread mainly through advertising, has become an annual Christmas epidemic, like the flu. Our entire retail economy now depends on everyone buying stuff for Christmas. How’s that for irony?

Here’s some more: St. Nicolas is the patron saint of merchants.

Does it all make sense now?

And don’t forget, the Christmas holiday began as a marketing tactic. During the first few centuries AD, most Christians celebrated the birth of Christ on Jan. 6, but around 400 AD the date was permanently moved to Dec. 25.

Why? Public relations.

The early church moved Christmas in order to tap the seasonal popularity of a bunch of other Roman festivals. Dec. 25, the winter solstice under the old Julian calendar, was crowded with holidays, most famously, the Saturnalia, held to honor Saturn (aka “Cronus” or Time, a party we now hold on New Year’s Eve – you know, the Old Year carrying a scythe replaced by the diapered, New Year baby during ritual revelry).

Another party held each year paid tribute to a god called Sol Invictus (“the unconquered sun” who returned, after the longest night of the year, bringing Spring with him). And don’t forget the massive members-only bash for followers of Mithras, the Zoroastrian savior deity who ascended into heaven to judge the quick and the dead. Christianity joined this parade and, by 500 AD, took it over.

There’s another, old-fashioned, name for this perennial affluenza, something well documented and diagnosed by scholars for nearly 2,000 years. It’s other name is greed.

Greed turns out to be pretty interesting, especially when you start to think about it, as early Christian scholars did, as a kind of illness.

The earliest Christian scholars put greed in their Top 10 (OK, Top 7) list of capital sins because of a peculiar quality the top seven share.

Their diagnosis? Greed is not bad merely because of the damage it does to others, but primarily because of the damage it does to the person who is greedy. Greed is even worse for the greedy than it is for others.

How does that make any sense? Greed is bad because it encourages us to believe something that harms us personally; it encourages us to believe that money is more important than people or, worse, that owning things is better than the (much) harder work of pursuing a spiritual life. Thomas Aquinas wrote that greed threatened human happiness because in it “man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.”

Bad idea, that.

Fortunately, there’s a well-established cure for this spiritual, and psychological, illness. The antidote, the preventive vaccine, is charity. Charity, by definition, is the love we develop for others when we realize, deeply and completely, that we’re all in the same boat. Charity cancels out the psychologically and spiritually corrosive effects of greed by reminding us that people are more important than possessions and by inoculating us against the addictive and pernicious belief that simply owning things will make us happy.

So, this year, before you expose yourself to too much of the affluenza virus, get your Christmas flu shot. Give yourself a shot of charity by giving to charity.

You can take the cure, and help your neighbors, right here in West Bend. The “Give at Home” program through the United Way of Washington County funds 35 local programs: from Red Cross services to the military, to the Full Shelf Food Pantry, to the Threshold, to Friends of Abused Families.

Ninety-eight percent of all the money they raise stays here in Washington County. If you’re starting to feel a case of sniffles coming on after an overdose of Christmas shopping, head off your affluenza. Give today to the United Way of Washington County, P.O. Box 304, West Bend, WI 53095.

You’ll feel a lot better – and you’ll be a lot better, too.

All it takes is a little light, a little Yule, and a little mead and mistletoe for fuel.

You can do it.


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