The Season of Consumerism

If Jesus were still alive today, he’d be a Buddhist.

I mean, think about it. Was Jesus a consumer? Did he long for the things that people consider symbols of high status? Did he care for status at all, or did he live as a simple man who needed for only the simple things. Wasn’t his point that life is more than the little things? “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” – Matthew 16:26. Look at me, I can quote Bible verses too. I guess I seem to understand this, and I’m an agnostic.

So where did this idea come from that the so-called celebration of the birth of Jesus meant buying things? Campaigns have begun to urge Americans to spend more money in order to bolster the economy. “Go out and spend your hard-earned money on gifts for the people you love. It’s what has to be done to make them love you more. And to save our country.” But I guarantee this: If you spend less this Christmas season, the people who mean anything to you won’t stop loving you.

It seems like the consumer drive is getting worse every year. In the 90’s, the fad was Tickle-Me Elmo, or even Furby, and people charged stores and trampled people, leaving them with bruises and broken bones, to get to the idols of desire. This year, it killed someone.

A Wal-Mart worker was killed Friday after “out-of-control” shoppers desperate for bargains broke down the doors at a 5 a.m. sale. Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers shouted angrily and kept shopping when store officials said they were closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

At least four other people, including a woman eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries, and the store in Valley Stream on Long Island was closed for several hours.

Nassau County police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the store doors. The impatient crowd knocked the man, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour of Queens, to the ground as he opened the doors, leaving a metal portion of the frame crumpled like an accordion.

Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help the man were also getting trampled by the crowd, said police spokesman Lt. Michael Fleming said.

Witnesses said that even as the worker lay on the ground, shoppers streamed into the store, stepping over the 34-year-old man.

It’s old news, I know, but it’s important. It says something so dire about our society. When the deals and the shopping mean more than the lives of the people around us, we have to reevaluate our priorities. People who have families and friends who love them and need them. In the idiomatic “God’s country,” it would seem that the people who follow the teachings of Christ have strayed very far from the ideals of a simple carpenter from two millenia ago.

Where does the gift-giving tradition come from? It could be related to the Magi, but more likely comes out of the traditions of pagan religions, such as in the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Overall, the base concept of Christmas is that of giving, of charity and goodwill toward loved ones and those who are in need. It has evolved into the materialism we see these days because it is much faster and easier to go out and buy something to give to someone else. Not that I’m saying consumerism is such a horrible thing, but as all things it should be done in moderation. We need to remember the season of goodwill and practice charity. Even for those of us who do not prescribe to a certain religion, or those of us who do not celebrate Christmas, the concept of charity and giving is something we can all accept. When people focus so highly on the buying part of the holiday, the meaning becomes diluted.

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” – Buddha