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The $100 Christmas
If we in religious communities are going to do anything about it, we have to recognize just how strong the consumerist ethos is. It has taken root in all of us, basically unchallenged. Fertilized by a million commercials, it has grown into what we call a wolf tree where I live, a tree whose canopy spreads so wide that it blots out the sun, that it blots out the quiet word of God. Churches, obviously, do not have the power to compete head-on, and few of us junkies are ready to go cold turkey. But increasingly there are signs that people are asking deep questions: "Isn't there something more than this?" And the churches can help build this momentum in important ways, beginning with those things it has the most psychological control over.

Chief on this list is the celebration of Christmas, not only the most beloved of church holidays, but also the most powerful celebration of consumerism. Just how powerful can be judged from the fact that it has become a major gift-giving holiday in Japan, despite the conspicuous lack of Christians there. And it is not entirely well-understood. A few years ago, in Kyoto, one department store filled its center window with an enormous effigy of a crucified Santa Claus.

Christmas is a school for consumerism—in it we learn to equate delight with materialism. We celebrate the birth of One who told us to give everything to the poor by giving each other motorized tie racks.

A few years ago, with a couple of friends, I launched a campaign in our Methodist conference in the Northeast for "Hundred Dollar Holidays," recommending that families try to spend no more than a hundred dollars on Christmas.

When we began, we were very long-faced, ...

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December 9, 1996

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