Christmas the engine of capitalism
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
– G.K. Chesterson
Once again it’s time for my Christmas message. In the past, I’ve striven to dwell upon the abundant religious aspects of this wonderful season. We Christians honor the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ, and our Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah.
But today I’m going to examine oft-heard comments to the effect that Christmas has become so commercialized that we’ve lost its real meaning. Perhaps some have, but remember the three wise men who visited the infant Jesus immediately following His birth? They brought gifts, albeit not from Kmart or Macy’s, but gifts nonetheless and very expensive ones, too. This act of love and humility was the foundation for traditional gift-giving during this holy season.
But there’s another side to the coin. There always is. Usually I’m so confused while Christmas shopping that I don’t really see much other than a massive collage of stuff. Stuff everywhere! Colors galore! Mass confusion! And unless I know specifically what I’m looking for in advance of shopping, I doubt I could ever make up my mind to buy anything. We are certainly blessed with a mind-boggling abundance of wondrous goods.
But this year I decided to take a good look at most everything out there just for the fun of it. Not that I wanted to buy much, I just wanted to really see what other people are buying. After awhile something powerful hit me. As an interdependent society, what kind of a Christmas season would we have, especially our kids, if most of this stuff wasn’t available?
I remember picking up a complex plastic toy, and being a curious engineer type, I analyzed the design, engineering, tooling, manufacturing and packaging elements, and concluded that to produce even a small quantity of this specific toy, the toy company would have to employ a staff of commercial artists, design engineers, tool and die makers, machine programmers, machine operators, assemblers, shipping clerks, office staff and sales management! That company is required to employ hundreds of people all year around just to supply us with one kind of toy for the Christmas season.
And then consider the support companies who supply raw materials and machines to the toy company, such as the manufacturer of the computer controlled plastic die-casting machines at a cost of several hundred dollars each. Those support companies collectively employ thousands of employees year around.
And all these workers who are involved directly and indirectly making that plastic toy will also hopefully buy gifts for their loved ones during the Christmas season, that is, if we buy enough of their plastic toys so they have year around jobs. Remember, while these toys are manufactured all year long, most of them are bought only during the Christmas season.
Now, multiply that by scores of other toy companies plus suppliers of tools, shavers, clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, appliances, furniture, etc., etc., and you begin to get the big picture. Literally millions of workers in the United States are working full time only because of our Christmas season buying and giving.
Probably one quarter of all year-around jobs in our nation, this fantastic engine of capitalism, are dependent upon our purchases during the Christmas season. Additionally, most stores which serve us all year long couldn’t begin to maintain their normal levels of staffing and inventory without a robust Christmas buying season.
So maybe it’s not so bad after all. Perhaps the next time you hear someone complaining about Christmas commercialism or you begin feeling that way yourself, you might remember these hidden benefits which come from this season of giving.
I think if we permit ourselves to be caught up in materialism during Christmas, it’s our own fault, not the fault of those who make and sell desirable goods. If we think mainly in terms of gifts we’re going to receive for Christmas rather than give, then we’ve most assuredly succumbed to commercialism.
Now, for those of you who just can’t celebrate the spiritual side of Christmas without being irritated by the commercial side, I have an idea how to turn the negative into a positive.
Follow the example of the three wise men. For every gift you purchase for a loved one, or friend, purchase another gift for a stranger.
There are many credible organizations, big and small, who’ll happily see that your donated gifts are distributed to kids and adults who wouldn’t otherwise receive anything for Christmas. When you immerse yourself in the spirit of giving then the commercial side of Christmas becomes a support function of love.
I wish you a joyous and holy Christmas. Go to church and open your hearts and minds to this annual recreation of the greatest spiritual happening in the history of our world, the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. Then everything else about Christmas will fall in to perspective.
Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.