"Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God."
Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Have Yourself A Merry Christmas?
by BJ Gonzalvo
Psychology researchers Tim Kasser and Kennon Sheldon, in their 2002 study published in the Journal of Happiness, found that during the Christmas season, the more people focus on materialistic aims such as spending money on gifts and receiving gifts from others, the less focus they have on spiritual aims and the true meaning of Christmas. The more they focus on material things, the less merrier their Christmas season is. The participants of their study reported more happiness when family and religious experiences were more predominant during the Christmas season; the participants reported less happiness when the more materialistic elements of Christmas were more predominant. Material gifts during Christmas, as many Christians probably have suspected, do not necessarily make people happy.
Having celebrated Christmas over forty times now in my lifetime and also in different cultural settings, I can’t help but notice the changes over time in how we celebrate and perceive the Christmas Holidays. Several weeks, maybe even months, before Christmas, advertisements will start dominating our TV screens, newspapers, radio, and online, incessantly bombarding us with messages about what new toys and new gadgets we should get for the Holidays. Maybe it’s just me but as I look back, I just don’t recall having seen this many toys and gadgets advertised on TV and everywhere when I was growing up. It is a relatively new modern tradition that is having a curious impact on us Christians and the way we think about Christmas.
The commercialization and the evolution of Christmas traditions over the years is just an example of how the conditions around us, the distractions and diversions, make our imitation of Christ much more challenging. Thinking about Black Friday sales or whatever new fancy toy to buy just make it so much easier for us to lose sight of what Christmas celebration is truly about. The prevalence and the magnitude of these recent commercialized additions to the Christmas tradition have clouded our perception of the Holidays with materialistic aspirations. With all these diversions and distractions, we forget what Christmas is truly about. We forget that Christmas is about God’s gift to us. We have to remember that we celebrate Christmas not so that we can get new pairs of socks or a new electronic gadget or whatever that ‘must-have’ item is. We have to remember that we pause to celebrate the Christmas Holiday to remind us of the greatest gift that humanity has ever received and that is the gift from God, His only son. Christmas is not celebrated so we can celebrate worldly materialistic things, but so that we can celebrate love and life. The most important gift we receive during Christmas, just as the tradition itself is supposed to be celebrating, is the gift from God, the gift of His Son. The most important gift we can give is the gift of ourselves to God and to others. As Pope John Paul II used to say, that we must not focus on ‘having,’ but we should be focused on ‘being.’ We must not focus on having or obtaining material things. We must focus instead on how we can be for God and for our brothers and sisters.
Kasser, T. & Sheldon, K.M. (2002). “What Makes for a Merry Christmas,” Journal of Happiness, 3: 313-329.