Today I did some last minute Christmas shopping. A lot of people are down on Christmas “commercialism”, and for the most part I agree with the criticism. It takes a lot of effort not to let the commercialization of Christmas affect one’s own preparations, or even take over the entire holiday. Nevertheless, I think there is something good in what has become the uniquely American ritual of Christmas shopping. The conversations I overheard, for instance, had to do with people talking about what other people might enjoy or appreciate. Like good manners, the pressure to shop for others can force you to consider the “other” when you might not otherwise care. This has to be a good thing. That’s what social pressure is supposed to do, draw us a little bit out of ourselves. I also appreciate the public displays of Christmas festiveness, even in a commercial context. I disagree with those who say that commerce is by definition a-cultural or even anti-cultural. There is no reason in the world why a business must subordinate everything it does to the “bottom line”, and when it comes to small businesses, most don’t.
Speaking of which, each and every clerk I spoke with today wished me a Merry Christmas. Even the Barnes and Noble clerks. And they didn’t wait for the customer to give them any clues, selectively saying “Merry Christmas” only to those who mentioned the word first. No – they wished all a Merry Christmas, unashamedly and unselfconsciously. This, in Chico, a notoriously progressive university town, sometimes called “Berkeley North”! Is this merely a profit-minded response to the public backlash against the “Happy Holiday” grinches? Perhaps. That’s most likely the case with Barnes and Noble, which doesn’t seem to have any moral scruples about anything. (I won’t let my kids go ten feet into that store …) In any case, I think the spell of political correctness is being broken when it comes to Christmas. It will be nice when we can once again wish strangers a Merry Christmas without any political backdrop whatsover.
One of the books I purchased was a gift for a relative who is expecting a child. I wanted to find one of those books for new parents that teaches about infant development, medical and health issues, breastfeeding, and other things. However, almost every book I picked up was promoting something evil or ridiculous. Most had chapters promoting the glories of artificial birth control. Almost all had an overt emphasis on “gender-neutral parenting”. One of these books – one of the better ones – acknowledged that young boys should be “encouraged” to wear pants instead of dresses. However, if a boy wants to wear dresses “all the time”, you should contact your pediatrician! Hey, how about not letting your boy wear dresses in the first place? Since when is this optional?
My passion for books is waning. Perusing the religion, philosophy, history, biography and current affairs sections just doesn’t stimulate anymore. I don’t want to read Hegel or Kierkegaard or Bertrand Russell or Christopher Hitchens. I don’t want to entertain any more of the world’s tragic misguided ideas. I don’t want to read any more apologetics. I don’t want to read another book about the decline of western civilization. I don’t want to read another book about bout how great America is because “it allowed someone like me to rise to the top”, or conversely, how bad America is because “fill-in-the-blank doesn’t have a chance to rise to the top”. (To everyone – left, right, and center – it seems that America is all about “making it” and rising to the top.) I sense that, for me, the hour is late. I should be reading “Preparation for Death” by St. Alphonsus Liguori, which has been sitting untouched on my bookshelf for much too long. I have barely scratched the surface of St. Thomas Aquinas. I never finished St. Augustine’s “City of God”. I seldom do any disciplined spiritual reading at all these days.