In Defense of a Commercial Racket

Recently, I’ve been having a recurring thought: Christmas is coming. This is followed by another recurring thought: I have to start Christmas shopping.

Here I am, victim of the commercial racket they’ve made of Christmas.

Every year we hear about the commercialization of Christmas. It’s practically a Yuletide tradition. The sentiment is entrenched in the sixty-year-old classic Miracle on 34th Street: “Make a buck, make a buck…”

This is one Yuletide tradition I don’t join. I can’t get behind the “commercial racket” chorus. For one thing, it’s never been clear to me exactly what the problem is. What is “commercialization”? Material things trumping the spiritual (but wouldn’t that be materialism)? Is it people spending too much money? People making too much money? People making and spending money, period? As C. S. Lewis’ old teacher used to say, “Please clarify your terms.”

Sometimes it seems there’s a subterranean feeling that the junction between commerce and Christmas dirties up the holiday. This is one idea I am ready to completely deny. If we are going to celebrate Christmas, we are going to spend money on it. Someone is going to have to sell us the ham and eggnog and tree and gifts. I see no reason to be unhappy that businesses are angling to provide that service and make that buck. Sure, they’re making a profit on Christmas. And doctors make a profit on sick people, and dentists make a profit on people with toothaches, and grocery stores make a profit on hungry people.

Of course, trying to convince people to buy things they don’t want or can’t afford – the old sins of business – are always with us. And there is no doubt that some marketers can use Christmas rather cheaply. But once we get to specific criticisms, we’ve put down the broad brush of commercialization to please clarify our terms.

What’s even worse than the broad brush of commercialization is the hammer of the “commercial racket”. Rackets are, after all, the province of con men, frauds, and the Mafia. Are people who use the term simply overstating the case? Or do they really mean that the public is bribed, intimidated, or tricked into Christmas shopping by commercial interests? Are they saying that our traditions of gift-giving, feasting, and decorating were invented by capitalists looking for a profit?

There have been people who think the whole holiday is more or less a capitalistic scheme – people besides Lucy van Pelt. And so I end with a quotation:

If a man called Christmas Day a mere hypocritical excuse for drunkeness and gluttony, that would be false, but it would have a fact hidden in it somewhere. But when Bernard Shaw says that Christmas Day is only a conspiracy kept up by Poulterers and wine merchants from strictly business motives, then he says something which is not so much false as startling and arrestingly foolish. He might as well say that the two sexes were invented by jewellers who wanted to sell wedding rings. G. K. Chesterton