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Spirituality vs Materialism this Christmas Season

When my Granddad recalled Edwardian Christmases with his family, he related fond memories of discovering Yuletide stockings by his bed, filled with nuts and oranges.  That was it on the gift front for him, his brothers and sisters, all children of a Cambridgeshire railwayman – very basic by today’s standards. 

Understandably these reminiscences from a different age weren’t exactly music to my boyhood ears as I unwrapped the more techy toys of childhood including a multitude of presents from extended family.

But looking back, Granddad may have had a point.  The true value of a present isn’t always in the price.

I reflected on that when I was stuck in a ‘Black Friday’ traffic jam on the way to work, contemplating whether to snap up a ‘today only’ 60 percent off deal.  Of course, we’re all for successful economies.  The UK retail sector employs one in ten people in the UK and contributes around £17.5 billion in taxes.  And we’re all thrilled to find a bargain too. 

But what’s our main drive?  Are we primarily consumers or are we made of loftier stuff?  For Christians, the first gift wasn’t wrapped, it wasn’t material – it was (and is) that gift of life, love and peace offered by Jesus Christ. 

Theologies may vary but that’s where Christmas has a universal appeal too, beyond the ever-present material aspects – in our so-called secular society.  Actually, ‘secularism’ may be something of a misnomer.  According to the think tank Theos, ‘A majority of people (59%) are believers in the existence of some kind of spiritual being’.  Even those who don’t profess a spiritual belief may identify with widely-held, non-material values – connecting us to each other and in many cases to something beyond the physical world.

Previous President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, David O. McKay, said: “True happiness comes only by making others happy – the practical application of the Saviour’s doctrine of losing one’s life to gain it.  In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service.”

Getting caught up in the pressures of the season doesn’t do us any good at all, though it’s pretty difficult to avoid.  Building on our wider connections – with family, friends and neighbours – can be uplifting and heart-warming.

For many believers, it’s a bit of a test to get the balance right when they hear the scriptural charge to be out ‘in the world’ making a contribution to society and ‘not of it’– not just ‘taking’ and consuming.  But responding well to living up to this ideal will help connect us not only to our own spiritual sides but also to other people.

Catholic social activist Dorothy Day had something to say about connecting with community, to finding a universal bond: “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

It may sound simplistic but going beyond the seasonal ‘here and now’ of merely ‘getting’ may stir within us a collective sense of responsibility to others.  That certainly beats ‘Black Friday’ fights over bargains. 

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