Christmas Unwrapped

Christmas is one of the most successful global economic tools of all time. But are we looking too much at its commercial side?

Christmas. Presents. Decorations. Dinners – with colleagues, friends, family. Travel. Holidays. Parties.

If someone had invented Christmas as a global stimulus for the economy, they’d deserve the Nobel prize for economics. North to South, East to West – there’s probably no country in the world (maybe with the exception of North Korea) where Christmas can’t be found: From fake snow in Singapore to imported trees in Shanghai, from German Christstollen cake in Bolivia to decorated palm trees in Cape Town. Shops experience their busiest sales period of the year and travel agents don’t return calls since they are too busy shipping people to faraway destinations, from skiing holidays to tropical breathers.

And religion doesn’t seem to play much of a part in it: While Christmas songs are playing in malls from Beijing to Bangkok, stars and wrapped fake presents adorn trees in Baghdad and Dubai, non-Christians often have no choice but to play along by decorating homes and offices, giving presents to co-workers and children – such is the commercial power of Christmas.

And even in the West, with its Christian tradition, cards send “Holiday wishes” or, at most, “Happy X-mas” – anything that could go deeper than the event as a global shopping extravaganza or could possible cause offense to non-believers, is painstakingly avoided.

But once the wrappers come off the present, once Amex cards go back into the wallet, once Christmas song lyrics are no longer reduced to elevator-background music, familiar but inconsequential – then a different meaning comes to light, the true meaning of Christmas. One that has nothing to do with spending borrowed cash but everything with a different kind of gift: Love instead of Hate, Compassion instead of Competition, Peace instead of War. A reminder of the day that changed the world, 2000 years ago.

This Christmas, it may be worth to look beyond the parties and presents, the trips and tribulations, and to find out more about what really happened and what it means for us here today; online, in quiet meditation illuminated by a single candle, or in a Christmas service.