Gross materialism raises its ugly but seductive head as we move towards Christmas. In Exeter, this is partly symbolised by the Christmas market apparently competing with the Cathedral for custom on Cathedral Green, in this annual clash between Christianity and Consumerism.
Shrewd Santa is the sacred figure of our age stimulating desiring and devouring in malls and missives across the land. As Giles Fraser put it in the Guardian, ‘the great circus of greed is playing itself out all over the country’.
We are once again drawn into a world where material ‘goods’ become the main target for our cravings. Excessive gifts for others and ourselves; excessive and exotic foods; seasonal drinks; glitzy plastic decorations; queues at the tills reflected by queues on the roads. Spend to survive is the mantra that engulfs us all…
The problem is that most of what we purchase will soon disappear – either discarded or consumed. The novelties of today become tomorrow’s waste at a frightening speed. There is little time, energy or appetite for appreciating one thing before it is replaced by something else.
But doesn’t this trend actually contribute to our dissatisfaction with life? Rather than value the preciousness of a few innovations or treats, we saturate our lives with a lot of unnecessary junk. The significance of presents of beauty, usefulness or personal sentiment, is replaced by a conveyor belt of forgettable stuff.
So maybe we should really value fewer things, and select more meaningful items but treat them with the respect and care they deserve. A dog is for life not just for Christmas, as the saying goes. Perhaps we should apply the same thought to any gift.
Let’s remember that it is in giving and receiving that we share love and concern – irrespective of the cost, quantity or size of what is given. In appreciating the importance of ‘the greatness of the small’ we could have a more purposeful season and value those around us not for what they give us, but what we can share together in celebration and joy.
Let’s try to appreciate what we have and welcome its beauty and quality. It is when we have little that we purposefully cherish things more highly. When we have it all, we appear to value nothing. But when we have nothing we are grateful for the smallest gift or offering.
Here are a few brief counters to extreme excess and festive frivolousness: enjoy the moment; cherish the little things; celebrate the joy of the simple; care for the vulnerable; care about the planet; respect diversity; and love compassion. Welcome the 'greatness of the small'!
Christmas is a timely reminder that all life begins in mystery on a micro scale and grows according to how it is handled and cared for. Maybe it’s time to see presents as making less sense unless we sense the presence of love behind and beyond them.