Skipping to the Slaughter

Happy Thanksgetting.

Win the Holidays.

These are two of the advertising taglines I have seen already this holiday season, and they bug me. The first is from Verizon, the second from Best Buy. I’m sure there are others out there that are just as egregious, but I don’t currently have a TV, so I only see ads online. If I had a TV, and didn’t think to mute it when the commercials came on, I would probably stay mad all the time.

To complain about the commercialization of the holidays is like shooting fish in a barrel, and has become just about as stale and cliched as the phrase “like shooting fish in a barrel,” but I’m going to do it anyway. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a time when we are supposed to give thanks (it’s right there in the name, for Pete’s sake!) for the blessings we enjoy. In the broader culture, we’re a little fuzzy on just whom we’re supposed to be thanking, but at least the idea of gratitude persists. “Happy Thanksgetting” and “Win the Holidays” attack that idea at a fundamental level.

The commercial world long ago co-opted our holiday of gratitude in a variety of ways. Advertisers have turned Thanksgiving into Turkey Day, a festival of gluttony. One of the longest-running Thanksgiving traditions is a parade hosted by a department store. The NFL has long made the holiday into a fusion of sales, violence, and the self-promotion that typifies professional sports these days. The business world used at least to have the decency to reserve the orgy of consumption that has in recent years been given the unintentionally yet appropriately ominous nickname Black Friday to the day after Thanksgiving, but now it has made inroads into Thanksgiving Day itself. Some companies that refuse to join this trend wear their restraint as some sort of badge of virtue, but then tout that supposed virtue in a cynical attempt to sell more stuff.

Image: " Skipping Lamb " by  Andy Oakley  is used by  permission

Image: "Skipping Lamb" by Andy Oakley is used by permission

The ridiculous Internet flap over Starbucks’ “anti-Jesus” red cups has mostly blown over, but what struck me at the time it was raging at its fiercest was the irony at the heart of the “reasonable” people’s responses. I don’t know how many social media posts and YouTube videos I saw from so-called progressive Christians talking about how silly and un-Christian the “war on Christmas” people were being. Their answer, almost without exception, was for us all to keep going to Starbucks and support their right not to put religious imagery on their cups. Few if any (in my news feed, at least) questioned the wisdom or Christlikeness of spending four and five dollars on a cup of candy-flavored coffee. We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed by Madison Avenue and Wall Street. We lambs have skipped contentedly to the slaughter.

Happily, we have seen some recent efforts to combat the commercial saturation of this season. Giving Tuesday and Buy Nothing Day are hopeful trends designed to buck the system by supporting charities and nonprofit organizations, on the one hand, and doing the unthinkable—rejecting consumerism completely, at least for one day—on the other. As followers of Jesus, we need to embrace such initiatives and think of other creative ways to combat the hegemony of the advertisers.

One such way is to live in gratitude every day. Thanksgiving Day is a perfect time to start. Disciplined gratitude expands our hearts and leads us into greater generosity. When we look thankfully at what we have instead of enviously or graspingly at what we don’t have, we can begin to still the hungry voice inside that continually cries out, “More, more, more!” Recognizing that our lives, families, possessions, and all good gifts come from a Source beyond ourselves, we learn humility.

This Advent season, I intend to couple my expectant waiting for the coming of Christ with a disciplined gratitude for the blessings in my life. I want to fix my mind on the God who has promised to provide for all my needs, and seek to rest in God’s gracious sufficiency. I want to look for ways to unplug from the “Win the Holidays” and “Thanksgetting” mindset, and pray instead that I will be transformed by the renewing of my mind, as Paul counsels the church in Rome (see Rom 12:2).

Who will join me?