A Christmas Question

By Lloyd Graff

Evil Santa in “A Christmas Story”

I know I am an outsider. As a Jew, I do not experience Christmas as a religious holiday, but I will ask the following question anyway. Why is Christmas seemingly all about shopping and presents to so many people?

I can understand giving to charity at the end of the year as an appropriate expression of giving thanks for the birth of Jesus, but do we need to buy an Xbox to make Christmas a happy day?

As a Christmas observer, but not a celebrant, it seems like the most miserable time of year. Besides putting up with awful weather, you have to worry about picking out the right sweater for Joey and the perfect color makeup for JoAnne. And no matter what gift you give, it will probably be returned, or ought to be.

There is something wrong with that picture. And what about all the poor people who cannot afford presents? They must feel worthless, as the ads admonish folks to buy, buy, buy.

I have worked at homeless shelters on Christmas and found it to be worthwhile for the workers. The recipients always seemed so sad while they received the largesse of strangers, though the hot meal was clearly appreciated.

My issue is the American obsession with material gifts. The holiday has become “the ultimate Amazon event” or “Best Buy’s best chance at survival.” Or the big question, “will Target hit its sales target this year?”

As an outsider to Christmas, I feel my Christian friends’ angst, not their joy. I think it comes from the tension of not fulfilling expectations that can never fully be met, because material gifts almost always fail to excite. I also find the canned, saccharin Christmas card so dismal.

To my friends who do celebrate Christmas, I hope your feelings of joy aren’t overshadowed by the superficial and stressful pressures which unfortunately have also become part of the holiday.

Question: Do you look forward to Christmas?

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49 thoughts on “A Christmas Question

  1. Dyna Markets

    We have grown up, been indoctrinated into, and have been brainwashed by the “materialistic society”. That is why the gift of giving, and more importantly receiving is so important to so many people during the holiday season.

    The only way to change this materialism mindset is to get rid of the capitalism foundation.

    1. jim buchanan

      Lloyd, As a Jew you have a much better perspective of how “Christians” celebrate Christmas than most Christians.
      “Christmas” has evolved into a hugh marketing program for all. The religious meaning is all but lost.

      I believe that one of God’s expectations of the Jewish people is to teach the gentiles………….you sir are fulfilling this commandment.

      Thank you, jim buchanan

  2. Bryan

    Yes. I look forward to the celebration of the birth of Christ, even though we celebrate it in the wrong month. I abhor the materialistic, gift giving frenzy. My question back is, is it not the same for Hannuckah or Barmitzvah?

  3. jd

    “the tension of not fulfilling expectations that can never fully be met ”
    that sums up christmas for me.
    i usually try to be out of town to avoid it all.

  4. Greg Knox

    Glad to know it is not just me…
    And I agree – I don’t think this problem is exclusive to Christians…
    The marketing machine is powerful, and not only influences but creates many of the paradigms of our existence without most folks even realizing just how manipulated they are.
    Many good Christians downplay the Santa and focus on the birth of our savior, and I see more and more people waking up to this…maybe Santa left them a red pill last Christmas!

  5. Josh

    Lloyd I think you’re missing half of the story here. Sure there are people who stress about the sweater for Joey and there are those who scoff at an unwanted gift only to immediately head to the nearest return section. That’s not what Christmas is about whether you follow the religion of the holiday or just appreciate the holiday on its own. For me Christmas has always been about going to see my family. Growing up we spent Christmas at Grandma’s house and as the only grandchild for 12 years and having 8 Aunt’s and Uncles I was awarded the role of Santa passing out gifts one at a time and watching my family open them and everyone commenting together. There was always so much joy and laughter.

    Yeah, there was stuff but it wasn’t the focus it was just another reason to laugh or smile or initiate a new lively conversation. That’s what Christmas is about to me. I like getting presents as much as the next guy, but my favorite part of the Christmas season is watching other people open gifts and seeing their happiness. It feels good when you can find the right gift for someone not because you are supposed to but because you love them and you like to see some joy on their faces. And if they don’t like it? Who cares, it was a silly shot in the dark. Anyone who actively shows unhappiness with a gift was just raised poorly and entitled and they don’t understand what this holiday is about.

  6. RV

    Having celebrated the holidays with both my Christian and Jewish friends – we can only hope that people are happy with their beliefs and how they choose to celebrate.

    It is more appropriate that you stick with comments about machining

  7. Kim

    Llyod, I encourage you to read the story behind the history of Mother’s Day, and how Anna Jarvis, who helped establish it, eventually became a major opponent of it, when it became so commercialized. Yes, Christmas, like many other holidays, have become commercialized. Retailers would like us to believe holidays are all about shopping. We shop for deals on Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, etc. What we have turned our holidays into is really quite sad.

    I spent some years living in Hungary, where on official holidays all stores were closed. Religious holidays are time for families. Political ones are times for speaches, parades, festivities or solemn events depending on which one it was. It was such a different feeling than holidays here. Sure Christmas is commericalized there too, but not yet to the extent it is here, and because of laws on store closures other holidays have not become retail sales events.

    Although there is much pressure to make Christmas about the presents, all is not lost. It is also about family, traditions, and of course, the birth of Christ. I am very much looking forward to it.

  8. MB

    I dread Christmas every year because it is too overwhelming with “society’s” expectations. My children are teenagers, now, and I want to tell them how I really feel about the stress of so much useless gift-giving. I know they will understand, and I hope this will make it okay in their minds to change the tradition (for the better) when they have kids.

  9. Misterchipster

    Welcome to modern materialism! It isn’t about the greatest gift given to mankind – Jesus – who’s death and resurrection has given us eternal life – free if only we believe in Him , it is about STUFF! Our society is all about STUFF and retailers do not want that to change and tell us so regularly in every form of media. The early Christians used Christmas as a “replacement” for the Festival of Lights, a pagan celebration normally associated with the winter solstice. If you wish to know more about this free gift I would be more than happy to help!

    1. Dan

      Religion is only for sheep? I’ll have you know that my faith is well reasoned and informed. I have picked my own path and that is the one I have come to understand, through diligent study and thought, is laid out in the Bible. While many do follow the tradition of their families in pursuing their faith it is not true of everyone.

      1. Matt

        You may believe your most sacred beliefs are reasonable, rational and well informed, but continue down the rabbit hole and you’ll find the foundation is built on sand.

      2. Nathan

        Matt, no need to be so condescending about the choice to follow the Creator God. If we’re wrong then the worst that will happen to us is that we’ll have lived with a purpose and not a mere existence with out purpose or meaning – i.e. just a cosmic accident. But what if we’re right? What will happen to you? I canassure I’ll pray for you. Take care.

  10. Mr. Observant

    hmmm… all the lonely complainers have no little thumbs up signs and the happy responses have multiple pluses. Could all the “plus one’s” be nothing more than the dismal complainers telling the happy folks to stick thier thumb where the Sun don’t shine? Notice how happiness and encouragement gets encouragment and recognition…

    Every day is what you make it.

  11. CC8300

    As a Christian, I celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and consider gift giving to family and others as my humble but imperfect emulation of the greatest gift ever given to man by God. As an individual the financial support for my food, shelter, clothing, life experience, etc. are all eventually connected in some form or fashion to consumers who purchase “stuff.”

  12. Roy Pettis

    I enjoy the Christmas season because I enjoy giving not just material items, but my time to cook something special because you know a family member or friend well enjoy it and taking time to spend time with people and loved ones.

    You may conceder yourself an outsider but you are not you are as welcome as any Christian all men or women are created equal.

  13. allen

    Oh Lloyd, I get the distinct sense that, where it comes to your business and your personal life you don’t welcome unasked for advice by people who are certain their moral and intellectual superiority entitles them to proffer that advice. Why then are you lining up with them, chapter and verse, on this subject?

    First off, Christmas isn’t really Christmas. Christ was born, as near as can be determined, whenever the heck you’d like to place that date. December 25 is no better a date then any other and about the only thing the date, more or less, coincides with is the winter solstice. The winter solstice is a pretty widespread holiday and means spring’s on the way. Great time to celebrate that the end of winter is, if not around the corner, not much farther. Great time also to reaffirm bonds of friendship and family.

    It turns out that long before our diminished, material-maddened society was a twinkle in the founding father’s eyes people would mark that even by an exchange of gifts. One of the really important differences between now and back then is that we’re a whole lot richer. Richer people, it turns out, can afford more expensive gifts. If the only difference between now and when we were poorer is the price of our gifts then all we’re dickering about is price. The underlying sentiment hasn’t changed so if the sentiment was laudable when we couldn’t afford expensive gifts it’s laudable now that we can.

    1. Bryan

      I believe historical events recorded in the bible and other documents place Christ’s birth in September. I prefer to err on the side that provides proof, not just whenever the heck I place the date.

      Winter solstice is the time of year when the sun at noon appears in it’s lowest point over the horizon (Wikipedia). It’s not a holiday and does not mean that spring is on its way any more than the day before or the day after…

      Richness and poorness are all relative. To the restaraunt laborer, the factory worker may seem rich and to the homeless person without a box to live in, the homless with a box may seem rich. To me, Bill Gates is rich.

      Like my dear old Dad used to say, if you can’t convince them with facts, dazzle them with BS. You Dazzled me Allen.


  14. John Bressoud

    To answer your question, yes I look forward to Christmas (a lot). I love the music, I love the time of year, I love the snow (proof the God loves us and wants us to have fun).
    And as a father I love giving gifts to my children, and my chidren’s children.

  15. Nathan

    I remember a time when businesses were all closed on Sundays as a matter of national policy. It was a time to be spent with ffriends and family and yes to attend a worship service if you were so inclined. That eventually gave way to the commercial ventures desire to make more money at the expense of family and spiritual reenergizing for the week. The answer to your question is quite simple. The best way to keep people from experiencing the true meaning of Christmas (i.e. the birth of the worlds Savior Jesus Christ) is to try and make it about something else entirely. Hollywood, the self labeled “mainstream” media, the ACLU, freedom from religion and even the DNC itself (as evidenced in their reaction (booing) to the leadership declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and the restoration of the mere reference of God to their platform in 2012) have all expressed a desire to silence the mention of God or Jesus Christ in any public venue – especially using the word Christmas. What better way to diminish the greatest Gift the world has ever received than to commercialize it and exchange the words “Merry Christmas” for “Happy Hollidays.” Now just because those organizations want to get us all bent about buying or receiving that all important gift we can choose to make Christmas about the most important gift ever given. We can choose to step back and spend time with our loved ones and even with those we don’t know who could use a friend and a little help. Of course you don’t have to believe in God or the meaning of Christmas to make these choices instead of getting wrapped up in the commercial frenzy others have made this time of year to be. But if we want this rediculous cycle of unnecessary stress to change WE must make a stand and a choice. No one is going to do it for you. Take care and I’ll say it: Merry Christmas.

  16. Victor

    I find that feelings of peace, stillness, and an inner contentment really are stronger at this time of year. But I have to go to a quiet place within myself to experience it, in some form of silent prayer or meditation. I find that if I can do that every day in December, sort of like a daily recharge, then I can enjoy most of the month’s activities as long as I can keep my days balanced with sufficient rest and watch my stress level. I find avoiding TV and radio commercials is a big help.

    I think that the depression and despair that some people feel in December is related to when a person unconsciously knows that there is an increased opportunity to feel these divine vibrations at this time of year, but they don’t make time to stop, get still and tune in with them, and instead try to get their satisfaction in outward ways like shopping, gifts, social activities, decorations, etc. Not that these things themselves are bad – but they won’t give the deep satisfaction we seek without the silent spirit behind them which requires some periods of silence to experience that peace directly.

    Just my opinion after observing things over the years.

  17. Hank


    As a person of Jewish descent and faith, I’m sure you have noticed that many nations over the years exchanged the Glory of Yahweh, the God of the Universe, for idols made by human hands. So it is that Satan works diligently to corrupt worship and celebrations of God and his son, Jesus Christ, and unfortunately succeeds in corrupting many as witness the secular Christmas emphasis on gift receiving.

  18. Hank


    Just a follow up note that yes I do look forward to Christmas as an opportunity to Celebrate the birth of our Lord with family and friends. It is a time to slow down the pace of our lives and truly enjoy fellowship with our families and the blessings of God’s mercy and grace.

  19. Scott

    You raise an interesting point of how the true meaning of Christmas is some what diluted from its original intent by so much materialistic thinking. I couldn’t agree more. However, at Christmas I like to reflect on Gods goodness to mankind. The fact that his son Jesus came to earth to give his life on the cross, raise from the dead, and give the special gift of eternal life to all who will put their faith in him. That is the gift I like to think about. Thanks for your thoughts. Merry Christmas.

  20. Matt

    It’s crazy to me that so many people believe in the supernatural events depicted in the Christmas story. I feel that like Santa, the Christmas story is a fable we should have all left behind as kids. As a non-believer it’s scary for me to see smart, influential people publicly talking about heaven and hell, resurrection, and men in the sky taking note of what we think and do. People’s personal beliefs wouldn’t concern me much except that when a bunch of delusional people get together and decide what’s true on the basis of no evidence it seriously effects our politics, court decisions, and foreign policy. Religion is scary, divisive and gives people a valid reason in their minds to kill, exclude or just be plain mean because they believe they’re right. It’s all seriously absurd and we need to outgrow it.

    1. Dallas

      Pretty broad stroke of the brush. So, I’ll just make a short comment. Seems to me people who act with violence don’t need a religion to give them cause. There are countless examples of attempted exterminations that were (are) not religious. I know we could go back and forth with this. My real concern is your disgust with religion as a whole. I chose to be a man of faith because I have read the (at least the supposed) recorded words of Jesus. When asked what the most important commandment is he replied to love God with all our being and followed up with the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Further, (perhaps like you) he criticized most the hypocritical leaders of organized religion.

      I’m curious. Where does evil in the world come from?

      1. Matt

        There are too many comments in this response for me to address them right now. I’ll pick and choose what I want to focus on later, same way Christians pick and choose the parts of the bible they say are literal or figurative and follow or don’t follow.

        I’m going to go enjoy my Thanksgiving now with my family. Thank god there’s one good secular holiday in the U.S.

      2. Bryan

        It’s God with a capital G. And I’m pretty sure, the Pilgrims came together to Give Thanks to God for getting them through the rough times. Secular, it is not.

  21. Eric

    I don’t see much difference between Christmas and Hannakuh tradition.
    Everyday is what you make it. I choose to make the Christmas season joyous, fun and time for friends and family!
    I did a little internet research. Here is what I found,

    “According to Jewish law, Hanukkah is one of the less important Jewish holidays. However, Hanukkah has become much more popular in modern practice because of its proximity to Christmas.Hanukkah falls on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Hanukkah falls on a different day – usually sometime between late November and late December. Because many Jews live in predominately Christian societies, over time Hanukkah has become much more festive and Christmas-like. Jewish children receive gifts for Hanukkah – often one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Many parents hope that by making Hanukkah extra special their children won’t feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them.”

  22. Eric

    “Poor people who can’t afford presents”…. Really!!?? I am a landlord with many low income tenants. They are on various types of government assistance.
    Everyone of them has an Iphone, drive nice cars, have cable or satellite, eat well, pursue their hobbies, wear nice clothes, etc.
    There are no poor people in this country. Poor is a relative term. Poor in this country is a choice for the most part, there are exceptions.

  23. Lloyd Graff

    Eric your comment about Hanukkah is well taken. It is a relatively minor holiday but has gained significance in America as the Jewish answer to Christmas and as Jews have become more secularized the emphasis on presents has increased. There was also a reference earlier to the gift giving associated with a Bar Mitzvah, the ceremonial coming of age at 13 . Honestly, I deplore the materialism I see in the Jewish community. With my grand daughters we are pulled both ways. They are into American Girl dolls and Grandmothers want their little girls to have one. My daughter, a Rabbi, wants to restrain their longing for the dolls without depriving them of the pleasure of loving a lifelike doll. Holidays like birthdays and even Hannukah are an opportunity to outfit the dolls. We live in America and are blessed with affluence and we buy stuff for them under the restraint of my daughter who does not want to see them develop into grasping little girls. So we are not immune to the materialism of holidays and the social pressure of gift giving.

  24. Craig Helgerson

    Ya it’s the only birthday party I’ve ever been to where all the guests lavish gifts upon themselves and each other and then get up and leave the birthday boy empty handed…there are great correlations and lots of empathy on my part as I read my Old Testament (oops, sorry…The Bible) and see we modern day Christians wander away from God (Jesus Christ) just as Israel has done so often over the past 6,000 or so years…we have far more in common than anyone at your Synagog would like to talk about. I will often hear that American “Christians” hold Israel in contempt for crucifying our Savior…this is far from the truth (however, there are vile groups who call themselves Christians; however, if you ask these people if they a relying on Christs sacrifice on the cross for their sins as the only means of having their sins forgiven, they will choke…thus proving they have yet to meet the Good Shepherd)…His sacrifice was my Pascal Lamb. Thus a rather eccentric Jewish prophet once said when he say Jesus Christ walking towards him, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It wasn’t the nation of Israel that put Him on that cross…it was my sin. I appreciate you pointing this ugliness that has crept in and is tarnishing our message…keep it up we need wake up calls at times!

    1. Matt

      This comment is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. People with a self importance complex spouting off nonsense with no basis in reality, and we’re expected to shut up and take it because peoples’ religious belief are sacred and we’re not allowed to argue against them without being seen as rude or haters. Let’s call a spade a spade, what you’re saying here Craig is nuts, and you have no right to claim it as true. Carl Sagan put it perfect, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This is what makes me scared for the future.

      1. Nathan

        Take a moment and reread what you just wrote. Your comments are self important (without God Self is all that’s left) and and extremely hateful and condescending. And you wonder why people would consider you rude or a hater? Really? I do not hate you. One of the great things about Christianity is that we are created with the free will to choose whether to believe or not. Sure there are those that try to force their beliefs down peoples throats but they do not represent the true nature of Christianity. Please try to have an open mind and not to let our choice get you so upset. Again I wish you well.

  25. Jon Charterina

    Dear Lloyd,

    I enjoyed very much your letter. This banalisation of the celebration of Christmas is happenning everywhere, and also in Spain. It is a consequence of hedonism in our societies. In Spain, those children who can afford it, apart from getting presents the Three Holy Kings, as it was the Catholic tradition, also receive their part from Santa Claus (a consequence of the Anglo-Saxon influence).
    It’s funny to hear from my Chinese and Korean friends that they also celebrate Christmas, but only the part that comes to buying presents and putting the Christmas tree full of lights.
    Also, Halloween parties have become very popular. There’s much more fun comparing to the traditional All-Saints-day, where people picked some flowers and went to cementeries to visit their passed away relatives. Instead, we the younger folks prefer to go out during the eve and dance Michael Jackson’s Thriller. So, in my opinion, as we are becoming more hedonistic, these things will keep going on ‘in crescendo’.
    Thank you!

  26. CHRIS

    How does this crap get on my work pc? please remove me from any and all future mailings. That being said…..any adult who has an imaginary friend, is either crazy or stupid.

  27. Bill

    Yes I look forward to Christmas more and more every year. The colorful decorations, the sounds of Christmas music, the parades, the magical spell that the children are under ,, heck yeah brother COUNT ME IN TWICE!

  28. Dick Crosby

    To all the naysayers above, especially Matt; my most sincere sympathy to you and your
    like-minded atheist brethren. I’m quite sure you’re a very intelligent person from the way you express yourself, and the obvious deep, thought out, convictions you have. That being said, I assume you might be a person willing to listen to any/all opposing views. That being said, I assume you believe you HAVE heard any/all the opposing views. What if, IN THE END, it turns out you and your “OTHERS” have been wrong? Scary! Huh? A bit too late then. But, maybe, by the grace of God, (Your figment of the imagination.) he gives out second chances. Good luck!
    Frankly, I find it enjoyable and comforting, to lay in my bed at night, look up to the ceiling/sky, and thank God for all the many blessings I, and my family, have been granted over the (81) years of my life. It’s a fun thing to do, and I sleep better too. I tell anyone who cares to listen (And even those who don’t.), that I will have lived through the epitome of the best the world has to offer (So far.). I was born in 1932, during the depths of the depression. I heard all about it as I grew up. And I believe my dad and mom were Democrats. (Not really sure.) It’s too bad we, (the USA), got really started down the road to socialism, and atheistic preachings and teachings, because we’re sure in deep crap now. Those philosophies will and are destroying the goose that laid the founding fathers’ golden egg. Where are those guys now?
    Don’t be too upset, but I’m going to pray for you and a 2nd chance. In fact, I just did!
    PS:- Do you sleep well? Just for the hell of it, read Bill O’reilly’s book “Killing Jesus.” lol!

  29. Anaxi Gonz

    During christmas night (Dec 24) here in México we use to reenact the letany of Maria and José when they were asking for shelter (“posada”). During the Dec 24 celebration, the half of the fiesta attendants goes out of the house (Maria and José and the pilgrims) and the rest of the people stay inside the house (The shelter owners). Then, a series of chants (“shelter requests” and “denials”) starts until, finally the people inside of the house admit the outsiders and a big party starts by breaking a “piñata”. That was the traditional Mexico (by the years, less people celebrate christmas in that way), nowdays, we have replaced that by a robust man dressed with a funny red suite bringing gifts through the chimney.
    I am not complaining about the new way, we still making the children happy by giving them with fancy toys, but I believe that, at least, the way our parents celebrated christmas, makes our children to recall the main meaning of this season.


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