This is the time of year when an excessive amount of stupid, selfish decisions are made with respect to material possessions, and the acquisition of more and more of them. I will assume, gentle reader, that you are not one of those persons who is now so wrapped up in wrapping things up, as it were, that you are pulling out your hair trying to think of things you want to purchase for yourself and for others. However being flawed and imperfect as he is, The Courtier must get off his chest the fact that he needs to take a step back, and try to stop himself from diving into an inky-black sea of self-gratification and materialism that every year tries to blot out the Christ from Christmas, leaving only the “mas” – which in Spanish, as it happens, is the word for “more”.
In my own case, I am headed to Barcelona for Christmas, and there are many things that I would like to have for my trip. I would like a new topcoat, for example. I would also like a new suitcase, new dress shoes, new sunglasses, and perhaps a new sweater or two. And all of this beside the fact that I would like to give gifts to certain family and friends which I hope will be creative and unusual, carefully matched to the person’s particular interests.
Yet if I consider this list of “would like” items, it becomes clear that all of it, even the gifts for others, is really more about self-gratification than about necessity:
Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I do not lack for outerwear, for example; I could probably wear a different coat or jacket, not including such quasi-outerwear items such as blazers or suit jackets, every day for a couple of weeks, without wearing the same item twice. I have so little need for a suitcase that I generally make do with a weekend-sized bag (of which I own three in addition to a garment bag), and the one suitcase I do own, which is in perfectly adequate condition to be taken on my forthcoming trip, needs to be dusted periodically as it sees such infrequent use. The floor of my closet is clogged with so much footwear, from dress shoes to ankle boots to trendy sneakers and everything in between, that it looks like a kind of massive jumble sale which I have to dig through every morning, apart from the two pairs of tall boots I also own having to stand in a corner of the room like sentinels, because I do not have the space for them. I presently own three pairs of Italian-made sunglasses from a high-end fashion house, all of which are in perfectly good order and not broken, scratched, or even nicked. And even after bagging up and donating some older but perfectly serviceable sweaters for the poor at the beginning of autumn, I still have so many crewnecks, v-necks, cardigans, and turtlenecks, that I have no room on the two long shelves they take up for any more.
When it comes to gift-giving, I have to purchase gifts for certain members of my family, for my god-daughter, my secretary, and a few others. Rather than take the easy way out and getting a gift card (which seems as impersonal as simply handing over some dosh), or just picking something random at a reasonable price at the first department store or retail emporium I enter (which seems thoughtless), I tend to think, and think, and think about things that the recipient has mentioned wanting or needing over the past year. I then end up doing so much comparison shopping to try to find exactly the right item for each individual, that the investment of time I put in often sours me to the entire process, and sometimes all of my unseen effort is rewarded by a reaction which is one of gratitude, but not the paroxysms of delight which I had secretly hoped for.
All of the forgoing is, in a word, selfishness, and obtaining material goods at Christmas will remain such if it is not tempered by both reason and a willingness to walk away from the desire to have or to give nice things, when such desires become burdensome. It is patently clear that I do not need any of the personal items I would like, particularly when I have so very much already. Nor do I need to kill myself to try to impress someone else with my gift-giving abilities, when I am supposed to be expressing love and appreciation, rather than trying to aggrandize myself in the process.
The point of Christmas, after all, is a gift of the self, the Divine Self, freely and miraculously given. If this is not the central reason why one is celebrating Christmas, then what is being celebrated is a commercial construct, or the Winter Solstice, and nothing more. Christ is the example whom Christians are told to emulate, and that being the case, the fact that He came into this world naked, in dire circumstances, surrounded by animal filth, ought to tell us something about how God thinks we ought to value material possessions.
This is not to say that we should never buy anything at this time of year. However we ought to take a moment to sit down and breathe, pour ourselves a glass of something caffeinated or fermented, and reflect. Perhaps it would be good to make a true and unflinching list of what we would like, versus what we in fact actually need, both for ourselves and for others. If we act with honesty, forcing ourselves to make hard choices that take us out of the insane commercialism and peer pressure that have come to characterize Christmas, then the celebration of this great feast of our salvation will be kept to the forefront, rather than shunted off to the sidelines until we have finished all of our shopping.