The commercials started just after Halloween. Ten-second spots aimed at shoppers seeking sales in the name of Christmas. They feature singing children, jingle bells and Santa Claus.
Every year, I wait for Jesus to pop up in a Black Friday ad. Only, he never does. Maybe because standing in line to buy cheap electronics and two-for-one sweaters has nothing to do with him.
Not to put a damper on holiday shopping. Gift wrap makes me giddy. But treating Christmas as "just another brand" reminds me how Americans celebrate two Christmases. One is a religious or family-centric holiday. The other is a moneymaking extravaganza.
Today children make wish lists and parents overspend to indulge them. Credit cards get maxed. Consumers exhaust themselves trying to outdo one another.
Many Christmas traditions, from tree trimming to Santa Claus, have no religious significance. The date itself was merely chosen to celebrate Christ's birth.
Many customs associated with Christmas are derived from a hodgepodge of ideas, taken from other cultures or formed after Dec. 25 became a federal holiday in 1870.
But once upon a time people treated Christmas with greater respect. People waited until after Thanksgiving to bring out the tinsel and snowmen. Classic Christmas movies such as It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol urged viewers to be weary of greed.
Now people not only push and shove their way through superstores, sometimes they trample one another and start riots. Companies make millions.
At Hyde Park United Methodist Church's eighth annual Alternative Christmas Market on Dec. 8, the shopping experience will be remarkably different.
"The market is Hyde Park's answer to gift-giving options that reflect the true spirit of Christmas," said Drema Muller, event chairperson. "We can celebrate our loved ones by giving a gift of meaning to those in need."
Gift purchases and financial contributions made at the market, which runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., will benefit local and global missions. For example, shoppers can buy Christmas dinner for three local families or school supplies for girls in need.
Donors will receive cards to present to loved ones indicating the type of donation made. A list of gift giving opportunities is also available at hydeparkumc.org/christmas.
For more information, visit hydeparkumc.org.
And regardless of your faith or feelings about bargain shopping during the holidays, seek out the many events that promote the season's true spirit of giving.
Sarah Whitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.