There is no question that the commercial aspects of Christmas have overwhelmed its religious and liturgical significance. This is only one indication of the secularization of our age.
During large portions of Western history, Christmas (and even more so Easter) represented highlights of a year that was marked by events from the life of Christ and his church. Today, holidays are just as likely to have purely civic and commercial significance, while whole seasons such as Advent and Lent are lost to us.
Thus, consumers and retailers think of Christmas as the commercial highlight of the year, even as the religious significance is obscured. Present cultural realities aside, however, there is no reason to drive a permanent intellectual wedge between religion and commerce. In a world in which culture was imbued with concerns of faith, commercial concerns would still be present.
It is useful to remember why the Christmas season is so heavily profitable for retailers. It is because people are buying in order to give to others—surely a worthy goal. That people forget the underlying reason for giving—the charitable impulse for others at the heart of the Christian social message—is certainly a serious problem. However, it is not the fault of retailers, but of the purchasers who lack a solid religious education, or bend to prevailing cultural winds, becoming materialistic.
The market is a magnificent system for ordering commercial life in a way that serves the human person. The market is built on institutions with moral merit—private property, volunteerism, and promise keeping—but it does not dictate particular moral ends of the market process. That is left to culture, which is shaped by the ideas and values of market participants, and in particular, informed by religious leadership.
In supporting the work of the Acton Institute, you are helping to support the intellectual framework that defends both the marketplace as an institution and faith as a necessary cultural infrastructure. And for that, we are all very grateful.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico