Last Sunday Pope John Paul II said something that, while directed to Roman Catholics, perhaps deserved a wider audience. Speaking in the runup to the Christmas season, the pope expressed regret at the suffocation of the holiday by what he called “material things” and called for a simpler, more community-minded observance.
Reports later in the week of a survey conducted by Policy Exchange, a British think tank, served to underscore the pope’s concern. The group found that shopping wasn’t the only thing people did more of as Christmas and New Year’s approached. They also drank more in December — 41 percent more in the case of Britons, the most party-loving nation by far, but a respectable 27 percent more in Japan. And just to add an extra glow to the holidays, they committed more crimes, including murders and burglaries, as well.
Of course, most people are not going to murder or rob their neighbors in December, much as they might feel like it, but many will undoubtedly drink more than they need and spend more money than they should on useless and overpriced gifts.
No insult intended to the good people who sell high-priced jewelry, perfume, cars, clothes and other cachet items, but nobody needs these wares — and the pope is right to suggest that it is inappropriate at the very least to give such things in the name of Christmas, a holiday that at its root honors poverty rather than riches.
The pope put it simply enough for all to understand: “The message of the Christmas tree is that life is always green if you give, not many material things, but of yourself through friendship and sincere affection, through help and forgiveness, by spending time together and listening to each other.”
You don’t have to be religious to say amen to that.
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