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Learning Center Experience
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any
presents" (Alcott, 1868, 2008). This memorable opening line, uttered by Jo
March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women,
may be similar to one heard in households across the world with the approach of
the holidays associated with the months of November and December.
The post-WWII media onslaught has resulted in
numerous articles and op-ed pieces, particularly in the twenty-first century, regarding whether commercialism negates the “Christmas spirit.” For example, the National Retail Federation,
which tracks consumer spending, revealed in January 2015 that the 2014 total
holiday in-store retail sales amounted to $616.1 billion, while online and
e-commerce sales totaled an additional $101.9 billion (Allen, 2015).
So, does commercialism foster the “Christmas
spirit,” or does the “Christmas spirit” inspire consumer spending? Just what is the “Christmas spirit”? This term is one
that has always intrigued me, and while what qualifies as “Christmas spirit”
may be subjective, this article will consider how the “Christmas spirit,” not
to be confused with the three ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future
from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, can
be found in the ordinary, and not necessarily in the value or amount of holiday
As a child, Christmas was a special time of year; while
the allure of Santa Claus never truly captured my imagination, the thought of
decorating the Christmas tree and, well, the entire house, would prompt more
than a few attempts to encourage (never pester!) my mother to reconsider her
rather firm rule that the tree could not be decorated prior to December 1. Our annual tradition was that each member of
the family would receive a new ornament that could be added to the tree on the
night we decorated the tree. Similarly,
Christmas Eve brought a new pair of pajamas; Christmas morning included a
present from Santa, hand-written in Mom’s unmistakable “Santa font.” The
Christmas spirit flourished each year with the renewal of traditions.
that emphasis on tradition, particularly by the time I became a teenager, was
the holiday movie extravaganza. Miracle on 34th Street (the original
from 1947) was a family favorite; as an adult, Joyeux Noel and Love,
Actually top the list. As an
historian, beautifully-scripted and well-acted films which provide at least a
half-hearted attempt to portray historical accuracy always capture my
attention, and Joyeux Noel, the story
of the World War I Christmas Truce (an unofficial cease fire) in December 1914,
does just that. Does the film contain an
anti-war message? Perhaps. More importantly, how can a war movie reflect
the “Christmas spirit”? This film
manages to combine the horror of trench warfare with the significance of the
human spirit, although, yes, it is highly sentimental, saccharine even, at
times. Rose Pacatte, in her article “Away
in a movie theater” (2014), questions whether the film contains a message of
hope or, rather, “the
failure of humanity to internalize the Christmas message.” However, if the goal of the holiday
season is to inspire individuals to reconsider their fellow man, then this film
Equally saccharine is Love Actually, a film in which the setting is the Christmas season;
while I enjoy the film, as an historian who explores gender depictions in pop
culture, the film raises more than a few red flags in the depiction of love and
romance. Nonetheless, with the
slice-of-life presentation of a dozen vignettes, the film does explore the
human spirit, and, well, perhaps, human naiveté, too. Considering this article’s emphasis on the
Christmas spirit, then, this film is one for which, particularly closer to the
holidays, I choose to ignore the intellectual red flags, and focus instead on
the film’s often none-too-subtle reminders regarding how the Christmas season
inspires childlike wonder.
While the holiday season is one that prompts countless
debates regarding the impact of commercialism in the modern world as many seek
to fulfill the tangible side of the opening line from Little Women, there is something magical about watching human
beings interact in a slightly kinder manner with one another (Black Friday
mayhem notwithstanding!). Seeking (and
locating!) the intangible Christmas spirit, and rekindling a faith in humanity,
even if only for a brief period, may be one of more inspiring aspects of the
holiday season. In our increasingly
cynical world, that may be the greatest gift.
Alcott, L.M. (1868,
2008). Little Women Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/514/514-h/514-h.htm
Allen, Kathy G.
(2015). “Retail Holiday Sales Increase 4 Percent.” https://nrf.com/news/retail-holiday-sales-increase-4-percent
Pacatte, S. R. (2014). Away in a movie theater. U.S. Catholic, 79(12), 36
– 38. Retrieved from EbscoHost.
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