Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Commercialization of Easter - One Non-Christian's Perspective

First of all, I want to start off by apologizing to any Christians that I am about to offend. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I want to offer the unfiltered view from my side of the aisle.

I was raised in an atheist household, and as such, Christian traditions were always a bit of a mystery to me. Growing up I sort of felt like a visitor from another planet, trying hopelessly to make heads or tails out of the strange behavior known as Christianity. As a kid, I didn't quite grock that there were differences between Baptists and Lutherans and Catholics and Mormons and Unitarians and all of the countless other brands of the Christian church. For me it all basically fell into one big smoldering pot of bewildering rituals.

As far as I could tell, the main unifying principle had something to do with wearing fancy clothes and singing songs on Sunday mornings. But beyond that things got a bit murky. My friends were always going on about Catechism, and Confirmations, and what looked to me like very unusual swimming lessons. There were odd rules about who should eat fish on which days, who could or could not have caffeine, prohibitions on chocolate during the early spring, and bizarre cracker eating ceremonies.

And what I got from my friends paled in comparison to what I gleaned from the popular media. There were crazy Bible thumping TV evangelists guilting little old ladies into mailing in their Social Security checks, scary people playing with snakes and speaking in tongues, disturbing images of Tammy Faye Bakker with incredible amounts of mascara running down her face, people locking themselves in dark closets confessing their sexual exploits to men who were sworn to celibacy, kneeling worshipers kissing the ring of an old man wearing a long dress and a peculiar hat, stories of weird chruch-sanctioned underwear, and who knew what else!

And to top it all off, there was an omnipotent invisible man living in the sky, who entertained himself by determining the outcome of football games, condemning little Hindu children to rot in hell for all eternity, and drawing pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary in pools of motor oil. You've gotta admit, from the Martian perspective this stuff is pretty far out there!

Easter was a particularly perplexing one. In fact, I don't think I even realized that it was a Christian holiday until I was in high school and a local church hired a friend and I to beef up their violin section for a performance of the Messiah. Seriously, chocolate bunnies and colored eggs... come on, give the little atheist kid a clue! And it wasn't until I was in college and my Catholic friends were all walking around with smudges on their foreheads that I had any inkling of the magnitude of the holiday.

So, when people start bemoaning how the true meaning of Easter has been lost, I have to admit that I have a pretty hard time getting worked up about it. It seems pretty obvious to me that the Christians co-opted the holiday from the Pagans (goddess Ishtar anyone?), so it seems only natural that the dominant religion of the day, Consumerism, would in turn co-opt it from the Christians.

I'm not defending the tsunami of chocolate, and stuffed animals and cheap plastic crap, mind you, I just think that it's to be expected. I mean, no matter what religion people claim to belong to, when I look around me what I see is a society full of people who worship money and things. I don't think that it's a conscious decision for most people, but it does seem to be the default position. And it always puzzles me that nobody seems to notice until something like Easter comes along to give them a particularly gaudy demonstration of the practice.

I guess what I'm saying is that rather than lamenting the commercialization of a few holidays here and there, what we ought to be raging against is the culture of consumerism which invades our lives on a daily basis. The natural world is a beautiful and amazing place, and you don't need a credit card or a Toyota Prius or an Easter basket to appreciate it.


  1. Great post, and you're absolutely right. Maybe we can somehow leverage that sense of outrage that something meaningful has now become commercialized and apply it to every day life instead of just holidays.

    I was also raised in an irreligious household and grew up very confused about the difference between Jesus and God. And Madonna.

  2. I am one of those Christian folks and not even remotely offended by this BRILLIANT!! post. Just thought I'd toss that out there.

    I have lots of ideas I could spew about in regard to Easter (perhaps I'll blog about my liberal ways and truly offend some religious folk?), but I gotta say, this line is so good it makes me want to sing: "so it seems only natural that the dominant religion of the day, Consumerism, would in turn co-opt it from the Christians." Oy vey! So true!

    I want to write a novel now. So, I'll just try to shaddup instead. :) Loved this post!

  3. Jennifer - I'm so heartened to learn that I wasn't the only confused soul out there. And don't even get me started about the "holy ghost"... I still haven't any clue what that's about!

    Aldra - I am so glad that you weren't offended... and I'm dying to read the novel that's brewing in your head. Maybe it will turn into a new post?

  4. Don't forget that Easter also falls in the heart of spring, just when the forsythia, azaleas, daffodils and tulips are blooming and the trees are just starting to leaf out (in the northeast anyway). So even for us pagans it's about resurrection.

  5. Even as a pastor, I am not offended at all, but am standing up and yelling "preach it!!" : ) We DO live in "a society that worships money and things." I believe you have it right, and wish that others in this culture (and in the church) would see it.

  6. Hi Lynn - thanks so much for stopping by. Can't believe I've inspired a pastor to want to preach something I've said... who knew? :~)

  7. I recently watched a doco about the birth of shopping and it said that Easter, Christmas, Valentine's day and Halloween were recognised but not 'celebrated' as such until (Henry?) Wannamaker of Wannamakers Department Store decided to market it for his profit. Then all around the world retailers followed suit.
    It's a really interesting doco by SBS Australia (might find it online?) I wrote a post about it. "shopping" never existed before the dpt store. Neither did public toilets! They were invented to keep women shopping!

    1. OMG... that's totally hilarious... especially the part about the public toilets! I'm gonna have to go through your archives too!

    2. You can reciprocate my creepy archive perusing and then we will both be much less creepy for it :)
      Yes ladies would actually take their friends and family out just to see the public toilets as an outing in themselves because indoor plumbing like that and elegance never existed before.
      Women. Won over with dunnies.


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