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When did all our Christmas extravagance begin?

It was not the intention of St. Matthew to begin our modern style Christmas. The beautiful story of Jesus receiving symbolic gifts from wise men from afar was written to foretell events of the greatest life ever lived, not to promise Barbie dolls and GI Joes to future generations.

Christmas extravagance didn't yet exist in 1814, when English author Jane Austen wrote "Emma." Emma attends a Christmas Eve party with a minister, and for all the gaiety and talk of Christmas sermon and Christmas family dinners, there is no mention of Chrismas presents.

So when did presents enter the picture? It wasn't in 1822 when Clement C. Moore wrote, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Moore only enchanted his children with the legend that St. Nicholas would "fill all their stockings" -- no mention of bicycles or designer ski jackets or more talcum powder for Great Aunt Tillie.

If not in 1814 or 1822, then when? Certainly not in 1843 when social critic Charles Dickens wrote, "A Christmas Carol." Neither Scrooge and his nephew, nor Bob Cratchit and his family, made any mention about Christmas presents. No, they talk about abandoning greed to help hungry and handicapped children, and about saving their best to make the most sumptuous Christmas dinner possible for their most beloved.

Even as late as 1947, when that inspiring film, "It's a Wonderful Life," was made, the giving of trinkets to everyone was not the moral object. The Christmas treadmill of the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s, when America was brimming with wealth, is struggling to continue. It has become a burden and a financial debt that takes away the joy of Christmas.

So, give me the happy ending of "A Christmas Carol." Give me the moral ending of "It's a Wonderful Life." By all means, let's try to fill the little children's stockings. And after that, let's enjoy a happy dinner with as many of our beloved as we can gather and strive to work for "Peace on earth, good will to all people" -- the real hope and greatest gift of Christmas.


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