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The meaning of Christmas: Commercialism vs. faith traditions

Faith leaders, families and retailers weigh in
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Posted at 11:06 PM, Dec 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-06 19:21:35-05

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DENVER -- What is Christmas at its root? For Christians — it's the celebration of the birth of Christ.

For others — it's about the presents.

The spending frenzy can be a lifeblood for retailers, but does it take away from the true meaning of Christmas?

"Our money and the way we spend it shows what we want more of," said Dannie Huggs, owner of Sol Shine, a Boho Chic Boutique in Highlands Square.

So, let’s unwrap this Christmas 360 — and haul out the holly with six perspectives on the meaning of Christmas.

Families embrace spirit of season

We start with a family that shares the same hope for the season that we all do.

"As a mom, you just want the very best holiday for your whole family," said Lauren Giuffra, a mother of two.

In the Denver home of the Giuffra family, two small kids make the season even more merry.

"You're kind of living vicariously through them,” said Greg Giuffra. “I think we both are."

But, Lauren and Greg admit — it's not always easy.

“As the person who kind of puts on Christmas, I think it's extremely overwhelming,” Lauren said. “It's hard. There's so much pressure out there to give the gift that shows you really care or that you truly put some thought into it."

"It is hard with consumer driven — next toy, next present, next big gift," Greg said.

Yet they do their best to focus on what matters most.

"Just trying to count our blessings and what's really important in life," Greg said.

Faith leaders say it's a time to reflect

At Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, co-pastors Rev. Clover Reuter Beal and Rev. Ian Cummins remind us to reflect.

"There's not just one right view," Cummins said. “It’s a tender time for people and it's very special."

Cummins says Advent is a deep reflective time.

“Which is in contrast to the glitter and glam and the rush of the consumer-spending side," Cummins said.

"There are many theological viewpoints. For me - it's the incarnation,” Reuter Beal said. “That God came in flesh. So, this God of love came in the most vulnerable way. The Divine came - born in the back streets of Bethlehem. And the real point is born to poor people and people of no means, which I think says a lot about where God shows up."

Which is perhaps why giving — both to those in need and those you love — is a pivotal part of the season.

“We're not anti-consumerism and anti-getting presents and all those fun things that are a part of Christmas, too," Cummins said. “I love this time of year. It’s probably my favorite. There are so many folks wanting to do something special here at the church and give money because our hearts are opened.”

Reuter Beal says the legend of St. Nicolas is also grounded in giving.

“It’s that he gave money to the poor without them knowing, anonymously to care for the poor," she said.

“That's a message that translates to other faith traditions or even folks outside of a faith tradition," Cummins said.

Retailers suggest giving is expression of gratitude

Huggs says giving is an expression of gratitude.

"I think we should be giving all the time," Huggs said. "I’m not religious, but I love the energy of my customers coming in this time of year. And they're excited to get gifts for their most favorite people."

Dr. Alex Padilla is an associate economics professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver and he says you can’t blame the retailers for capitalizing on this time of year.

“Well – businesses are trying to maximize their profits and they’re competing against each other,” Padilla said. “So, they’re just trying to increase revenues. Buying each other gifts, it gives an opportunity for businesses and retail to try to increase their revenues.”

Padilla said it’s simply embedded in our culture at this point.

“You could make an argument of excessive commercialization of Christmas,” Padilla said. “But, people are not forced to buy gifts."

Padilla says the economic forecast calls for an astounding 4.2% increase in Christmas spending this year over last.

“That’s not inconsequential at all,” Padilla said.

Pastor: Give abundantly

And that brings us to Reverend Brad Laurvick at Highlands United Methodist Church.

"We can give gifts,” Laurvick said. “I don't want to lose sight of what it means to offer something to someone."

Laurvick says Christmas is certainly about the birth of Christ for Christians.

"The meaning of Christmas is about God being with us," he said. “This idea of being made flesh. The idea that the Divine would choose to be present in and among us as one of us – I think speaks to the worth of every single human being.”

Yet Laurvick also says we should continue to give, unapologetically.

"When I first became a pastor I also still had a job at the mall,” Laurvick said. “I could see someone at the mall trying to buy a gift for someone and you could see they were so excited to be able to do something for someone. And, I can also see someone showing up to a church service and they don’t connect to anything and don't really care. Now - which one of those people really was embracing what Christmas is all about?"

Laurvick believes the decorations and lights are healthy practices, as well.

"We put lights on houses and Christmas trees to celebrate light in the darkest time of the year,” he said. “That brings me joy. When people talk about – ‘Oh – are we losing the meaning of Christmas?’ There’s a reason Christmas happens every year. It’s because we need to be reminded of the hope, peace, love and joy that Christmas is all about. Hope builds throughout the season, peace is something we all seek, love is that gift and joy is celebrated upon realizing it’s all so real.”

“Light in the darkness and darkness shall not overcome it,” Cummins said. “We all share a sense of hope for the world this time of year.”

And that brings us back to the joyful Giuffra family.

"By being a host, by giving gifts - it's to show everyone how much you care," Lauren said.