Earlier this year I borrowed a video called What Would Jesus Buy? from the public library. It starred Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, and I got The Man to watch it with me one night after the sun went down.
The movie documents Billy and the Choir’s cross-country road trip during the two weeks prior to Christmas to spread the message of the Church of Stop Shopping. They knew people wouldn’t totally stop shopping, especially not right before Christmas, but they hoped consumers would do some thinking before buying. In addition to the documentary’s titular question of (What would Jesus buy?) there are other questions the Church of Stop Shopping would like consumers to ask before making a purchase. Questions include the following:
Can I afford this?
Do I (or my loved one) need this?
Where was this made?
Can I make my purchase at a locally owned business instead of at a big box store?
One thing I learned watching this documentary is that many adults do everything possible to create the illusion that Santa Claus brings Christmas with no effort or monetary output on the part of the parents. In these families, children grow up believing Santa does all the work involved in making the holiday happen in exchange for a few cookies and a glass of lukewarm milk. This is not an illusion my parents felt it necessary to create.
As a small child, my mother taught me the harsh monetary reality of Christmas. I don’t remember exactly how young I was, but young enough that I couldn’t yet read. The lesson happened shortly after Christmas when I talking about all the presents I’d recently received from Santa. I told my mom it sure was great that Santa dropped off all those toys for free.
Oh no, my mother said while shaking her head. Those presents weren’t free. She went on to tell me that she and my dad had to pay Santa for all the presents he put under our tree on Christmas Eve. She went over to the shelf which held the family checkbook, stamps, pens, invoices for bills to be paid, and checks written but not yet mailed. She rumaged around in the stack of checks written but not sent and selected one to pull out of the pile.
She showed me the check. This is the check I had to write to Santa Claus to pay for the Christmas presents, she told me.
I’m sure my eyes got big. Santa Claus had to be paid? Of course, I couldn’t read the name on the “pay to the order of ” line, but this was decades before I realized my mother is a habitual and casual liar. If she said the check was for Santa Claus, I believed her.
Some would say it was a harsh lesson, but I think it was a valuable one. Even little kids can begin to learn there’s no free lunch, not even at Christmas time.