Unplug the Christmas Machine

Within this century, Christmas has changed from a delightful folk festival and an important religious celebration to a twenty-billion-dollar-a-year (+) commercial venture. Each December, millions of Americans find themselves spending more money than they can really afford, taking on more responsibilities than they can comfortably handle, and spending less relaxed time with their families than at any other time of the year. Some people have more problems with Christmas than just a mild feeling of tiredness and a thick stack of bills. Every holiday season theres a 15 percent increase in the number of people seeking profession help for depression. And debt counselors report that the bulk of their clients come to them in February, when the holiday bills arrive.

This quote, from a delightful and yet confrontive book entitled, Unplug the Christmas Machine, by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli points to just how we have let our meaningful traditions of the holiday time get away from us. We know that Christmas is dramatically different now from what it was a hundred years ago. The natural rhythm of the holiday has been altered. Years ago, families began preparation for the holidays in mid-December, and the celebration lasted for days. Now we are encouraged to begin our shopping months ahead, Christmas music starts at the mall in September, and once the day is over, the festivities end abruptly. Some social scientists call December 26 the most depressing day of the year.

Religious traditions nurtured for centuries have been replaced with passive, moneymaking events. (Shopping malls, trips to Santa, viewing the lights, sporting events.) The Family Christmas celebration has become an elaborate and expensive production. (Remember the movie Christmas Vacation!) We are told that we have to do more and spend more to get the same amount of satisfaction.
The facts of family life have been changing and this requires a re-evaluation of the basic assumptions people have about Christmas: mobilization of the American family; more people living alone; more single parents. A celebration based on large family gatherings, traditional family configurations, and stereotyped sex roles may no longer correspond to peoples changing needs, values, and circumstances.

I think it is imperative to re-examine our choices and decisions if we are to experience a purposeful, intentional and meaningful Christmas season for you and your family. I believe that we must address some very important questions such as:

How can I recapture the joy of an old-fashioned Christmas?
How can I share my holiday values with my children?
How can I have a rich celebration without straining the family budget?
How can I nurture the spiritual side of the celebration
What can I do at Christmas to help people who are less fortunate?
How can I entertain my family and friends without making it a huge production?
How can I save time on holiday productions and still give my family a memorable Christmas?

Have you stopped long enough this season to ask yourself why you are doing all the things that you are doing during the Season? Have you sat down and written out why you even want to celebrate Christmas? Have you actually asked yourself what you believe about this season of the year and what is really important to you?

It is my experience in over 30 years of dealing with individuals and families during this Season, that too many just want to get to December 26 without a huge blowup! Too many just want to get it over with without someone losing it! If that sounds too familiar to you, then I'd like to suggest that you take some time in learning how to
Unplug the Christmas Machine in your life, and choose to make the Season a time of meaningful relationships, spiritual celebration and deeper reflection on what you believe.

Randy J. Simmonds, Ph.D. is the Clinical Director of the Samaritan Center of the Rockies, a non-profit counseling center in Edwards, CO. Dr. Simmonds can be contacted at 970-926-8558. For more information about the Samaritan Center go to