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What is non-liturgically considered as the Christmas season -- that is the period from Halloween to Christmas Eve -- in addition to being a time for decorated trees and sparkling lights, has become the season for Christmas themed movies -- feature films and made-for-TV pot boilers. The theme for most of these is simple: Christmas changes everything. Lonely people find true love, the work obsessed re-align their priorities, families are reunited, and generosity breaks out in unexpected ways, all because people believe in the spirit of Christmas. And all this is wrapped up and tied with a bow by Christmas day.
Usually, however, the faith engendered by this Christmas spirit focuses on believing that in a kind gentleman with a white beard and a fur-trimmed red suit, who lives at the North Pole, where he is assisted by industrious elves in the production of toys for nice children -- toys that are delivered by a sleigh, pulled by 8 or 9 flying reindeer.
The lost of faith in this toy delivery process is seen as the cause of unhappiness for the non-believers and is remedied when the doubters are confronted by a magical sign proving that Santa really does exist.
This promotion of a non-materialistic true spirit of Christmas which causes people to regain the faith, hope, love, and generosity that they had as children is ironically sponsored by merchants hawking their wares in the most commercial, materialistic manner possible. The commercials taken as a whole present a message which is antithetical to the programs they are sponsoring. The ads tell us that stuff is what you really want and what your children want and buying more stuff -- in particular, stuff people don't really need and can't afford -- is what will make everyone happy. Therefore, you should rush and buy more and if you don't have the money put it on lay-a-way or charge it. In addition, some of the ads encourage the Christmas shoppers to pick up something for themselves while they are about it.
For those of trying to keep the Advent season of spiritual preparation all this can be a distraction. These Christmas fantasy movies rarely mention the reason for the season. In one way they represent a paganization of Christmas, Christmas without Christ -- and yet there is a truth hidden in these fantasies: Christmas really does change everything. We are called to believe not in a jolly, white bearded man with flying reindeer, but in something far more wonderful -- a virgin mother of God's son -- God come down from heaven as helpless child -- whose birth is announced by a choir of angels, who is visited by wise men guided by a star.
The world longs for Christmas -- the real Christmas -- and these films are in a way an expression of that longing.
In this year of faith, we who have the faith need to remember those who don't have the faith -- those who are lonely, alienated from their families, hoping that stuff will make them happy, and the right gift will fix everything, when what they really need is what only Christmas brings -- the Savior of the world.
So let us ask ourselves, not what should we buy for our relatives and friends, but how can we make sure that each of them knows that the greatest gift of all -- the gift of faith -- is not in a package under the tree, but available for the asking.
Dale O'Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality."