Jamal is questioned by fraud detective in "Slumdog Millionaire"

Jamal is questioned by fraud detective in "Slumdog Millionaire"

I went to the movies at a local Phoenix multiplex last night. Saw Slumdog Millionaire. Had heard fantastic things about it. Actually, it’s not bad … but not nearly as great as the reviewers would have you believe. The biggest problem is that it feels schizophrenic; can’t decide if it wants to be an action thriller or a fairytale love story. As a result, it does an awkward job of trying to be both. And speaking of undecided, there’s even a Bollywood-style dance sequence at the end. Nevertheless, it’s more feel good and uplifting than not. One reviewer called it “visually stunning,” and I’ll definitely give it that.

So as I’m walking to my car, I’m pondering all of the above … did I like it more or dislike it more? Would I recommend it? What would my Indian friend, Sunil, think of it? But I was not so wrapped in thought that I failed to notice a license plate frame on the car parked next to mine: Keep Capitalism in Christmas. Hmmmmm … my visceral reaction was somewhat startling, in that I bristled. Keep Capitalism in Christmas. Really? Do we want that? Do we need MORE of that? And who was this guy, anyway? By whom does he feel so threatened that he needs to promote such a strange and specific belief in such an odd place? That’s what it felt like, a defense of keeping Christmas commercial.

So here’s where I make my disclaimer. I am a capitalist. I work as an editorial / marketing consultant. One of the things I do is help small businesses improve their marketing messages so that they can sell more stuff. In fact, that’s one of the reasons this blog exists. To put my own hand-crafted wares out into the world, so that people have the chance to buy them. So please don’t mistake me for an anti-capitalism zealot. I am not.

I’m still working through this – so please pardon if you’re getting some stream-of-consciousness here. The thing is, maybe it’s just the word capitalism. I don’t think I’ve ever self-referred in that way before. Usually, I refer to myself – and my colleagues in small business – as an entrepreneur. Having grown up Catholic, though, for my entire life the emphasis has always lain elsewhere for Christmas. Even though I don’t really practice anymore, I still love the spectacle of Midnight Mass. I believe Christmas is a season of joy, hope, new beginnings, love, family, home and hearth, community, service, and the like. The last thing that would come to mind when I hear the word “Christmas,” if I were playing the the word association game, would be “capitalism.”

There’s a movement right now to reclaim Christmas. More service, less shopping. Certainly some of it is church-sponsored, as is the case with Advent Conspiracy. Their theme: worship fully; spend less; give more; love all. Even for the less churchy among us, who can really argue that point?

But there’s also the more socially conscious Rethinking Christmas, a blog dedicated to imagining Christmas traditions that prioritize relationships, justice, and creativity.

And the Canadians have been on the less-commercial-Christmas bandwagon for some time now, with Buy Nothing Christmas, a national initiative started by Canadian Mennonites, but open to everyone with a thirst for change and a desire for action.

Yesterday, at the final meeting for the year of my Toastmasters club, our theme was reflection, and one of the Table Topics questions was whether people are generally happier and friendlier during the holidays. The unequivocal answer from the respondent was NO. People are crankier, more stressed, less happy, and generally more irritable during the holidays. While I’m not necessarily saying I agree with this speaker, IF his perception is true, hasn’t something gone terribly awry? If the whole point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of a savior … to cherish family and friends, celebrate goodwill, and champion love … why do we let ourselves be stressed to death at this time of year?

A couple of college students deconstructed Dr. Seuss’s Grinchy tale in a slightly less than tongue-in-cheek fashion that sheds a little perspective on Amercains’ effort at balance in this regard.

Box of Love

I stand by my initial reaction to the “Keep Capitalism in Christmas” statement. I begrudge no retailer his or her right to earn a living. I hold it against no parent who wants to make their kiddos happy by buying the latest toy or gadget. I love wrapping and giving brightly covered packages as much as the next person. But I think, if we really stop to ponder, ruminate, and consider, we may remember that there is more to Christmas than the commercials would have us believe.


  • Gift certificate to shovel snow (or rake the leaves, mow the lawn, or clean the pool – depending where in the country you live)
  • Poem you write from scratch
  • Lyrics to a cherished song – or a favorite poem – handwritten or computer-designed
  • Invitation to church or a club you know the person would appreciate
  • Invitation to coffee and conversation
  • Promise to walk the dog or some other small favor to help out in a pinch
  • Recipe to a favorite dish
  • Photos from a cherished vacation or event
  • Handmade greeting cards
  • Handmade scarf, hat, or slippers
  • Book on tape that you record yourself
  • CD of affirmations that you record yourself
  • Calendar created from favorite photos
  • Promise to regularly walk, bike, or exercise with the recipient

The sky’s the limit … even as the dollar amount is zero.