I don’t hate Christmas, I just hate what it’s become

21 Dec

Gather ’round Children, I want to tell you about a film that might just change your life, or at least, make you think about your consumer habits.

Over 10 years ago, I met a man named Bill Talen, who, with his wife Savitri, runs the “Church of Stop Shopping.” Talen’s stage name is “Reverend Billy.” He’s very theatrical, wears a white (nowadays pink) suit and clerical collar, and performs with his “Stop Shopping” choir, both on tours around the  country and at a regular gig at Joe’s Pub in NYC.

I met them on the 2008 tour they did to publicize the film, “What Would Jesus Buy?”  They had come all the way to Sacramento, and, since my family had been listening to me yak about them, they drove me up to see the show. 

At the time, Bill wasn’t really sure what to do, there was really no set-up. He’d been invited by the owners of a small coffee shop, and they hadn’t done any preliminary advertising, just expected him to show up and gather a crowd, on a seedy street corner miles from the shopping centers. Instead of the usual choir, it was just him and Savitri, who looked very nervous.  He greeted my family very warmly, autographed my copy of the movie, and went about his street preaching. 

Instead of shoppers, we were immediately surrounded by a kind of hostile group of transients.  I used to work in a store down the street when I was in college, the neighborhood had been bad then, it was worse in 2008, and it’s really bad now. But I had to admire Bill’s resolve as he went into his pitch. I stood nearby shouting “AMEN!” at the appropriate moments while my wide-eyed family moved closer to the store fronts, under the lights. At one point a drunk came speeding up on a bike and nearly hit Bill. He didn’t miss a beat. 

We shook hands and made our goodbyes as the night moved in, Bill thanked us for driving all the way from Chico, and we left him with Savitri standing in front of the darkened store fronts. 

But I still have my DVD copy of the movie, and I watch it once a year. It’s funny, but it has a pretty sinister dark message to it. 

The film opens with warm scenes of America at Christmas. But it goes quickly from small town fall colors and simple visions of children decorating a Christmas tree, to glitzy ads, roads shut down with traffic, and crowded shopping malls – “the halls of worship”.

The narrator speaks of a new God . “He tells us to buy now and pay later, he tempts us with promises of endless credit, as he leads us down the path to eternal debt.”

“We used to be a nation of producers and are now a nation of consumers. “

“For the first time since the Great Depression, our household personal savings rate is below zero, and 60 percent of us are in long  term debt on our credit cards. We now spend under one hour a week in religious or spiritual time, and over 5 hours a  week shopping.”

The narrator compares shopping to addiction. A news woman remarks that most people would run over a pregnant woman to get what they want at Christmas.

Christmas, says the narrator, creates 5 million tons of extra waste every year.

And here we meet Reverend Billy, who had just launched his first nationwide “Stop Shopping Tour”. 

I don’t really go in for theatrics usually. I like Bill’s street preaching, but the big productions with the choir are not really my thing. They sing pretty silly songs, and the old time revival setting is a little much. But my favorite part is when Bill asks people in the audience to bring forward their credit cards for “exorcising.” 

It’s also fun to watch him walk into a store, hold a huge Mickey Mouse toy over his head, and proclaim, “Mickey Mouse is the Anti-Christ!” 

I know, if Bill was your brother in law, you’d probably skip family  dinners. He can be a bit much, like all your theater friends.  But he’s right – America is out of control on spending. Even 11 years after this movie was made, it’s pertinent, probably more pertinent than ever.

Just today my grocery checker says she’s already getting aftershock from the spending. “I can’t believe I put so much on my credit card,” she tells me. “It will take me til Easter to pay for it!” 

I’ll guess, she’ll be paying it off for years, because most Americans never pay off their credit cards, they just keep using them and paying that interest. So, that gift you bought on Black Friday because you thought you were saving all this money will end up costing you more than the regular price.

A Walmart employee recounts being spit on by “about a 60 year old woman” because she did not have the X-Box the woman wanted for her 6 year old grandchild. Yes, I’ve seen that kind of behavior. While you don’t see violence every day, you get used to JUST PLAIN RUDE. The one time my family went Black Friday shopping, while we were at an out-of-town kids’ sport tournament, I was at one of those outlet stores, looking at a pair of pants for my husband and a woman LITERALLY grabbed them out of my hands, put them in her cart and rolled away.

I’m not going to go Glenn County over a pair of pants. I see some people are more aggressive than me, so I stay away from the stores after November 21. I mean, if I don’t have a present for you by the end of October you can forget it. Today I went grocery shopping and it was already getting crazy.

I used to say, “I hate Christmas,” but I realize, I just hate the way people act at Christmas. So after you get home from the mall tonight you might take a look at this film. Here’s the trailer on youtube, where you can also watch the full movie.


Now get out there and spread some peace and joy, DAMMIT!

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