Why Easter Resists Commercialization

A wonderful article from 2008 by James Martin is up over at Slate. Martin wrestles with why Easter resists commercialization while Christmas has completely succumbed. Comparing the two Martin observes:

Unlike Christmas, whose deeper spiritual meaning has been all but buried under an annual avalanche of commercialism, Easter has retained a stubborn hold on its identity as a religious holiday. This is all the more surprising when you consider what an opportune time it would be for marketers to convince us to buy more stuff.
Why has Easter, for the most part, resisted commercialization? Martin's argument is twofold. First, the images of Christmas--Mary, Joesph, angels, farm animals--can be easily accommodated by modern marketing. The images surrounding Easter--the bloody torture and death of Jesus--are less amenable to Hallmarkification:
Despite the awesome theological implications (Christians believe that the infant lying in the manger is the son of God), the Christmas story is easily reduced to pablum. How pleasant it is in mid-December to open a Christmas card with a pretty picture of Mary and Joseph gazing beatifically at their son, with the shepherds and the angels beaming in delight. The Christmas story, with its friendly resonances of marriage, family, babies, animals, angels, and—thanks to the wise men—gifts, is eminently marketable to popular culture. It's a Thomas Kinkade painting come to life.

On the other hand, a card bearing the image of a near-naked man being stripped, beaten, tortured, and nailed through his hands and feet onto a wooden crucifix is a markedly less pleasant piece of mail.
Martin's second argument is that secular people have some wiggle room in accommodating the story behind Christmas into their worldview. Even atheists recognize the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, Jesus has a birth story. The metaphysics behind that birth might be hotly contested, but most people agree on the historical nature of the event.

Easter, however, is a different story altogether. As Martin summarizes:
Unlike Christmas, [Easter] resists a noncommittal response. Even agnostics and atheists who don't accept Christ's divinity can accept the general outlines of the Christmas story with little danger to their worldview. But Easter demands a response. It's hard for a non-Christian believer to say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead." That's not something you can believe without some serious ramifications: If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, this has profound implications for your spiritual and religious life—really, for your whole life. If you believe the story, then you believe that Jesus is God, or at least God's son. What he says about the world and the way we live in that world then has a real claim on you.

Easter is an event that demands a "yes" or a "no." There is no "whatever."

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2 thoughts on “Why Easter Resists Commercialization”

  1. There's also the logistical issue: Christmas is on a fixed schedule, which is easier to commodify. Easter's date isn't fixed...making it much more difficult to utilize commercially.

  2. I don't necessarily agree that Easter demands an answer.

    You can believe that Jesus died on a cross and was resurrected without ever having it impact your daily regimen. In fact, I would argue most people in America at least know that Jesus Christ was some guy who died on a Cross for our sins. It's one thing to know about him, and another to know him. To say that "If you believe the story, then you believe Jesus is God's son" is a non-sequitur, in my opinion.

    Simply put, if you don't know why the removal of sins was even significant, what joy is there in the act of knowing? If one does not understand the depths of their sin, the love they have is shallow at best when confronted with the grace of the cross.

    Easter resists commercialization simply because "gift giving" is not generally a part of the tradition of celebrating it. It is easily cast aside by society as "lesser" than Christmas, when in fact without Easter, Christmas has no meaning. Candy sales and Eggs are probably the only two things that go up in sales during the Easter Season due to commercialization (and that green plastic grass stuff). Also, since most companies focus all their sales during the Christmas season, they need to give people a break to pay off their debts, so they don't focus on Easter so much.

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