Redirecting the Orgiastic Ethos of Christmas

During the first two days of Advent I heard people use erotic language to describe the capitalistic ethos of the Christmas season. In the first Sunday of Advent mass the priest referred to the constant announcement of Black Friday deals and sales as “orgiastic,” and on NPR the next morning they referred to the season as an “orgy of consumption.” I’m struck by this language particularly because yesterday’s second reading also traffics in some erotic language. Everyone’s problematic fave Paul tells us to stay alert throw off the work of darkness and put on the armor of light, conducting ourselves as if we were in the light not in orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, or rivalry and jealousy. He concludes the passage by heeding us to not make provisions for the flesh but for the Lord Jesus Christ.
While this passage was being read in mass, I noticed a few members of the choir chuckle when they heard orgy and I saw a few people throughout the parish squirm at the sound of promiscuity, lust, and flesh. I was even shook for a moment until I realized that being shook by those words is old hat. It’s old hat because we hear “orgies,” “promiscuity,” “lust,” and “flesh” and go straight to our bodies and sex, and while we are not far from not needing to be concerned about our bodies, sex, and flesh in the world, it’s above us in this season because there is honestly a bigger fish to fry.
What the priest tried to get us to understand in the homily and what came back around to me via NPR’s utilization of this erotic language to describe the season is that our desires are being corrupted by the enterprise of capitalism which convinces us that extreme consumption through the guise of giving gifts to our loved ones is how we spread good cheer and tidings of comfort and joy. If the copious advertising and marketing of Christmas does any work, it is to constantly whet our appetites for more by selling it to us for less which makes us want it more and buy more. It is orgiastic indeed because, as a recent article pointed out, clenching the deal is a state of mind, it makes us feel good. It is affective, engendering a positive feeling close to an oxytocin release.
Thus it is no wonder we cannot part from all this season has become for us. We are now affectively conditioned to consume and without that consumption, we may feel nothing at all which means, capitalism has sufficiently done its job and is a hell of a drug.
So where does all of this leave us?
To do as the first day of Advent readings directed us, stay alert and walk in the light of the Lord. Being able to name how we’ve been taken by the spirit of capitalism–as we do every season–will allow us to properly discern our place in this season. I do not want to suggest that the gift-giving element of this season is wrong, but I do want to encourage us to interrogate how we consume toward the gift-giving end of this season, being careful to put Caesar in his place and bring Christ and the ethos of goodwill to all humans to its proper place. In this way, we can find more ways to put people at the center of our holiday practices–as Jesus put people at the center of all his praxis–and in this way we do not so much look for gifts for them but we look for ways to be a gift to people through our presence in their lives. Maybe in this way we can derive orgiastic pleasure not from bestowing gifts but by availing ourselves one to another and experiencing the true power of the erotic where it is, as Audre Lorde says, a “critical element in dismantling the social and political hierarchy situated in a white patriarchal power structure that reproduces the erotic as pornographic.” After, it is those same white patriarchal power structures that have shaped this entire economic system down to the capitalistic Christmas enterprise we are currently beholden to. Lest you think I escalated this out of nowhere...

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