Merry Chri$tmas

I ask you, did someone really have to die in an early morning Wal-Mart purchase lust to point out that American consumerism has gone too far? It has, and particularly around Christmas. As a third-grader, I developed a questionnaire for my classmates to gauge whether they had the "right" take on the Christmas holiday. OK, maybe it was an early journalistic instinct. Or perhaps I'm a closet evangelist who has yet to realize her calling. The students of Mrs. Doherty's class at Tarkey Elementary School in Woburn, Mass., were my field test. I asked them whether they believed Christmas was about presents or Jesus.

My subjects were pretty evenly divided at first. But, eventually, word of my objective got around, and everybody began answering, "Jesus." So go the good intentions of even the best pollsters.

I don't really believe that Jdimytai Damour's death is a wake-up call for consumerists. He, like other unfortunate people, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it all adds up to nothing. Like the victims killed in Mumbai this week. We don't live in a just world. But I will say that the purchase-lust aspect of Christmas has gotten me down for a long, long time -- perhaps since third grade in Mrs. Doherty's class. Every year, a gloom descends over me as I consider how few people really need the gifts I'm giving. Or how many people must be given a gift to avoid hard feelings. This list has grown as I have matured and now includes the paper delivery folks, the house cleaners, the hairdresser, a couple of babysitters, religion teachers, classroom teachers, classroom aides and the mailman. My family qualifies as its own small economy.

I'm not a stingy person -- not with money, anyway. But I do mind all the time it takes. The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, to me, seem so bleak with obligation. This year, I have begun creating space for small indulgences of personal time to keep myself from succumbing to the depressing waves that accompany being over-scheduled. On Monday, I wrote a page of a short story that I've been working on. Today, I got my car washed after a long Thanksgiving trip that left it looking very junky. Little things, I'll grant you. But they keep me sane.

So, I guess that I am positing selfishness as an antidote to Christmas consumerism. Or maybe it's taking moments to stop and live life amid the demands. It feels right, and I believe that whatever satisfies our souls comes from God.