Reclaiming Christmas Authors Offer Ways to Decommercialize and Enrich the Holiday Season

Article excerpt

NOSTALGIC for the joys of a fulfilling Christmas, many Americans lament the growing commercialism of the season. Caught up in a hectic pace, they seek to simplify their celebrations. But how? Magazines offer helpful hints on organization, decorating, cooking, and gift giving - and all in record time. But Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli, the co-authors of "Unplug the Christmas Machine" (Quill/William Morrow, $9), whose first revised edition has just been released, offer more radical solutions to seasonal quagmires and quandaries.

The growing secularization of the society has contributed to the season's growing commercialism, say Ms. Robinson and Ms. Staeheli of Portland, Ore., in separate interviews by phone. Even in religious households, they say, gift-giving, social obligations, and holiday chores threaten to overwhelm the spirit of Christmas.

"Unplug the Christmas Machine" invites the reader to disengage from commercialism and search for the meaning behind all the fuss. It is full of non-judgmental, helpful hints and questionnaires designed to encourage the reader to consider what matters most to him or her, and then to break out of the old habits of obligation and hurry.

Their first workshop was held 14 years ago and surprised them with its intensity.

"People cried," Robinson says. "Unexpected marital tensions surfaced. But the workshop worked. They all had such a sense of relief when they left. In the next couple of years we were invited to hold workshops by dozens of groups - women's groups, churches, community centers. We were hearing the same problems over and over and felt then we should write a book."

Since that first workshop and the first publication of their book nine years ago, they have, by their own estimation, held more than 1,000 workshops and touched perhaps 100,000 lives in the United States and Canada. The revised edition of "Unplug the Christmas Machine" is substantially the same as the first - the changes come primarily in the updated resource information.

"Things have changed very little," Robinson says. "I think the recurring problem is the equation of a 'good Christmas' with the gifts people give. People feel powerless to change things, though they want to find more lasting, joyful, genuine ways to celebrate Christmas."

Robinson and Staeheli recommend that people turn tasks into traditions. "People have more traditions than they realize," Robinson says, "but they're on a 'to do' list. …