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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

The Creation of Christmas Spirit

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

It is Christmas time in media-land, and one can't help but be touched by it all. We throw around the term "mass" media or "all-pervasive" media, but at no time is it more true than at this time of year. It's everywhere.

I went into a store last week to pick up some dog food and heard "Jingle Bells" playing on the store's PA system. I felt positively heathen because I didn't also buy some stocking stuffers or cards or little Santa pencils. This morning at 5:30 AM while I was getting my morning coffee at a convenience store, Johnny Mathis was singing something about a sleigh ride. I looked around and noticed that the store was sporting holiday garlands and decorations and fake snow and everything.

On TV there are repeated showings of all sorts of "Christmas programs," and I've been subjected to "Holiday Cooking Secrets" of the CIA, "Neil Diamond's Christmas special", the Flinstones' version of "A Christmas Carol," and (by last count) eight showings of the film "White Christmas."

I've been beseiged by commercials which try to create warm snuggly Christmas feelings and then tap into the mother lode of generosity which naturally springs from those feelings. Christmas images are used to sell everything from hamburgers to toys, cars to cards, clothes to diamonds.

And Christmas seems to be the one holiday where everybody joins in the providing of various media messages. Lights on the houses, candles in the windows, lawn displays, Christmas cards and even the brightly-lit Christmas tree in front of the living room window are all ways to share that "Christmas spirit."

All media are constructions. That is, media messages are consciously created to achieve a certain effect. Whether commercial or personal, whether big or small, the sights and sounds of the season are constructed by peopleto convey a message. And in the construction of these messages, of course, our houses always look prettier, the snow is always softer and whiter, and every little child has a gleam in his eye.

There is nothing wrong with any of this, of course. It's natural (and perhaps healthy) to filter our thoughts of Christmasses past and our creation of Christmas present as pleasantly and as softly and as beautifully as we can. And then to share those warm feelings, recollections, wishes and images with others. Nothing wrong with any of it, as long as we remember two things:

First, all of these Christmas media messenges are created and carefully constructed in order to engender those very feelings which make them seem so real and genuine. The tree in the living room may LOOK real enough, but often it's artfully-constructed of wire and plastic. The gleam in a child's eye as he eagerly opens his presents on a TV commercial can be achieved with spotlights. The lovely scene of snow falling in "White Christmas" was shot on a Hollywood sound stage. The disembodied voices you hear singing Christmas carols in stores are indeed merely that -- disembodiedvoices. It's not the store personnel spontaneously breaking into songs of wonder and joy. People are consciously trying to create a "Christmasspirit."

We need to remind ourselves, too, that even genuine "Christmas spirit"is as likely as not to reflect an inner reality. That manger scene may ineed reflect a deep spiritual faith in the heart of the person who puts it up. But it could just as easily be reflecting the time of the season or a way to get your business. Candles in the window or a sparkling tree may sit in the houses of families who are warm and loving and sharing, but they also sit in houses where there is sadness and anger and isolation.

"Christmas spirit" is not in and of itself touching or soft or warm. It merely represents or commemorates such feelings -- or at least we hope that it does.

Being awash in media messages of comfort and joy, of peace to men of good will, of a warmth in the heart and a softness of the spirit will not necessarily bring about these things.

But it can be a start.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.