This is not a new development. Think back to the days following 9/ 11, when the president proclaimed shopping a patriotic duty. If we stopped spending and the economy tanked, the president said, the terrorists would win. If living well is the best revenge -- and a new iPod or Prius tantamount to a slap in Osama bin Laden's face -- this form of civic service is apt.
Our Puritan forefathers would have understood. They dispensed with Christmas -- and its accompanying public drunkenness and bacchanalian displays -- as a frivolous waste of time. As late as the 1850s, evangelicals were following the Puritan example, seeing none of the piety central to their faith in the rowdy street festivities that characterized Dec. 25.
Only through the evocative power of Clement Moore's poetry, Thomas Nast's drawings and John Wanamaker's marketing did the Christmas we know take shape. Fulfilling childlike fantasies of jolly gift giving and a glittering marketplace, a booty-filled holiday overshadowed any religious message. "If you don't believe in the Jesus Christmas," my stepdaughter once asked, "couldn't you celebrate the Santa Claus one?"