Christmas is consumption and improving the economy has become more of a religion for some, according to Dell deChant, a USF religious studies professor and author of The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture.
DeChant said he started researching the topic of religion and pop culture a decade ago because he started asking his students what they do during the holiday season of Christmas. The frequent answer, deChant said, was shopping.
“The book and much of my other writings have been inspired by part of my work with undergraduate students,” he said. “I hope that this book gains the interest of those who are involved with religion, consumerism, holidays and secularization or conscience.”
The Sacred Santa discusses why people buy something not because they need it, but because its is their duty or “ritual” to consume.
“As the title suggests, Santa and Christmas has something do with it,” deChant said. “But Christmas has lost its religious meaning because of this consumption during the holiday season and society becoming secular.”
The book also suggests that Santa is the “Patron Saint of the modern Christmas bazaar” because of this secularization of culture, which in the end helps improve the economy.
“The ultimate power of culture is not nature but the economy,” he said. “Economic power solves problems. If the economy goes down, who doesn’t feel it?”
Due to this theory of the economy being the ultimate power, deChant talked about how, like religion, people involve themselves with these rituals of buying and buying to achieve economic success.
“Because consumption makes us feel good, we spend excessive hours around the holidays shopping and shopping,” deChant said. “It’s a rush. Rather than being secular and non-religious, America’s postmodern culture is intensely religious.”
DeChant discussed his book Thursday with a group of 35 people in the Grace Allen room in the Library. Setting the scene with punch, holiday-shaped cookies and holiday-themed salt and pepper shakers, deChant mocked next Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, by calling it “Pilgrimage Friday and a start of a festival.”
The book, which was published by the Pilgrim Press, was printed in September so it would be available for the holiday season.
“They gave me a July deadline so that the book could be edited and out just in time to make good gifts,” deChant said.
Sophia Kugeares, a Library worker who attended deChant’s discussion and who also read the book, said she was able to understand her atheist friend better after reading the book.
“My friend would be buying tons of gifts at Christmas and Easter for her children, but she is an atheist, and I wondered why she would celebrate my holiday,” said Kugeares, who is an Othrodox Christian. “It helped me understand why. I am going to purchase 10 copies to give to people, too.”
The Sacred Santa is available in commercial bookstores and on Amazon.com for $21, deChant said, and it is also a book that can be used in teaching classes.