In Chicago Christmas begins in November, with the revealing of Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) Christmas windows and the hanging of golden trumpets on the façade of the grand old department store. Inside, for more than 100 years the Walnut Room restaurant has glistened in its holiday glory with its centerpiece: a stunning Christmas tree. On the fifth floor, Santa awaits his eager fans in Santaland. The store buzzes with shoppers in a crush of shopping bags from Macy’s and other stores up and down the historic State Street shopping district.
Tis the season of Jesus, Santa and Pope Francis. It’s too early to place Francis in the pantheon of church reformers alongside Gregory VII or Adrian VI—or even next to John XXIII, who memorably announced the Second Vatican Council by saying that it was time to “open the windows and let some fresh air in.” But the early returns on the first Latin American pontiff suggest that his will be anything but a caretaker papacy.
I am a historian of the prosperity gospel. My dad is a historian of Christmas. Yes, the apple basically fell straight down beside the tree. About this time every year we have something fun to argue about: has Christmas become just another reflection of the North American cult of consumerism?