In the midst of the frenzy, the rush, the stress of the season, I wonder, “Why don’t we drink even more?”

In the midst of this drunken state, I pondered the question, “In this high and holy Advent season, why do we consume so much alcohol?” It seemed terribly incongruent to bring into the “temple” of Advent all of the vagaries of excessive alcohol consumption. The Christmas spirit was being replaced by Christmas “spirits.”

Now, a year later and hopefully a year wiser, I must reconsider the basic question. In the midst of the frenzy, the rush, the stress of the season, I wonder, “Why don’t we drink even more?”

My original reflection was solely based on the meaning of Advent. However, such a focus misses the complexity of the season. There is no time of the year when our society is faced with more tension between the meaning of the season and the process of our survival. It is the time of year we remember those who followed a star or the voices of angels to a stable, only to follow the call to the mall.

The sacrificial act of giving has been hijacked by our economy’s need for us to purchase. It has become more important to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts intended for people who have everything, than to give a dollar to a person who has nothing.

Our high standard of living, our good life, demands sacrifices to the gods of the marketplace. And as we seek the meaning of Advent in the midst of this, is it any wonder that our souls are conflicted, and our spirits cannot fully follow the Lord’s leadings?

We live in the tension of “gloria in excelsis” and “gloria in excesses.”

Perhaps it is enough to drive us to drink.

Two more celebrations of excess form bookends for Advent. On one end is Thanksgiving, a holiday invented to test our ability to celebrate plenty in an attitude of thankfulness. However, Thanksgiving continues to mutate into “Turkey Day.” The solemn act of giving thanks has been given over to the feathered symbol of gluttony.

On the other end is one of the most dangerous nights of the year. The worn and tattered pages of the old calendar are replaced by the new. New Year’s gives us the metaphoric summit upon which we can assess our past wonderings and ponder the paths yet to come.

The volume of alcohol consumed on New Year’s Eve is astounding. This holiday is like a magnifying glass, enlarging ambient use. Those who drink little or none during the rest of the year may indulge on this night. Those who use moderately will most likely indulge this evening. Those who abuse all year will find social acceptance from all the company.
Indeed, much of the danger of this evening comes from those who have little experience or drink more than they are used to. Alcohol use results in unpredictable behaviors that can end in many disastrous ways. Many will use this bridge between the old and new to binge in the New Year.

Is it the grief of lost opportunities, or the bleakness of the future that causes so many to seek the anesthetizing benefits of alcohol? Does surviving the rapids of modern life for a whole year give to us the need of one more death-defying feat to bring in another uncertain year? Have we inherited an ancient gene that calls humans to party?

We are a people who benefit from most of our excesses. Perhaps it is only logical that we spend this holiday reveling in excess. We buy stuff all the time—this is the season to spend more. We always find a reason to party—this season we party more. We drink—now we drink more.

“More is better” is our hymn to the marketplace. In reverence, we live this to the fullest. It is no wonder we drink so much. I only wonder why we don’t drink more.

Steve Sumerel is director of the department of family life and substance abuse, of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s council on Christian life and public affairs.

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