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'Redefining Christmas' Puts New Twist on Holiday Giving

There's a Christmas controversy this year. And for a change, it has nothing to do with Santa Claus or keeping the birth of Jesus in the forefront of the holiday celebration.

But it does have something to do with the old argument that the season has become far too commercialized.

Through their foundation, the wealthy Dalio family of Connecticut bought advertisements in six of the largest American newspapers, extolling an idea called Redefining Christmas. And the family kicked in $2 million to get the campaign going.

And what does redefining Christmas mean?

The idea is that instead of spending a lot of money on gifts, family and friends should give donations to each other's favorite charities. A lot more money would go to people who need it, one advertisement reads. It describes the holiday shopping rush as loathsome and argues that giving would be more in keeping with the Christmas spirit.

This redefinition of Christmas has provoked strong, and quite mixed, reactions. Many columnists, letter writers and online bloggers say it's a wonderful idea - a concrete way to reduce the grubby commercial excesses of the holiday.

But others say the purchase and exchange of holiday gifts isn't loathsome at all, but rather, provides critical support to small businesses - and hundreds of thousands of workers - who are struggling during the current economic recession. Others argue that while giving to charities sounds warm and wholesome, some charitable organizations sop up huge portions of donations for administrative costs, and a relatively small share goes to those needing help.

There's no easy way to tell whether the Redefining Christmas idea has increased charitable giving. But it certainly has stirred up public debate over a timely and important issue this holiday season.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.