[By Sydney Gan]
Tis the season!
It’s December, which means the holidays are fast approaching. We’re talking candy canes, fairy lights, shopping for clothes, shopping for gifts, shopping for food – did I mention shopping?
This is what Christmas in the modern era has become – an entire month of sales and promotions. Everywhere you go, you are met with a tide of sales offers and outrageous Christmas themed products like cutesy Santa Klaus mugs or plump reindeer plush toys just begging for you to purchase them without a second thought. We are flooded with Christmas merchandise, which some would say is their favourite aspect of the holiday, but is commercialism actually corrupting the true meaning of Christmas?
Let’s begin with the very etymology of the word ‘Christmas’ – it originates from the term ‘Christ’s mass’, describing a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is an iconic event, well known to even populations who do not celebrate the holiday. Christmas has always been associated with reunion and family, but as our society modernizes, it is starting to become more closely linked to consumer culture. More emphasis is being put on material consumption of the Christmas season, such as food, gifts or flaunty decorations, while traditions and values are neglected.
This increase in commercialism in holidays has been a growing phenomenon throughout the years. Other popular holidays have also fallen victim to it, with the most popular example being Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is largely symbolized by the act of gift-giving, with it being a norm for couples to buy each other chocolates or flowers and to bring each other on expensive dates. This thus encourages the idea that not spending money on a person indicates a lack of love, reinforcing the inescapable relationship between capitalism and modern holidays. The same goes for Christmas – the absence of a gift or the presentation of a gift of low quality ignite a general consensus of disrespect as if the gifter lacks affection for their friends or family.
We can also see the entertainment industries capitalizing on our Christmas sentiment. With every December approaching, one braces themselves to be faced with an onslaught of Christmas albums from the latest artist on the billboard. Countless new movies with the same Hallmark-Esque generic plot also accompany the overdone music. Not trying to sound like a real ‘grinch’ – these music and films are admittedly fun and enjoyable in occasion – but it doesn’t erase the fact that Christmas has become increasingly consumerist and one cannot deny the problem of it.
Speaking of consumerism of Christmas, we cannot forget the abundance of adverts broadcasted during the season. One expects to be met with cheerful, bright ads promoting discounts of products we don’t need but think we want. The wholesome image of Christmas is being misused in these advertisements to persuade us to empty out wallets into their pockets, taking advantage of our excitement to make their profits. The irony of this criticism is that the icons of this holiday that are said to be exploited actually come from commercialist roots. Taking Santa Klaus for example – he is a classic symbol, with his red ensemble and his bushy white beard. But lesser known to everyone, he was actually shaped by Coca-Cola adverts in the 1920s. Before these ads, Santa Klaus was only an ambiguous figure, unfamiliar and foreign to celebrators. It is truly jolting to realize that a big part of Christmas as we know it is actually built on capitalist origins.
There is also a significant aspect of Christmas influenced by the increasing consumerism that is often undiscussed, which is the major food waste during the holidays. In 2019, the estimated Christmas food waste in the UK was a staggering 444 million pounds. It is mind-boggling to learn that we waste this much food over just a single holiday! It is exactly this culture of consumption that leads us to buy more food than we ever need and ultimately leave them uneaten and thrown away, which highlights how toxic this practice is. Modern Christmas not only offends the very essence of the celebration, but it also encourages us to damage the environment in a significant way.
Although heavily criticized, the marriage of old traditional holidays and capitalism is almost inevitable as our society modernizes and progresses. It’s an unavoidable change, but that does not mean that we have to succumb to the materialism of the holiday. This Christmas, I implore all of you to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and forget our incessant obsession over gifts and decorations. Instead, let’s focus on what is truly important – love, family, and community.
In the iconic words of Clement Clarke Moore: “to give up one’s very self – to think only of others – how to bring the greatest happiness to others – that is the true meaning of Christmas.” Happy holidays to you all!