It’s that time of year again. A time for family, for good will to all, for shopping centres and supermarkets and, for Unilever executives everywhere, diving Scrooge McDuck style into massive money piles as Lynx shower sets fly off the shelves.
It’s telling how much we, as a society, lie to ourselves about Christmas when you really examine the small talk that gets passed around at this time of year.
“Are you all set?”, “Are you ready?” or “The big day is only X days away now!” All of these Christmas staples- delivered by family, friends and colleagues with wide, bloodshot eyes and fixed grins- suggest a sort of holiday of anxiety. Like having to prepare for some kind of exam we all take at the end of the year, in which how much you love your friends and family is measured in how good a present you bought them.
This can be a very stressful time of year for many. For those who struggle all year round, the added pressure of providing enough gifts and loads of food can be overwhelming.
Understandably, people want to provide the perfect Christmas for their loved ones- but is the perfect Christmas one filled with culturally mandated expense? It hasn’t always been the case that this means buying lots of things for everyone. As far back as the 1800’s people have been complaining about the consumerism that has wormed its way in to every aspect of the holiday. In an edition of Ladies Home Journal in 1890 it was noted that:
“the Christmas of our youth is degenerating into a festival of the storekeepers.”
This rings true when thinking of the Christmas of today. As economies have become more and more global there has been a trend towards a more Americanised holiday period. Black Friday, once only an American consumerist tradition on the first Friday after Thanksgiving, has made its way to the UK and has extended to a whole week. The idea being that with people already in that festive mood they will be more willing to spend a bit more.
Is this really a good thing though? It’s estimated that if everyone in the world consumed on the same level as the average US citizen, we would need 4 whole planet Earths just to provide the resources. We also currently have around 12 million tons of plastic entering the oceans every year, forming giant patches of plastic waste that eventually breaks down into micro plastic, one of the biggest polluters on our planet.
A study conducted by Northwestern University in Illinois found that anyone placing great value on wealth, status or material possessions is more likely to suffer from depression and anti-social tendencies.
On average families in the UK spend around £500 more in December than in any other month. For many this is simply too much socially commanded expense and they turn to predatory loans companies, which they then spend most of the next year paying off, if they don’t simply fall into more debt. It’s widely accepted that debt is one of the major causes of mental health decline in the developed world.
“So what? Christmas is cancelled then?”
This isn’t to suggest, of course, that we stop celebrating the holiday season. However, maybe we all should have a rethink about what really is important at this time of year. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the relentless pace of consumption overdrive that Christmas has come to represent and be burnt out as a result. What’s more, so all-consuming are our efforts to attain holiday excellence, as we are encouraged to “postcard-perfect” our lives and experiences, that we can often forget those around us who may be suffering this time of year.
Luckily for many, there are and always will be people that reach out to support others around this time of year.
Some people would have you believe that human beings are inherently selfish and although there are definitely people that are (looking at you Jeff Bezos/Mark Zuckerberg/ Sports Direct guy), as a species we have only flourished through mutual aid. In todays society this is usually more prevalent in the working classes- it’s happening around you all the time. In a recent post in a Facebook group for Kilmarnock, a father (we won’t be naming anyone) posted asking if anyone knew of any money lenders. He had been struggling financially, and just wanted his kids to be able to open something on Christmas morning like everyone else. A few people made recommendations, but for the most part the comments were filled with generous people offering to provide gifts for his kids or help out in any way that they could. Increasingly, this is not an uncommon sight as many people decide to try and provide some comfort to those more in need around the festive season.
As we seem to be facing a difficult future perhaps we should reconsider our relationship with pointless goods and stop allowing businesses to commodify happiness. This becomes more difficult as relentless marketing co-opts the language of community and sharing that the holiday is founded on to sell you more and more things, but truly nothing is more important than the friends and family that accompany us through life and maybe if we are a little kinder to each other and to the planet that sustains us, we can get to a place where we don’t rely on “stuff” to make us happy and can spread a little joy over the holidays.
With our “Bah Humbug!” moment out of the way, we’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I hope it’s a good one.