The past few weeks as everyone around me gears up for Christmas, I’ve started to have heretic thoughts: should we ditch Christmas? Faced with surging fears and anxiety about what life might look like in the future, I’m left wondering: does it make sense to celebrate a holiday that fuels the consumerist culture that is ultimately destroying our planet? Not trying to be a grinch here, but I’d like to make an appeal: this December, can we do the responsible thing and go back to the basics of what Christmas is really about before it was commercialised by capitalists who swallowed it whole?
Come late November, we begin to hear the festive jingles in the background of every shopping mall and department store lining our narrow city streets. Glass display windows are plastered with big “SALE” signs to promote the endless cycle of supposed price slashes for useless merchandise on Black Friday, then Cyber Monday, then Christmas.
For many, this triggers a wave of immediate excitement: the opportunity to gather up their savings, buy more things they don’t need – albeit for a discount, or so the marketers say – walk away with multiple shopping bags, and experience a feeling of absolute exhilaration with their purchase. Everyone seems so eager to spend and get in return a grand total (!) of anywhere between 30 minutes to 30 hours of short-lived delight.
For me, this addiction is my worst nightmare. Laugh if you will, but the thought of thousands of shoppers consumed by capitalistic brainwashing leaves me cold and brings on severe feelings of eco-anxiety in me.
The more I struggled with my troubling thoughts about the excess plastic packaging, non-recyclable wrapping paper, fancy synthetic ribbons and emissions from transporting useless items from one side of the globe to the other, the more I began to wonder: how did we get here? Why and how has Christmas become so commercialised? Even I myself was guilty of buying into this festive capitalist extravaganza just a few years ago but these days it is literally giving me hives.
Some business reports have pointed fingers at the American department store chain F.W. Woolworth, who allegedly began the Christmas shopping spree trend when they began retailing ornaments from the German cottage industry, introducing the world of shiny baubles to the mass market. Others blame beverage giant Coca-Cola, who debuted their now infamous Coca-Cola Santa Claus in 1920. To this very day, many of us all over the world continue to see this very Santa figure as the very warm and fuzzy symbol of this now almost global holiday.
Origins of this quintessential example of our consumer culture aside, it appears that not everyone is happy with Christmas capitalism. In fact, loads of people are sick of it, apparently. According to a survey done by the Pew Research Center, a third of people don’t look forward to the materialism of the holiday season. The same questionnaire found almost three quarters say that the true meaning of Christmas is being phased out for new gadgets, clothes, and other, well, stuff.
But it seems a bit odd to me that when I ask what people are getting up to around town during the holidays, people continue to tell me roughly the same things: visit shopping malls, buy gifts for family and friends, exchange material crap. Yes, it’s not like my example qualifies as a representative scientific study, but it does send a message about how pervasive our consumer culture is – especially during the holidays.
This year, I’ve decided to turn my back against businesses that turn festive periods into shameless profiteering opportunities. I’m going back to the basics of what Christmas is really about, before it became the burden that it is now – full of haggling, soul-wearing socials and piling up of so much “must-haves” (aka. trash). I’m going to replace it with the vintage version, the one that essentially ditches all the “Christmassy” frills, including the fake laughter that goes along with it.
It’s not about being a total grinch. It’s about being empowered by taking the 180-degree turn back to what the season is about, which to me, sounds pretty reassuring. The core of Christmas is being grateful for what we have, reconnecting with family and friends, taking the time to reflect on the past year and being compassionate to those who aren’t as fortunate as us.
It’s like a Chinese fortune cookie. The beauty of having eaten the wholly unsatisfying cookie, and fully accepted that it wasn’t so great, is the small scroll of paper in the middle – what it is really about. So why not just discard the useless frills and go straight to the basics of Christmas?