‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’
– A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, it was the age of merriness, it was the age of callowness, it was the infinity of jubilation, it was eternity of desperation, it was the Winter of Christmas. Correction: it will be Christmas (don’t let the premature carols distract you from the fact that we are still 20 days from the occurrence taking place). Christmas, a seemingly flawless time of the year in which morals rise, where cheer is in abundance, and your problems are omitted at the sight of an eminent tree.
The average U.S adult is set to spend just north of 750 dollars worth of goods for Christmas gifts this year. That’s excluding the additional 300 dollars that will be spent on the turkey, the tablecloths, and oh, don’t forget about those cute little garlands one hangs around inanimate objects and ornaments. The point being – Christmas, regardless of what you think, has become one of the most commercialized events in human history, and one that is hurting us. ‘What’s the big deal?’, I hear you ask, ‘ for it is merely an event that occurs once in 365 days’, and ‘It is a time of rejoice and giving’. Well, not quite, but shall we rummage down into the the roots of this celebration, to where it all started – the nucleus of Christmas.
One of the first recorded celebrations of Christmas was in the year 336 AD, initiated by the famous Constantine the Great, who was the first Roman-Catholic emperor. The celebration was to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, who according to the followers of Christianity, had died 300 years prior. To belittle Christmas because of its origins and the lack of evidence to support the happenings of the Bible, would be inconsequential and inappropriate. Pope Julius I was the first to declare the 25th of December as the birth of Christ, and the Church has since adopted it as such. More importantly, however, is what message this celebration is supposed to yield. Christmas was always supposed to highlight the coming-together of people, acceptance and joyousness. In order to establish a setting in which to compare nowadays’ antics, it is important to look beyond the ironies of Christmas (an idea taken from Paganism of the Mid-Winter festival), and recognize the innocent comfort of a once-upon-a-time innocent festival.
However, the current celebration of Christmas can draw little parallels to that of 1700 years ago. Is that a problem? Is this just not another example of how a tradition has adapted through the development of civilisation. Nope, not even close. What isn’t presented in the statistics of the merry festival is just to what extent commercialism has overtaken the morals often attached to Christmas. Of the many that do celebrate Christmas, most aren’t religious. Considering the ideas attached to Christmas are often seen as more important than the literal occurrences of Jesus’ nativity, it can hardly come as a surprise that the once purely religious festival has waxed itself into a cultural one. Besides, if Christmas brings out the ‘best in you’, there is little need to pledge allegiance to Biblical figures. Unfortunately, notwithstanding of the positive radiances shone by Christmas, there is a great chance that in 2017, you celebrate Christmas commercially more than anything else. Do you succumb to the early December Christmas sales? Purchase the renowned Christmas tree sporting pretentious and over-the-top decorations? Do you scamper across the congested aisles of John Lewis on the cold night of the 24th, known as Christmas Eve? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The accessibility and exposure of products and the masses of ‘Christmas List Ideas’ that appear every time you open your computer make resistance a strenuous exercise.
Now to the economic side of the equation. Christmas spending accounted for an extra 10 percent of annual earnings for UK-based Lidl stores last year. This is just one example of the ascent of money some companies gain due to the flurry of humans entering and exiting their shops – retailers being the biggest ‘Christmas winners’. So naturally, it is fair to assume that eradicating the celebration from our calendar would inevitably trigger a large decline in all retail stores’ earnings, a disastrous scenario for the economy. So it’s impossible? Regardless of the questionable morals and preposterous spending outbursts, society has developed in such a way that ‘deleting’ Christmas would be simply be impractical. If only that were true. While it is undeniable that Christmas forks out 400 billion US dollars across the globe every year, take a moment to think why that is. Now, in your head picture a world in which people, 7.6 billion to be exact, all carry around long lists of what their heart desires most. They might cast the occasional glance towards their list, checking off a few items every now and then until the twelfth month of the year comes round. Suddenly, these people transform into savaged creatures, degenerate organisms, ready to snatch up what is rightfully theirs, regardless of barricades that surely stand in their way. Additionally, they now have four weeks to open the cookie jar, empty all the coins, and surge to their local retail store to claim the last remaining Sony TV. Does this at all sound familiar? It should do. Except, you most probably haven’t heard an opprobrium such as this attached to this graceful time of the year. Nevertheless, our “civilised” and “refined” society spends the last four weeks of the calendar year checking off these lists, creating a barbaric spectacle to behold. And for working class families, the struggles are only magnified. The lengths at which a parent, earning a less than handsome salary, is willing to go to in order to purchase a gift for their child often results in an unhealthy saving period for families entering the Winter season.
In a Wall Street Journal survey carried out for economists in 2010, more than 67 percent predicted that the eradication of Christmas as an event would result in humans spending much less sporadically, and rather spend more at other times, working down their ‘wish list’ at appropriate times. The steady and even rate at which the money would be being put into the economy would be far more structured and logical, and perhaps result in the gifts being more appreciated. According to Joel Waldfogel, Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota, recipients of Christmas gifts value their present at about 20 percent less than what the buyer had paid. If this is true, that means that 80 billion is wasted every Christmas on the “appreciation level”, not to mention the unnecessary and extraneous presents that are warm-heartedly accepted, particularly at the higher level of the socioeconomic spectrum. If you’re struggling to picture an example, look no further than a gift card you have undoubtedly received that remains in your study, among your dusty books and folders, with 50 dollars still on it that you have no idea what to spend on.
So Christmas spending is illogical, unhealthy and (somewhat) inevitable, but does it carry any serious implications with it? Are repercussions such that they perhaps to directly contradict all that it allegedly stands for. Okay, the Santa story is innocuous and traditional, it might even help the cognitive development of your child, to keep the effervescence of their imagination alive before the harsh realities of the world kick in. But is there another side to it? Does it say something to you that a child has to be given a reward to acknowledge the importance of morality? Does the myth inadvertently cause for a poorer child to feel less deserving? Christmas won’t turn one’s children into a present-craving psychopath who is suspiciously joyous whenever December comes around, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t send around ambiguous messages. Recent psychological studies have actually suggested that children receiving less presents culminates in them better appreciating and valuing things. Besides, the idea of blissful ignorance in this matter might translate from children over to adults, who continuously make New Year resolutions despite never actually completing them, yet another example of the blanket of delusion we cast unto ourselves.
So ponder on the essence of Christmas; whether it stimulates benevolence, or is a recipe for disaster. Whether, when the first day of January arrives, your action-filled December consisting of family reunions, turkey slicings and mulled wine has made you more appreciative of the beauty in the world or, perchance, Christmas’ carols have all but drained out the cruelness that still wails in harmony below the surface.