Precious family time, kindness, and goodwill – these are all values associated with the Christmas period. But the creeping shadow of consumer capitalism has come to threaten these ideas, and, now, the festive season is dominated by commercialism. The influence of commercial business has been growing ever since Coca Cola transformed Santa for their own interests, depicting him in their own red imagery. Now, the start of the festive period is marked by when the John Lewis advert is first aired, or when mince pies hit the shelves of Marks and Spencer.
From as early as September, supermarket chains, department stores and online shops entice consumers into their inescapable trap of Christmas offers. It is impossible to simply nip to Tesco for a loaf of bread without feeling overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of Christmas goods on sale. The excessive offers and abundance of food encourages people to think it is acceptable to overindulge and waste money on unnecessary things.
Of course, food is an integral part of Christmas celebrations. However, the vast choice of goods we face, and the social pressure to impress, promotes greed. We seem to have forgotten that Christmas was once defined by values of sharing and supporting the poor. For many, these have gone out of the window to be replaced by selfish over-indulgence, as they fall victim to the capitalist powers that dominate the season.
Similarly, the originally thoughtful act of gift-giving at Christmas is now dominated by material desire. Even young children demand obscenely expensive gifts such as iPads, eliminating the lesson of gratitude that Christmas once aimed to teach. Instead, it validates the constant, materialistic desire for more. Children are brain-washed by adverts and turn to parents to plea for gifts, who themselves are under pressure to provide.
It is not just children who are subject to the exploitation created by advertising, as adults also succumb to materialist trends. A prime example, relevant to the last few years, is luxury advent calendars. From major beauty brands to gin distillers, many companies have released overpriced calendars which completely disregard the religious tradition of advent. Commercial organisations exploit these traditions, taking Christmas to a new level of materialism. Customers are manipulated and robbed of, in some cases, hundreds of pounds – for little more than 12 shower gels in a snow-tinged box.
The overwhelming influence of the commercialisation of Christmas is impossible to escape. It is not just shops that use Christmas as a vehicle for to boost profits: media studios and artists create programmes, films and music purely for financial profit. The overriding existence of the Christmas theme across all forms of national culture isolates the religious groups who do not celebrate the holiday. For Christians, it is frustrating to see the spiritually poignant holiday reduced to monetary value and gluttonous desire. One argument is that the decline of the religious meaning behind Christmas is both natural and unavoidable. However, we owe it to the original story to maintain the values of good-will and kindness, ensuring these are not replaced by an obsession with materialism forced upon us by consumer society.
People need to step outside the bubble of festive commercialisation and question the excesses of consumerism. Instead of being victims to advertising, enticed by capitalist-driven novelties, a revaluation of the original values of Christmas, directly religious or not, is necessary. The festive spirit can continue in a more positive way without over-indulgence in the traps of profiteering capitalism.
Image: Heather Burks via Flickr