This is a piece I published in December 2011, but the sentiment bears repeating…
Christmas can be a magical time. I like the sense of expectation in the lead-up to Christmas as we wind down the year. I enjoy the community spirit of this time as we let our hair down at work functions, embrace the joy of the season at carols nights and prepare for the festive feast at the Christmas farmers market.
I love reconnecting with family and sharing the unrestrained joy of children on Christmas morning, along with Christmas lunch, that communal meal that my family prepares and shares as an expression of how much we care for one another. One of the wisest sayings I’ve come across is that there is no higher expression of love and appreciation for someone else than to prepare a meal for them.
These festivities honour the anniversary of the birth two thousand years ago of an extraordinary man who changed the world.
But today, the wonderful aspects of the festive season are becoming overshadowed by the deeply disturbing social and cultural pressure placed on us to consume without restraint at Christmas time.
The good things—the love, joy and reconnection with family—are tempered by the expectation of spending bucket loads of money in the rampant consumerist orgy that the festive season has become.
For me, the joy of giving to others has become outweighed by resentment at going into debt to fulfil obligation to buy gifts. There is no joy in expressing hollow thanks for the mountain of mostly unwanted junk that arrives under the tree as Christmas gifts, whose sole purpose in the New Year will be to take up storage space.
“Grinch”, you may say. Presents are all about the act of giving, as an expression of caring for the receiver. Yet I fail to see how some useless store-bought trinket that I neither want nor need can be an expression of how much someone cares about me. On the contrary, this kind of gift-giving is exceptionally thoughtless. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of the full product cycle of the gift, as well as he wants and needs of the receiver, and in so doing, fails to capture the spirit of selflessness that the act of giving is meant to embody.
Indeed, thoughtlessness is the common theme of the dark side of Christmas.
I lament the pointlessness of wrapping paper and cards, which cover presents under the Christmas tree for a few days before arriving at their final destination in the recycling bin.
I wonder about the electricity bills and the carbon footprint people rack up in neighbourhood contests to see who can give their house the thickest coating of LED lights. This is ironic, given how much people complain about electricity prices for the other eleven months of the year.
I am saddened by the sheer wastefulness of it all. Why don’t we consider the “real” cost of our gifts, in terms of the resource, energy, water and labour inputs of their production, and the pollution generated in the process?
I often wonder if this is what Jesus would have had in mind as a fitting testament to his life’s work. We could do greater honour to those teachings by celebrating Christmas lightly, by moving away from the crass consumerist perversion of Christmas to embrace the connection with family and community that makes Christmas time so special.
***An edited version of this piece entitled “Unwrap real meaning of the season” appeared on page 10 of the ‘Pulse’ section of the Albury-Wodonga Border Mail, Saturday 17th December 2011.
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The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.
[…] This piece was prompted by Ben Habib’s I’m Dreaming of a ‘Light’ Christmas. […]
I understand your logic Kieran. One only need look at what happens to every style of underground music when it goes ‘mainstream’ to understand how “capitalism appropriates, co-opts and transforms all culture to serve profit,” as you say in your article.
So let me pose you a hypothetical question: if capitalism collapsed completely tomorrow, would that be the end of Christmas as well? That’s gets to the issue at the heart of this discussion.
I agree with you that It’s not a particularly novel observation that Christmas has been bastardised by consumerism. We must then ask ourselves, is there something profound and meaningful about Christmas that runs deeper that its recent shallow commodification would suggest?
I argue that there is, and that attempting to reclaim this meaning represents a small step in reclaiming autonomy from the consumerist paradigm. Culture can be whatever you want it to be.