As time moves past the Thanksgiving weekend (or for me, a poor retail employee, past Black Friday), or Halloween, it is officially Christmas time. Not religion-wise, of course—there is still the four weeks of Advent, but that does not stop the vicious cycle of capitalism from announcing the holiday season basically anywhere with a screen or a shop window. Shop playlists transitioning into well-loved Christmas songs (and the yearly return of Mariah Carey), Christmas-themed specials in cafés, a violent increase in red-green-gold-coloured merchandise; all of this to get people in the mood, or rather, get consumers to spend an exorbitant amount of money in a limited time period. The Christmas spirit is so all-encompassing that it is even celebrated in countries (largely) without Christian traditions or beliefs, such as Japan, where it took its own, more romantic turn—it is common for couples to spend it together and order fried chicken from KFC.
This is the point where I must come clean—I do not enjoy Christmas. I am a bit of a Grinch in that sense, especially as a non-religious person coming from a very religious family; the holiday was always a huge overwhelming family affair and besides the presents, I was never a huge fan. As I got older, more Grinch-like, and entered the purgatory known as retail, I found another reason to dread it—Christmas season meant winter sales or people frantically buying presents, which meant crazy busy work days. But, as dreadful as it may be to me and exciting to someone else, it is largely inevitable—the holiday has wormed its way into the world’s calendar and it does not seem to be going anywhere. Even I am weak to some Christmas-related practices—Christmas music, to be specific. It is not my fault that Last Christmas by Wham! is the best song ever.
Christmas the Money-Making Machine
Due to how normalised Christmas celebrations are (and how Christians fiercely protect and believe in the sanctity of the holiday), they can be used as a veil to distract from their other, less holy purpose, which is pushing forward the never-ending wheel of capitalism—“Christmas serves the cultural function of spurring economic participation”1. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), US retail sales for the Christmas season have been increasing since 2008, going from 501.5 billion dollars in 2008 to 936.3 billion in 2022.
It is almost impossible not to participate in the holiday-related customs, whether you consider yourself religious or not, since everything revolves around it during the autumn/winter months: gift-giving, parties, even giving yourself an end-of-the-year break. The light-hearted and family-focused nature of the holiday is exploited for profit and various industries promote excessive consumption to capitalise on those positive emotions and nostalgia. As summed up by Shelby Burroughs:
Christmas is able to be so pervasive because of how unassuming it is.
As we approach the holiday, it is important to be aware of the tactics used by companies under the guise of the ‘gift-giving season’ and be mindful of how we decide to spend our money.
What do you think of Christmas? Do you enjoy the early December holiday rush? Let me know!
- Burroughs, Shelby. “Consumer Capitalist Christmas: How Participation in Christmas Frames Us as Religious Subjects” (2019). Religion: Student Scholarship & Creative Works.