Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en are past and the poppies are out for Remembrance Day, and of course, stores everywhere are already well-entrenched in the marketing bonanza that is Christmas. And as an atheist, I will again stand with the Christians to say “Put the Christ back in Christmas!”
How is it, you might ask, that a non-believer would want a flagrantly Christian tribal ceremony restored to it’s former glory? The answer is straightforward, really. I believe that the modern, consumer-based Christmas damages our culture, our economy, and maybe even our minds.
How does Christmas damage our culture? For starters, it has morphed from something that was really a joyful little celebration by a specific, but wide-spread sect into an embarrassing display of greed and consumerism. Children grow up feeling entitled to heaps of new stuff, nominally “earned” by being “good” all year, but more truthfully owed to them by parents who themselves felt they were owed at Christmas. Offices have parties and people exchange insincere gifts largely out of a feeling of social obligation.
Don’t get me wrong here… there’s nothing at all wrong with giving gifts; but giving a gift should not be done out of obligation. A gift should be sincere. It’s given because you want to give it and there shouldn’t have to be a holiday to give one. Nobody should be made to feel badly because they didn’t or couldn’t give a gift.
That’s how our culture is damaged: people are trained to give gifts out of obligation to arbitrary holidays, and we’re barraged with months of marketing designed to guilt people into overspending and over-consuming.
How does it damage our economy? Here are three articles that illustrate my point: December 1978, October 2008, December 2014. These are interesting for a few reasons. First, this an ongoing complaint for at least the last 40-ish years. Second, it seems clear that many merchants panic about how sales go. Obviously, if sales tank, it appears some (many?) merchants end up in dire straits.
The damage is that this indicates we’ve built or trained an economy to depend on an unreliable business model. It seems unreasonable, illogical and economically unsound to me to use a business model that REQUIRES boosted sales at one particular time of year. The risk is huge. Since the economy depends on strong businesses, but businesses using this model can only survive when consumer spending is strong means that the businesses are not strong: they depend on an external force they cannot control. If the businesses are not inherently strong, the economy is not inherently strong. This is a feedback loop that needs to be broken for everyone to be better off. The bumps could be all smoothed out, and there wouldn’t be a need to drive consumers into spending they can’t afford with money they don’t have under a barrage of advertising they don’t want to see and intrusive data collection and mining that nobody likes.
How does it damage our minds? It builds globs of self-entitlement surrounded by walls of guilt. Ever get a present and wonder if what you gave back was comparable… or worse, you didn’t give someone a Christmas present but they gave you one? This kind of thinking was never what Christmas was about. What do you think about your January VISA bill? People were supposed to feel good. People were supposed to think about goodwill and fellowship. It was not originally about spending and buying.
What can be done? We need to put the Christ back in Christmas. 25 December needs to be turned back to the minor Christian holiday it was in the 19th and early 20th century, before mass-marketing and consumerism. That can be done by not tolerating bollocksy consumerism.
I’m not saying not to have fun on Christmas. I’m just asking to keep it low-key. Do you really need that 10000 W light display? Do you really need to break the bank buying gifts – and if you feel you do, why didn’t you give those gifts at other times (personally, when I see something and think “so and so would love that” I buy it and give it as soon as I can)? Do we really need months of marketing, cheesy music, and insincere goodwill?
Keep it simple. Gather with friends. Have a few drinks and a nice meal. Give your kids a little treat. If you’re so inclined, take them to a Christian religious service (whether or not you’re Christian… educate yourself, and build some character). Enjoy a day off work.
If you’re a merchant, how about structuring your business to work well all year round? Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to worry if the December panic will be enough to make your ends meet? Imagine levelling your revenue flow across all 12 months. How is that not better?