YES – Stevie Palmer, Staff Writer
Before the take-over by capitalism, Christmas was, in its traditional quintessence, about the birth of Christ. A day to celebrate God’s son coming into the world. Since then, ‘Christmas’ as a holiday has been through a series of evolutions. Christmas became about family and coming together with loved ones to celebrate that love, as was resembled by God’s son coming to save us all. It became about eating and drinking in excess and joy and happiness. However, the evolutions of Christmas did not stop there, they transcended us into a new realm of Christmas, which can be referred to as ‘commercialised Christmas’. A Christmas that is less so about spending quality time with family, and celebrating the birth of God’s son, and more so an anxiety-riddled time of year, filled with qualms about getting the ‘right’ or the ‘best’ present in order to show how much we love our friends and family. It’s become less a time of giving and more so a time of receiving, where those with the biggest and brightest trees reign supreme as the Christmas winners.
Commercialised Christmas is yet another example of how capitalism cannot resist the urge to control and maximise profit in all areas of life. The consumer-driven notion of Christmas not only puts money into the back pockets of the largest conglomerates and other big retailers, who drive down mass competition with massive Christmas sales, adulterating the market in their favour, and not that of the small business, who I see as the only potential winner of commercialised capitalism. But moreover, works to reinforce the control that capitalism has over modern society, warping peoples internalised perception of Christmas in order to maximise the control they have over their consumer base. This is because, once you’ve used clandestinely manipulated people once, it sets the precedent for you to do it again.
As the calendar flicks to December 1st, instead of an eagerness for the festive season, many adults are riddled with anxiety about not being about to give their kids or close circle the ‘best’ or most lucrative present. For many parents, Christmas induces fears surrounding not being able to give their child as many presents as other parents at school, or provide the Christmas of dreams, as is manufactured by social media; with influencers spending more than many adult’s yearly salaries, pimping out their mansions to be real real-life winter wonderlands, with imported trees, feasts that could feed 500 and gifts 10ft high.
This has become the new reality of Christmas.
This daunting reality means for many, the festive period does not resemble the light and beauty that it once did. Instead, it resembles a period of extra hours, endless saving, and increased uneasiness, all in order to satisfy the illusion of Christmas set by the system that continually emanates inequality through standards that are attainable only to the elite few, manifested in Christmas.
‘Tis not only the spirit of Christmas that is dying with this new age of commercialised Christmas; The environment is too.
Be it from the 30% more waste generated by the festive season in the UK, or the 25 million tonnes of rubbish generated by the USA, the destruction caused by the commercialisation of Christmas is one which cannot be justified, especially when such waste has led to the increase deterioration of many ecosystem and natural equilibriums, as is exemplified by the forest fires in California.
The waste generated by the 6 million Christmas trees, two million Brussel sprouts and the 227,000 miles of wrapping paper in the UK exclusively, provides a clear portrayal of how Commercialised Christmas is the killing the planet, and promoting a wasteful and overindulgent lifestyle, with little to no consequences on the effects this has on others. Especially those living in increasingly uninhabitable places, due to the climate crisis, or the millions of workers in fast fashion and warehouses such as Amazon’s, who are worked into the ground, in poor conditions for minimal pay, in order to facilitate this indulgence, with the UK spending on average 700 million pounds on unwanted Christmas presents annually, think of what that money could do for so many charitable causes, which at their core, are generated by capitalism.
The cherry on the environment crisis cake comes for me when looking at the energy expenditure used for Christmas lights. As of 2015, expenditure in the USA alone, came in at 6.63 Kilowatts, which is more than the total energy expenditure of many developing nations at the time. Not only does this highlight inherent inequality, it also accentuates how far commercialised Christmas has gone, to the point people are polluting the environment at an insane rate, in order to have the biggest, flashiest lights, nicest wrapping paper and most exotic tree, all to fulfil the capitalist driven idea of Christmas.
So yes, commercialisation has ruined Christmas. Christmas isn’t even really Christmas anymore. The magic and sparkle have been sucked out by the leech that is capitalism. Which has sought to commercialise a happy time for its own gain, with no concern for its effect on the planet and the people who inhabit it. This isn’t what Christmas is about.
NO – Sophie McMahon, Comment Print Editor
The reality is that Christmas is an exuberant display of capitalist productivity, I won’t deny that. Everybody knows that as soon as all the Halloween decorations are taken down stores are lit up with tacky light displays, filled with Christmas trees, and underpaid workers don their finest elf costumes. The British public recognises how increasingly ostentatious Christmas is each year, but in truth, we love it.
The commercialisation of Christmas is nothing new, with such complaints existing in the 1800s when, for example, images of Santa Claus were being used by merchants as a way to encourage spending. Stephen Nissenbaum notes that ‘Christmas became a crucial means of legitimising the penetration of consumerist behaviour into American society’ in the 1800s.
Ronald Hutton dates commercialisation back even further in his book The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. He discusses documents from the 1600s which showed traditions of gift-giving and spending at Christmas, as well as complaining about the expense of the season. Granted, Jacobean children weren’t exactly yearning for the latest Apple product like today’s kids are.
The tide of consumerism continued post-Second World War which can be seen in Miracle on 34th Street. Kris Kringle, a man who had been assigned to play Santa in a parade, tells his friend ‘I’ve been fighting against [it] for years, the way they commercialise Christmas’. Buying and spending has always played a part in Christmas throughout history, and so pining for a non-commercial holiday is like mourning a loss that never really existed.
This feeling of loss is most likely down to our change in perspective. As children, commercialisation was only the background noise to Wham’s Last Christmas or the sound of Santa’s sleigh. Growing up made us recognise the power of these huge companies in influencing our consumerist behaviours, and the tactics used by massive corporations to make us spend more. But this hasn’t meant that Christmas lost its sparkle.
It’s cliché, but there’s much more to Christmas than the gifts. To argue that commercialisation has ruined the festive seasons is to overlook everything else Christmas brings. Walking through Christmas markets whilst fighting off the cold weather with a mulled wine in hand, is one of my favourite times of the year. Seeing lights go up on houses and trees go up in windows fills me with a festive spirit which brightens the darkening winter nights. I even love the festive menus that brands bring out, with flavours of mint and Bailey’s that feel solely made for this time of year. As Christmas TV adverts start appearing on our screens it makes me reminisce about the times I spent as a little girl flicking through the pages of an Argos catalogue, marvelling at all the toys. It may be commercialisation, but it’s also nostalgia.
The spending nature of Christmas is always viewed as a bad thing, castigated as being materialistic and straying away from the traditional religious roots, and the ‘true’ meaning of the holiday. I would argue that commercialisation helps to curate a festive spirit which goes hand in hand with goodwill. With 61% of us celebrating Christmas as an entirely secular holiday, it has become for the majority of the nation a time for coming together, for helping others locally and across the globe, and for rejoicing. This is why it is unsurprising that December is the peak time for donations, according to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF).
It seems that now more than ever, Christmas is a very personal holiday. For some, it is a day to celebrate the birth of Christ, for others it is a time to reunite and spend quality time with loved ones. As students, it is our safe haven, a respite from recent deadlines and a chance to recharge. Christmas is what you make it, and for me, that stops it being ruined by commercialisation.