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Christmas Industrial Complex

It all starts on the first of November. The day after Halloween, down comes the skeletons and pumpkins, and up goes the gaudy tinsel and lights. Shops begin to enter “Christmas mode”. And I say “mode” because that is what it is. The shops care nothing about the festival that is Christmas. They don’t put up decorations to celebrate. Rather they put up decorations to let people know, it is time to start buying.

For a while during my early 20s I worked in one of those shops. A high street fashion retailer. And I can confirm for certain, that to them, Christmas is a “mode” rather than a celebration. Beginning in November, groups of staff would be sent out to the company warehouse and begin to bring in tonnes of clothes from there into the shop for “the sale”. In the run up to Christmas, the store would put up those same gaudy decorations on the shop floor beside posters reminding customers that the sale starts soon. If that doesn’t reflect the true meaning of Christmas I don’t know what does. Maybe the fact that they had minimum wage workers working from 4:30am to 4:30pm to prepare for Christmas mode (and wouldn’t pay overtime). Or maybe because they didn’t want to wait a day longer and decided to open on Stephens Day. But hey, check out their tinsel.

And make no mistake, this is not a rant against capitalism. Rather, this is a rant against the ease in which we as a society have allowed ourselves to stop being individuals and became consumers. That is to say we have abandoned our reason, and became passive by-standers, gawking at something shiny whilst greed hijacked our humanity. I was walking through the Jervis Street Shopping Centre the other day, and the only comparison I can make in regards to the shoppers is that they looked like chickens in a battery farm. With little or no space to move, just consuming consuming consuming, whilst “I wish it could be Christmas Every Day” was piped in.

I was talking to a friend recently, who told me that all the presents they bought for their young child this Christmas would total about €1500. That isn’t including the other sundries they need for Christmas such as food, decorations, alcohol etc. And my friend is by no means a wealthy person, he will likely have to borrow that money, and will probably struggle paying it back. When I asked; “How can you spend so much?” he replied “ah sure its Christmas, ye have to”. I thought to myself with attitudes such as this, I bet shops really do “wish it was Christmas every day”. But leaving aside the financial burden, a more fundamental question exists. Why has Christmas become intertwined with such consumerism?

It would be easy to blame shops for being so aggressive in the run up to Christmas. But ultimately they are only feeding a demand that already exists. The Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort once opined “money can’t by happiness, but it can make misery more comfortable”. I think that thought can be used to describe modern Irish society as a whole. Over the past 20 or so years, Ireland has seen many changes. We have become richer as a whole, but we now work much longer hours, spend less time with friends and family, and have moved further and further away from the traditions that used to unify us as a people. And in alienating ourselves, we have, in desperate need of meaning, elevated consumerism as a noble goal, an end in itself. We now equate things with tangible “happiness”.

And consumerism at Christmas isn’t limited to things. We see it in everything. Be it herculean marketing of the no.1 song at Christmas via X Factor, to the “selfies” of the meals that are cooked. Even charity isn’t immune. A new form “social awareness” consumption is evidenced in the empty gestures of people handing out hats and gloves to the homeless whilst hash-tagging their “generosity”all over social media, satiating their need for social approval, whilst their more lazy counterparts make do with a “like” and a comment.

I’d like to be able to proffer a solution to this, the Christmas Industrial Complex, but sadly I cannot. All I would ask is that the reader takes time to consider what I have outlined here. And by all means enjoy Christmas. But just try to remember that Christmas is not a “mode”, it is a celebration of the birth of God on Earth to lead humanity into salvation. Even if you don’t believe, imagine God as a metaphor representing the collective conscience of humanity, a unifying concept. And view salvation as embracing the universal truths that make mankind good, truths such as love, charity, and humility.

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