Christmas: The Consumerist Competition

Christmas: The Consumerist Competition

Julia Hebron examines our materialistic attitudes towards Christmas shopping

For some years a website has kept track of the number of deaths and injuries linked to Black Friday. Currently the number stands at 7 deaths and 98 injuries. Among these deaths is that of Walter Vance in 2011, who collapsed in a store while other shoppers walked past him towards the sales. This  alone shows the need to stop and examine the consequences of our ever-growing obsession with materialism.

Each year we spend more and more on gifts and decorations in a kind of bizarre consumerist competition. Shops perpetuate this cycle, with entire sections for “gifts”, mainly consisting of endless generic “quirky” mugs and overpriced notebooks. This is capitalism gone mad – how many novelty books and prettified stationery sets do we buy each year in the name of Christmas? And when did everything from an inflatable Santa to a 3-for-2 deal on tacky reindeer jumpers become a ‘Christmas essential’?

Surely the existence of Gift sections in shops reflect how little thought we truly put into presents. We are more concerned with how much we’re spending than the quality or appropriateness of the gift.

This is further highlighted by the way some shops add the further categories on their websites “Gifts for Him” and “Gifts for Her” as well as presents specifically for mothers, fathers, and grandparents. The implication that all mothers or boyfriends or grandmothers want the same sort of present is ridiculous. And yet businesses continue to do this, and we continue to fall for it.

We have lost sight of what it means to celebrate Christmas or exchange presents. Do we ever stop and think about why we’re buying presents for people? Perhaps it’s true that it’s nice to pick out things for friends and family as a gesture of affection, but the decision has been taken out of our hands. You’re expected to buy a present for relatives whether you want to or not. So why are we truly doing it?

How much we really “care” about our loved ones is now measured by the monetary value of their gift rather than the quality of it. Just the other day I left a shop having bought the fairly cheap present someone had requested, and I found myself wondering if I should buy something else for them. Not because they asked for more, and certainly not because of any allowance on the part of my budget, but because I felt I ‘hadn’t spent enough.’

This is the irrational yet prevalent attitude in our society when it comes to buying presents, and undoubtedly what prompts shops to continue raising the prices of low-quality novelty gifts and encourage ever-more spending.

This doesn’t stop after Christmas either. In fact, it’s not clear that the sales are about Christmas at all anymore. After all, Boxing Day Sales are a well-known phenomenon, a kind of low-key Black Friday. The very day after receiving a pile of gifts, we’re back for more stuff. Do we even know why we’re buying things, or are we just conditioned to flock towards any big yellow sign proclaiming ‘Sale Ends Today’?

We need to remember the real reason we buy gifts for people. It shouldn’t be out of some obligation to spend money on your relatives, or because the shops proclaim everything a must-have for the festive season. This may sound cheesy, but surely it should be a voluntary sign of affection for loved ones. I’d like to think that’s why I buy presents, but as I’m drawn to yet another selection of novelty gifts on sale, I wonder whether that’s true.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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