The modern Christmas is just an expression of capitalist desire
It’s over. The national panic of Christmas shopping for presents, decorations and food has ended. People no longer hurry into shops looking to throw their money at whatever or whomever they can in order to get what they need. We can, at last, rest.
Christmas existed before Christianity, but was largely popularised as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Historians suggest that Jesus wasn’t even born on 25th December, and the date was just marked as a day to celebrate it. Yet over recent decades, the meaning of Christmas has changed course, and now secular ideas and consumerism have become the priority.
The family is a unit of consumption and no longer purchases simply for need, but also for desire. We buy beyond necessity and look for material pleasures. The supermarkets and shops around us know this, and persuade us to buy more than we need. Christmas shoppers are caught in a vicious cycle that causes us to want more. Influential social institutions like the media perpetuate it, and to satisfy that desire we purchase more.
Christmas can simply be viewed as a vessel for capitalism to be reinforced. The media create advertisements that appeal to the family, which become a very important part of the festive season. The John Lewis Christmas advert is just one example. The hype around Christmas has grown, and we are engrossed by everything on offer. Christmas celebrations start earlier each year, with Christmas markets and events happening at the end of November. We always want to get into the ‘Christmas spirit’ and are encouraged to attend these events to do so. Inevitably, that results in lots of money being spent before Christmas has really begun.
Presents are highly symbolic of the festive season, and the expansion of internet shopping has made purchasing even easier. The ease of the internet makes online shopping irresistible and expands product choice to an international market. Presents and cards have become such a social obligation that it is considered rude and unkind if you were not to send something to someone. These material goods are considered as expressions of affection and gain sentimental value. Some recognise the mass expenditure at Christmas and perhaps see the lack of value in material wealth for merely desire, and many don’t give cards or presents and instead give money to charities, supporting those who need the money.
News reports of events like Black Friday, which is much larger in the USA than it is in the UK, is a demonstration of the incredible greed we have acquired for possessions at Christmas. Fights and arguments break out in order to get a cheap present. Product prices have become so extortionate that when even a small decrease is advertised, excitement is generated.
Louisa May Alcott’s novel ‘Little Women’ starts with “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents”. Is this true? Of course it is. Our society has been warped into a culture that bases Christmas around giving and receiving goods. Imagine a Christmas Day, sitting down with your family, and not exchanging presents. It just wouldn’t feel right. I am not condemning how much money we spend at this time of the year, but acknowledging it. Christmas would not be the same if we didn’t spend money to make it memorable, because that is how our society has been shaped. Our culture revolves around material wealth and the more money we spend, the more attractive things appear to be. The more expensive our presents, food and decorations are at Christmas, the better it seems, and that is how our capitalist society continues to run.
Words by Will Moore