In the U.S. in 2018, holiday shopping sales surpassed $1 trillion for the first time in history. The average household spent approximately $1,536 during the season, with 22% of Americans expecting to rack up debt from Christmas spending tendencies. Now more than ever, society is inundated with consumerist messaging prompting us to draw a false equivalency between how much we spend with how much we value other people and ourselves.
The familiar glow of nostalgic Christmas music certainly paints an elegant picture of simple pleasures — family, good cheer and chilly weather. But do those sentiments hold true within society today? Have materialism, commercialism and greed fueled by capitalism ousted the enjoyment of modest pleasures from society’s collective palate?
While Christmas is certainly a time to live in the moment with those we love, it’s important to examine our approach to a season that holds potential for love and kindness. For many, this means taking notice that traditions rooted in sentiment have fallen to the wayside. Although the pace of commercialism certainly assumes some of the blame, it’s unrealistic to expect absolute permanence while the world constantly changes around us.
I don’t believe materialistic values associated with capitalism have dominated or “taken over” the Christmas season. I do believe if we’re truly evaluating our priorities, we would realign the ones that have drifted apart from the spirit of giving, glad tidings and glee — at the risk of a cliché — things that “don’t come with a price tag.”
Christmas is still a season of warmth for so many people. Even if the modern value-added promotion of goods have strained our relationship with guiding principles, there are bountiful ways people are coming together that evade facile tendencies of commercialism. Homemade gifts are an excellent example of this.
In recent years — especially with all the free time afforded by the pandemic — the “homemade” gift has retained and even advanced its position as a viable alternative for purchasing a present. Writing poems, baking something special and handmade cards all grace an extensive list of practical options people pursue in Christmas gift-giving unto others.
Personally (as a broke college student) I’ve found it enlightening to discover my own ingenuity and creativity while working on that budget. The popular message might be to spend in spades, but frequently, the avenues taken for gift giving are little to no cost home runs. People appreciate authentic effort and care tremendously more than a store-bought trinket.
Furthermore, a vast number of experiences and traditions associated with the holiday season don’t necessitate acquiring material things. Snowball fights, caroling or even giving back through volunteering are fantastic holiday activities that cost nothing and enrich invaluably.
Although materialism and commercialism have infiltrated Christmas traditions and customs, I’m holding out the hope that Christmas spirit is just spirit — and it exists outside of the imperfect systems of our lives. Though so much of what we hear in the world tells us that it comes with a cost or within perceived “exchange of value,” yet despite all that, the words of Buddy the Elf ring clearly in my ear.
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”