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// At Pitzer College

Christmas v. Consumerism

Are the holidays really all about giving?

Kamya Sud

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As Thanksgiving food babies are covered up by lumpy Christmas sweaters and red, green and white decorations abound everywhere you look, it’s interesting to think about how much of what we do during the holidays coincides with how we spend our money. Christmas is no longer just the religious festival that was once celebrated only by people of faith attending mass and following other Christian observances. Christmas has now transformed into this holiday of intense materialism, the entire affair predicated on superficial gift-giving and feasting.

While, on the surface, Christmas is perceived as being all about familial gatherings, hope and giving back, there tends to be some issues with execution. However, the holiday’s materialistic nuances have permeated even the households of the non-Christian and even the non-religious, simply because buying things is such an easy tradition to adopt. Marketing tactics play out so what we see is a nativity scene, one of generosity and coming together to celebrate the birth of Christ, but truly it is simply a ploy to get you to buy the new iPhone. Whether it’s candy or clothing, everything is rebranded come December – candy cane colors and seasonal symbolism emblazoned upon everything just to make you buy that "limited holiday edition" Kit Kat super-saver bulk package you really don’t need.

Mass consumption during the holidays has been a growing trend in recent years. We have now come to associate the image of the perfect Christmas tree not with decorations and lights and hope, but with the assumption of the piles of presents that we hope lie underneath. Companies have exploited this association to the point where the holiday shopping season has now been stretched to almost two months of frenzied buying. The overwhelming push to spend money on “seasonal deals” post-Thanksgiving, begins on Black Friday and continues until the end of December. Every monetary opportunity and every shop front is milked to the last penny for corporations to capitalize on innocent consumers, turning even the most sincere Yuletide spirit into mere profits.

The conspiracy that no one wants consumers to know is that of obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is when things are designed to be replaced not longer after purchase. Products we use simply have a much shorter life than they should, a capitalist strategy to get people to keep buying and replacing. Perceived obsolescence is another tactic employed through the permeation of advertisements and the media, which encourages us to buy the newest version of something, despite the old version being perfectly useful. For example, a shirt sold in September is almost immediately followed by announcements that that particular kind of shirt is no longer worth owning and there is a new kind of shirt that is much better to own. In this manner, there is an infinite amount of waste created, as well as the vicious cycle of more and more consumption.

This pervasive new tradition empties the pockets of people rich and poor. More affluent people often subconsciously utilize this season as a means of proudly displaying their wealth and falsely quantifying how much a relationship is worth. "Ornament" is a telling word here, with bright new Christmassy baubles being purchased fervently each year for the superficial purposes of ornamentation. The proportion of income spent on holiday gear also tends to be rather different for people of different income levels. People of more humble means usually have no leeway with buying gifts and extravagant celebrations. No expense is spared to check off items on a Christmas list, despite having to make severe cutbacks on other expenditure.

While this may sound like a lot of Grinch-esque negativity, I truly believe that it is time for us to reclaim the holiday spirit and reexamine why we celebrate Christmas at all. It’s time to put an end to the era of mindless consumerism, either by eliminating the custom of prodigal gift-giving entirely or by trying to adopt modest, sustainable holiday consumption habits. So whether you gift experiences, sentiments or even DIY presents, remember to look up from the endless sales and reconsider whether you really need to be fueling this constant profit-hungry corporate machine by buying all those pairs of holiday party shoes!

Kamya Sud

"Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me." - Michael Scott

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