The American focus on consumerism dilutes the true meaning of Christmas

Emma Bailey, page editor

It’s November 1st. You walk into Target only to be overwhelmed by a sea of Christmas decorations. You think, ‘But what about Thanksgiving?’ Before you know it, Christmas trees begin to appear everywhere: in malls, restaurants, and living rooms across the US. After all, what is Christmas without a tree? Ornaments? Lights? Ribbons? Cookies?

Marketers purposely bombard consumers with Christmas accessories earlier and earlier in the year to make them feel behind—as if their holiday embellishments should have already been bought. The “essential” yearly purchasing of new Christmas accessories is almost mindless. Why do we do it? Well, because it’s Christmas. We have to! Additionally, when we are constantly surrounded by Christmas scenery, we feel a heightened need to be in a festively decorated home as well. Constant purchasing only nourishes corporations that keenly take advantage of the vulnerability of holiday consumers.

Celebrating Christmas in the US has almost become an expectation. To put it into numerical perspective, 92% of Americans celebrate Christmas, but only 65% of celebrators believe the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth, and 81% of non-Christians in the US celebrate Christmas (Pew Research Center 2015). The pressure to be included in the thick of the holiday spirit is almost crushing. Although we have good intentions, we rush to buy gifts for those close to us, unaware of alternative ways to demonstrate our appreciation and feeding into the capitalist machine. And for some of us, Christmas has been about giving presents and getting presents for as long as we can remember.

Clearly, the spirit of giving and receiving has become much more materialistic than the original Christian meaning of the Wise Men giving frankincense, gold, and myrrh to Jesus. It’s not as if every modern-day family must carry out their celebrations with the intent of fulfilling the Christian meaning of Christmas, however, it is important for us to derive our own modern interpretation that is close enough to the original meaning while still remaining open to the differentiation in cultural norms.

Originally, the symbolism of the Wise Men giving their gifts to Jesus meant to serve as a way to exchange gifts in order to encourage us to demonstrate affection by being jubilant with those around us. While gifts aren’t entirely pointless, we can still be festive without dropping thousands of dollars. Yes, a pricey gift enveloped in golden wrapping paper can be an excellent way to convey love, but something simple—and free—like a handwritten letter or a driveway shoveled on a snowy morning, grants the exact same message. The spirit of Christmas is about giving, but giving does not necessarily depend on materialism and tangible items.

In many ways, the pervasiveness of Christmas culture exemplifies modern cultural adaptation and transformation. The origins of Christmas remain Christian, but celebration now takes place in several different religious and nonreligious settings. However, instead of extending Christmas to include other religions, shouldn’t we be increasing our knowledge and appreciation of non-Christian holidays? December is an important month for a plethora of religions, and there are many more holidays than just Christmas and Hannukah.

Understanding how consumerism affects the giving portion holiday season has become increasingly important. Oftentimes, we forget what the spirit of the holidays are really about: showing others the extent to which we care about and value them. This year, remember that love does not need to come topped with a bow in order to demonstrate its abundance.