It’s a scene symbolic of the hectic holiday season. Hundreds of bundled up shoppers shuffle like moths to a flame towards the retail store entrance decked in red and green signs promising holiday savings and irresistible deals. Inside, clothes racks and shelves of electronics are a chaotic mess, ravaged by customers looking to cash in on “Door-busting deals!” this season. There’s an occasional altercation when two customers try to claim the last available waffle maker or marked-down vacuum cleaner — but it’s all in the name of Christmas spirit, right?
The holiday season doesn’t seem truly complete unless you’re scrambling on Christmas Eve to find a deal for a gift for a particular cousin you only see once a year. It’s considered a feat to finish Christmas shopping early. Deals and savings come to the forefront during this wonderful time of year, shifting our perceptions of this age-old holiday.
These days, Christmas seems to last three months, beginning the same moment that Halloween candy goes on sale on November 1st. The sudden influx of store commercials, radio ads using familiar holiday jingles, and the annual stack of Black Friday paper ads — it has all become a harbinger for yet another commercial Christmas. For retailers and stores, this season is the best time of year to capitalize on consumers and make large profits. Extending the holidays for as long as possible means more opportunities for taking advantage of shoppers trying to find the perfect gift.
Though it’s not a crime to cash in on holiday savings, it should not be a necessary evil that has evolved into a defining part of the season.
Excessive holiday consumerism has distorted what the true meaning of the season really is. While Christmas seems to be more of a cultural holiday in this country than a religious one, there’s no doubt that the holiday season should encourage compassion and a sense of togetherness. Gift-giving should reflect these values, but instead, it’s become a yearly obligation that’s becoming less about the person receiving the supposedly meaningful gift and more about a sense of necessity. Spending extended time with family is an important part of the season that should not require gift giving. Giving and receiving gifts is an undeniable tradition of the holidays, but the motivations behind it have shifted along with our perceptions of the holiday season in general — slowly shaped by retailers and the market.
The continuous stream of holiday advertisements and bombardment of “savings” creates a sense of urgency to make the perfect purchase for family and friends. And as shopping becomes easier and faster every day, we’ve lost sight of why we give gifts in the first place and sacrifice thoughtfulness for convenience.
The market’s year-after-year exploitation of consumers not only paints excessive spending as a necessity but downplays the religious significance of the holiday as well. Big business has exploited religious tradition as something that can be gift-wrapped. And the general perception of Christmas has also shifted from a religious holiday commemorating Jesus’ birth to a cultural one, with 33% of Americans viewing Christmas as a cultural holiday, according to the Pew Research Center. As Americans begin to disassociate Christmas and Christ, it only exacerbates the issue of consumerism and spending during the holidays. Nothing says celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ more than a coupon code for 20% off a coffee maker.
Consumer Christmas also has repercussions for the environment. In the United States, Americans throw out 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other time of the year. The amount of waste from thrown-out gifts, forgotten plastic toys strewn on the floors of homes, the non-recyclable bows and ribbons, and the endless lengths of colorful wrapping paper is the reality of the aftermath of all the holiday shopping and spending. This rampant consumerism is not only negatively affecting the moral sentiments of the holidays but the already-bleak situation of our natural environment.
But it’s never too late to shift our habits as consumers during this time of year.
We can make gradual changes to ensure the holidays aren’t completely taken over by buying and spending. It’s easy — and completely reasonable — to simply blame the corporations and retailers and the endless stream of holiday-related ads, but attempts can be made to curb the commercial traps so prevalent during the season. We can reevaluate the notion of gift-giving. Instead of treating a Christmas shopping list with names of who to buy gifts for as a chore, take time to reflect on the individual. A gift should have some thought, not just whatever was found in the marked-down clearance aisle of a store. Overall, we have to be more conscious about how we’re spending the holidays and the things we buy.
In the end, the problem of excessive buying and spending during the holidays will be difficult to completely solve. However, we as smarter consumers and keepers of age-old tradition can make small strides to ensuring that consumerism doesn’t completely overtake the holiday season. Christmas is not just about exchanging gifts because it is considered the norm every year — it’s about the underlying principles of giving and generosity that needs to be emphasized more. Sometimes, less is more, and there is always the option of opting out of gift-giving overall. Whether we give gifts or not, we must not lose what makes the holidays so special. We can’t stop businesses and markets from doing what they’re inherently meant to do, but we can consciously recognize our increasing emphasis on spending money and buying more and more stuff each year and take steps to make it less of a defining necessity of this wonderful time of year. There’s hope this holiday season for those who refuse to buy into hollow corporate traps and choose to refocus their holidays more on the fundamental aspects of meaningful generosity, religious tradition, and family — the real reasons for the season.
Vivian La is the Opinion Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl