It’s happening; I can feel it in the air. It’s barely November and already the steady increase of crazy Christmas consumerism has begun! As soon as the flurry of Halloween costumes, confectionary and unidentified themed plastic objects left shop windows, in popped the Christmas displays to fill the capitalist gap and empty our pockets. Still, no one is forcing us to buy things we don’t need. Are they?
In my previous life (not the one where I was a lucky cat who slept all day in a warm Californian sun…) I worked in retail management. It was my job to make people purchase more; from creating eye catching window displays, and buying in exciting “new” stock, to strategically placing impulse items by the till to catch people out as they stood in the queue, bored and eyes wandering. Christmas was when the big boys came out; the sparkle, the colourfully Christmassy packaging (exactly the same item as usual, only green and red) and of course, the wonderful sales charm.
Now, I’d like to think we’re all much smarter than a few sales tactics. We all know you don’t need to buy things to make Christmas special. It’s the people and the traditions which make it the season of love and good will. But that’s just it; even traditions have been hijacked over the years and transformed into something that fills us with the need to accumulate.
I have been trying hard these last few months to question all the things I think I need, and have found that traditions rank highly on the scale of reasons to buy or create things. We love to find reasons to theme our lives and surround ourselves with experiences which validate how we connect with the world. It’s Easter, let’s eat chocolate. It’s summer, we need new clothes. It’s October, crack out the pumpkins. Merry Christmas, lets buy/make everything we associate with the season and fill up our houses with materials belongings for one month of the year! As my friend recently remarked about Christmas:
“It’s basically all about filling your cupboards with every kind of food and drink – all types of cheese, snacks, puddings and alcohol – and sitting in a sparkly room you’ve dressed up with a dead tree and trying to get obese!”
A little cynical but not far off the mark.
Even the most frugal, resource conscious family will still feel the magnetic urge of tradition; as they stock up on things they associate with activities, memories and sensations of Christmas. Whether we’re buying Christmas wreaths or making our own from recycled items; we rarely question why we want a fake decorated bush on our front door. It’s just tradition isn’t it?
So maybe, before we rush out to stock up on our favourite seasonal treats, we should take the time to question the need behind our purchases or projects. Every Family has their own traditions but generally the following items are commonly consumed this time of year:
Iconic Items Associated with Christmas
- Christmas cake and pudding
- Mince Pies
- Baileys and Eggnog
- Mulled wine or cider
- Christmas Wreath
- Christmas Tree
- Christmas cards
- Fairy lights
So what do you think?
Can you already feel yourself subconsciously being drawn to any of the above items?
Are you already making your Christmas chutney (even though you don’t really like it) or making lists of presents to for buy people? Is there anything you could add to my list from your own traditions?
Do you think I’m being a scrooge or do you agree that traditions are the key to our consumerist habits?
12 thoughts on “Trading Traditions and Ditching Consumerism”
Good question! The endless cycle of ‘seasonal must haves’ really irks me too. Is it traditions that trigger mindless consumerism or that traditions accentuate a desire for joy and belonging which is not met and consumerism is used to help fill the gap…?
I have a lot of time for traditions. Anthropologically speaking humans have always needed to mark changes of seasons and other key life events – even nomadic people do so. In centuries gone by it was a way of making sense of a scary world, managing change and uncertainty (the hungry gap), celebrating survival (successful harvest…), even collectively hoping for safety (Samhain/Halloween). Events later became imbued with the local religious and cultural vocabulary and whilst, e.g. we may no longer fear the darkening days, physiologically and psychologically we are still experiencing a change of the seasons. Gathering, laughter, food, even generosity have been part of such ‘occasions’ for millennia, but in previous eras ‘abundance’ was what we might now call ‘modest plenty’. Gift giving only really kicked in after the industrial revolution and the excess is only a post WW2 thing.
I wouldn’t shoot the traditions, rather encourage people to focus on laughter, joy and company of others… which is of course much easier to do if not everybody is frazzled from mindless shopping and not permanently plugged into some or other digital device! Personally, I’m all for bringing back the Twelve Days of Christmas. It’s the nearest we humans get to being allowed to hibernate 😉 And while we’re at it, maybe a bank holiday so we can celebrate harvest festival in all its fundamental glory!
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Thanks Meg, I totally agree that traditions are so built into our culture and have been a way to make sense of our world. As an ongoing History and theology student I am eternally fascinated by our customs and material culture, and would be personally very sad to see an end to all traditions. I guess it just gets my goat that they have been hijacked so much by marketing and sales! Don;t sell me Christmas, let me experience it my own way! 😛
I was mulling over why Mr M and I enjoy a nice meal but don’t go for all those essential Christmas foods. As avid fans of cooking and growers of some of our own food, we celebrate food pretty much everyday. With that mindset there is less of a need to go overboard at Christmas!
Ps – your studies sound interesting!
I agree that it’s a lot to do with tradition. I think it depends what your consumer habits are like the rest of the year. If you’re generally pretty conservative, but you love Christmas and enjoy spending money to celebrate, I say go for it! But if you’re the kind of person who all year round is spending money on ‘things’ and being drawn to shops like a moth to flame, I think it’s a good idea to prioritize – what do you really need this year? Will it contribute meaningfully to the happiness of others beyond your own? I think these are the kind of questions it’s worth asking oneself. Before my green beauty makeover I used to spent a lot of money on Christmas beauty sets, because they were advertised as a great deal. Crazy! Now I’d rather spend my money on a beautiful Christmas tree and decorations, or to buy ingredients for cookies I can share with family. You get the idea!
Thanks so much for your comment, I agree it will depend on your own shopping habits; though as I know from experience, Christmas is when the sales tactics really ramp up and it can be hard to escape it (even if you try to hide online to avoid the highstreet!) Great idea about the cookies though, something really simple which can be joyfully shared.
Christmas for me is about snuggling up with my children, no school run and lazy days. Luckily we have never been into “things” so I don’t feel the pressure that some people do to buy unnessary gifts. The gifts that I give my children are usually homemade.
That sounds like a lovely Christmas tradition and a lovely memory to pass onto your children. Mine has always been singing in the kitchen with a glass of sherry as I help my mum cook dinner. Very simple but will always stick in my mind 🙂
Wonderful post Trudi. I think if you ask any kid about their favourite Christmas, it *probably* revolves around an incident or tradition rather than a ‘thing’. Can you remember the gifts you were given last year? I’m ashamed to say I can’t, but I remember cooking great food and seeing my Daughter tuck in and enjoy herself. I remember her excitement. I remember us all sitting around the fire and I remember that we focused on one another all day, rather than being distracted by the internet! I remember we all held our tongues and were kind and loving, rather than snapping because we were too busy trying to cram ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ into our day. And I remember turning all the lights out and saging the house 🙂
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Sounds like a beautiful Christmas and such lovely memories which don’t involve lots of stuff!!
This is a fabulous perception. Its so true! Growing up my father wanted me to have as many gifts as possible, and often bought me “filler” gifts I didnt want or need. Since growing older we have shifted to one or two greater gifts, and recently we will go on vacations. Its true- the experience, not the items, are what we need.
For the past few years, my partner and I have spent part of Christmas volunteering for Crisis with people who are homeless. The first year I went along, I was really surprised to find there are actually loads of people out there who choose to ‘opt out’ of Christmas – particularly the more negative, consumer driven side of it. If you enjoy celebrating Christmas, fair enough, but lots of people don’t actually want to spend time sitting in front of the TV or being with relatives they don’t actually like that much! My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas anyway, but my partner’s do, so he has now started asked his parents and siblings to donate money to charity on his behalf instead of giving him more stuff he just doesn’t need. I guess some people blindly follow tradition, even if they don’t really want to, but you can actually create your own traditions to suit yourself 🙂
Its so interesting to hear of more and more people opting out of Christmas, and I love the idea of donations. For the last few years I have sent ecards and donated to shelter instead – its much more satisfying and saves on paper too 🙂
Only last night I was talking to my partners parents about what Christmas really meant to them and that admitted they had never really thought about the traditions that go with it. I think its become such a fond part of childhood memories and a big melting pot of pleasures that why wouldn’t we want to get into the spirit of things?!