Image: Kira aug Der Heide / Unsplash
Image: Kira aug Der Heide / Unsplash

How Western culture re-forged Christmas as a holiday for consumerism

In the 2021 Census for English and Welsh communities in the UK, 22.2 million individuals stated that they do not affiliate with any religion. However, paradoxically in 2022, individuals have spent  £25.6 billion on Christmas products to gift loved ones this year. This figure will only increase year by year. This much spending will unlikely slow, given higher wages and annual Christmas-time advertisements that flood television and social media screens every day. Thus, has the meaning of Christmas been lost in this exorbitant overspending and over-saturation of consumer culture in the West? Has the true Christian meaning become lost with it? 

Christmas, as the Christian faith understands it, is a remembrance of the birth of Christ. Although the exact date is not clear or agreed upon, it claims that Christ’s birth falls on the 21st of the last month of the year and not the 25th, which was the winter solstice marked by the Roman Calendar and the date we celebrate every year. With the perishing of the golden age of Christianity, the true meaning of Christmas is blurred.

        For most, it was just another day in the workhouses

In England, the history of Christmas dates back to 1038. It was a celebrated holiday marked by the upper echelons of society. Their celebration on the 25th of December for the peasantry, in essence, was celebrated on a different date. Modern-day celebrations in the 19th century also centred around the rich and elite classes of society with no regard for the poor. For most, it was just another day in the workhouses. 

With a new family and work life, the adoption of the capitalist economy led to a shift away from family and religion, to the complete embracement of industrialization and in turn, an ever-growing Consumer Capitalist economy. With that, Christmas shifted from being based on the Christian faith to a commercial event celebrated by billions of people around the world every year.

Christmas, however, strongly mirrors the consumer-cultured nature of the West

Today, Christmas as a time for celebration is far removed from the times of David Copperfield. Christmas in the postmodern period has become more inclusive and has been reformed to include those from all backgrounds and classes. Despite this, it has become in some way more secular – likely in keeping with the changing religiosity of those in the UK and their disenchantment with the Christian religion. Astonishingly, 37.2% of people report having no religion, but keeping with traditions of family gatherings and gift-giving remains a substantial part of English tradition at this time of the year.

Christmas, however, strongly mirrors the consumer-cultured nature of the West. The heavy workload suffered by the working poor during the Victorian age and early 20th century shifted to those of the working poor in heavy industries in the East.  

Christmas as a whole, perpetuates American ideals and values of competitive consumerism

Children’s pester power is also a significant force. Due to the persistent advertising around the Christmas period, it resulted in much dispute and debate over the legality and morality surrounding this with the products supplanting themselves into the subconscious thoughts of children. The images associated with Christmas, even down to the colours, are brand related to the red and white colours of Coca-Cola. 

Christmas as a whole, perpetuates American ideals and values of competitive consumerism. Stores during the time leading to  Christmas persuade customers through competitive pricing, well developed advertisement, and new technologies to promote Christmas products and the Christmas spirit.  Studies show  that 19% of sales come during the months leading up to the date.

The meaning of Christmas is not necessarily lost. Much of the reformed traditions remain practised  in a secular manner that can involve those from a variety of faiths. The way we view Christmas is changing due to our highly diverse society. Traditional holidays celebrated by specific faiths could soon experience the same fate as Christmas.

Church attendance does seemingly spike at Christmas, as shown by statistics – often doubling the average weekly attendance. However, in the past few years, this number has fallen significantly due to the pandemic and shifting paradigms that allow for the expression of religiosity alongside new religions.

Although this debate can be argued as highly Eurocentric, consumer culture has hardly reached developing and devout Christian nations in Latin America and countries in the Middle East, likely because of the small but growing middle class, respectively. Nonetheless, displays of extravagant spending and gift-giving are not economically possible for many in these nations. The holidays in these traditional Christian countries is representative of its natural origin, that being the Christian faith, and not consumer cultures of the West.


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