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Has Christmas Become the Festival of Consumer Capitalism?

Updated on July 18, 2011
A South African Christmas decoration made by my mother in law Esme Pollard in Cape Town
A South African Christmas decoration made by my mother in law Esme Pollard in Cape Town
My daughter Caitlin looks at some of her grandmmother's home-made Christmas decorations
My daughter Caitlin looks at some of her grandmmother's home-made Christmas decorations

Boney-M Christmas carols (Horrors!!) piped into the shopping malls and fake Christmas trees all over the place. Can only mean that that great festival of Consumer Capitalism is upon us again: “And all the bells of the tills of the town shall ring…” (That’s from Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, in case you didn’t recognize it!)

Somehow for me this time of year is not a happy one, as all it seems to mean is that people go crazy, it seems to create a spending frenzy which doesn’t go with the real meaning of the season – and then it’s all dressed up with the saying that we’re just sharing goodwill among everybody, as if goodwill comes wrapped in pretty paper with a cleverly attached bow and some sprigs of holly!

Christmas has become a gigantic capitalist spending trap in which consumers are duped to spend beyond their means by fake messages of goodwill decorated with equally fake snow (in South Africa – who ever heard of snow on Christmas day here?) and drummed home by truly awful piped music which attempts to drown out any reason.

What a far cry from what Christmas really is – the celebration of one who was born to a teenage mother in a stable, and who lived to preach a life of simplicity and repentance. We get seduced by the tinsel and glitter from the true meaning of what Jesus preached – the radical, subversive message of his teachings, which he introduced with a quotation from the prophet Isaiah:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me;

He has sent me to announce good news to the poor,

To proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind;

To let the broken victims go free,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Somehow in the midst of the capitalist feeding frenzy that Christmas has become the poor and the lonely, the depressed and the victims of violence, the hungry children and dying old people tend to be forgotten, or thought of only as charity cases.

I’m not denying or discounting the amazing good work also done at this time by various agencies and individuals to improve the lot of the disadvantaged. I also acknowledge the joy that the season brings to many, especially children. I feel keenly the happiness of those children who are privileged to be part of families that make this a very special time for them.

It’s just that my enjoyment is always contaminated by the awareness that Christmas is seen as the time to make up the sales quotas, to help the bottom line, by manipulative advertising and a full-on assault of our senses with all sorts of trappings which actually have nothing whatever to do with the real meaning of the season.

It’s also difficult for me to celebrate the season when I know that besides the capitalist manipulation there is also a Christian triumphalism behind it all. How different the message is from the actions. Or perhaps it’s because the actions speak louder than the words that I feel so uncomfortable at this time of year.

How to reconcile the massive armaments of the so-called Christian countries, the presence of occupying troops in Iraq and many other violent conflicts around the world being perpetrated in the name of “Christian” values with the message of the humble man from Nazareth:

“But what I tell you is this: Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left. If a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well.”

And later in the same chapter (Matthew 5): “But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly father, who makes his sun rise on good and bad alike, and sends his rain on the honest and the dishonest.”

Nothing there about bombing the s__t out of the Afghans and Iraqis, government or rebel troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, etc, etc.

So how to reconcile the message of simplicity, of love, of repentance, with the consumerist feeding frenzy that Christmas has become?

The temptation is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were, and become totally cynical about it all.

But I think I will just enjoy the beautiful sunshine of this wonderful country I live in, and give thanks for the many friends I have, the great opportunities of laughter and love, the wide expanses of the glorious veldt, the majesty of our glorious mountains, the wonderful sea and its bounty, the dignity and creativity of our people, and try to avoid getting caught up in all the money-making and the bad music and especially the fake snow and jingle bells (I mean really – snow in a hot South African summer?).

Christmas is more than holly and mistletoe – it’s just sometimes very hard to see that, very hard to keep in mind the real message of Christmas, the message of love, peace, simplicity and repentance. Which is the message of every day the whole year round, really, not just of this overwrought materialistic orgy that Christmas has become.

Copyright notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2009


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    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Peggy - thank you so much. Esme was such a special person and she did love Christmas so much - the real, simple Christmas!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Love and peace


    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Right on Tony! You have cut through all the materialistic trappings to the heart and soul of what Christmas is all about. The religious celebration is almost lost amidst the frivolity.

      I remember making homemade ornaments as a child sitting around the kitchen table. We thought that they were so beautiful and certainly much more fun than going to a store and buying them.

      Your Esme's ornaments are special!

    • idealjanoo profile image

      idealjanoo 8 years ago

      very nice

    • GeneriqueMedia profile image

      GeneriqueMedia 9 years ago from Earth

      Spot on, tonymac. I started several years ago to wish people a Merry Capitalist Day. Its funny how often we as consumers fall victim to the trappings of retail zealotry.

      Now that I live away from my parents, have become encumbered by the work I've begun here, and have lost a lot of friends and family in the last couple of years I have understood that materialism is not my pipe of crack.

      Its all about love, learning, experiencing, enjoying. Our posessions are material, our souls and minds are immaterial.

      Thank you, too, for this most excellent hub.

    • profile image

      downstreamer 9 years ago

      Well said, Tommy! You have rightly pointed out many of the inconsistencies in the way we celebrate this time of year. I am especially shocked to learn of the fake snow. Where I live right now we have 18 inches of snow on the ground, with at least 5 inches more to come tomorrow. I am not dreaming of a white Christmas anymore. I am actually hoping things let up!

      Anyway, point being, what is genuine for one part of the world should not be imposed on another part of the world - and that includes imposing "democracy" at the point of a gun. I hope the phony snow is not part of an overall American imperialistic effort, as is true of so mahy other trends in the world today.

      Merry Christmas!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 9 years ago from India

      We all need reminding of what the Christmas message really is, thank you - more often than not, it gets lost in the glitz of the packaging!

    • profile image

      Helen 9 years ago

      I agree with the sentiments. At this time of year I try to stay away from the malls, take advantage of the fact that the rush to the coast leaves lots of open parking spaces, celebrate the lack of traffic and read lots of books. Then the season does seem more peaceful. (Love those home-made ornaments!)