Christmas Consumerism

Issue 7, Volume 112

By Lauren Chin 

Cover Image

Red and green decorations line the shelves of local stores. Cheerful, festive music plays in retail shops, matching the smiles of the employees. As I watch an advertisement promising incredible sales that will “save” my holiday season, I can’t help but wonder: why are the holidays so consumerist?

The first Christmas took place a few millennia ago and was based on a religious foundation in Christianity, merged with the winter traditions of several pagan cultures. Back then, many Church leaders tried to remove any secular aspects from the holiday to make it a pure celebration of Christ. The modern American Christmas, however, most clearly began in the 1800s.

Since then, the holiday season has often been reduced to a season of gift-giving. We emphasize the importance of getting our holiday shopping done and fantasize about presents wrapped in colorful paper beneath a Christmas tree. With the aforementioned traditions, it seems obvious that businesses want to profit from such a lucrative month. Companies release relatable advertisements with uplifting messages, send letters and e-mails, and cheerfully personify their stores. This reflection of the Christmas spirit is not because companies feel genuine love and compassion toward their customers; rather, it’s an attempt to cater to the “season of giving.”

One of the most prominent examples of consequences of consumerism is the sheer number of unwanted gifts purchased each year. Americans were expected to spend $15.2 billion on unwanted gifts during the Christmas season in 2019, resulting in hundreds of returned or unused gifts. This overconsumption massively contributes to the excess amounts of waste and energy that humans produce on an annual basis.

Moreover, a 2019 study indicated that over 20 percent of Americans went into debt during the Christmas season, a sure sign of the consumerist mindset that plagues December. The economic impacts of this statistic are reason enough for criticism, but it also has a more emotional implication. Many have expressed fears of seeming ungrateful and unloving toward their friends and family for not spending enough on gifts. But this idea that love and money are inseparable is faulty and inherently capitalist; if it weren’t for the companies pushing such agendas upon us, there would be no reason to spend so much money on ultimately meaningless gifts.

Christmas was an indulgent holiday for several centuries, a time that people could spend with their families and enjoy the simple pleasures of life without feeling guilty. Instead, this joyous holiday has been hijacked by frantic consumerism. Rather than focusing on the material benefits we may gain from Christmas, it’s better to treasure the memories gained on such a meaningful holiday. Buy gifts that you know your recipients will enjoy, and make sure to spend time with your loved ones.