Andrew Marr: “What is the point of a once-a-year celebration of consumption and excess in a society entirely dedicated to those broad-buttocked deities month in, month out? Each Christmas we eat too much, drink too much and buy too much. So just what makes December different?”
My first Christmas as a Christian was in 2009 (I was 15 years old), and with it all still quite new to my parents, I didn’t get to go to Church in the morning. Last year, when asked for my Christmas wish list, I asked for nothing but my time in Church (receiving a few lovely presents anyway). It was that year that I really noticed the consumerism of Christmas, and it really made me cringe. Not just because of my religion but because I noticed more clearly how companies persuade people to spend money on things that often mean very little. And in the grand scheme of things, are a completely irresponsible distraction from reality. And as Andrew Marr says, it isn’t just the month of December that this happens in.
Victor Lebow wrote in 1955 under the heading “The Real Meaning of Consumer Demand”: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.
These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.”
His words are as true now, if not more so, then they were 56 years ago.
Too many people are told that the collection of items that can be bought, the mansion and the fast car, can bring happiness. But they can’t. The very fact that we have to collect more and more demonstrates how short a time the feeling of ‘freshness’ lasts.
No amount of money can bring true happiness (although a spare £5 note you found in your coat pocket the other day would probably make an African mother with a newborn dying baby in her arms cry for joy). It is sharing love with others that brings happiness. Whether that means buying them a book, or a CD, or making something more personal – remember how long it used to take to make mixed tapes? – can give someone something that will always bring them happiness. But the constant seeking out of manufactured goods should not be a lifestyle choice.
What makes December different? What makes us buy more and more? Waste more and more food? Society tells us that that is what makes a good Christmas. Leaflets flood in with huge bold lettering demanding us to splash out, posters ask us to attend noisy events with the promise of a free glass of “I’ll make you feel horrible in the morning”, and adverts with flashing lights and shouting voiceovers tell us to get a move on, because there’s only 20 days left until Christmas and you need to buy this and that and this and that and this and that… or your Christmas will be rubbish and no-one will have a good time.
What complete and utter nonsense. Christmas should not be a time where we are encouraged to spend more and more money on manufactured mess. Christmas should be a time where we are encouraged to give. To share. To love.
What happened to Silent Nights?
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
And POP goes the cork of the wine and DING DING DONG go the shops and FLASH FLASH FLASH go the multi-coloured lights and CHEERS for all the people drowning out the heavenly music of peace and calm.
Dear oh dear. What happened?
We got distracted from the immense beauty and fragility of the little baby in the cot in the stable. We forgot about the rich men giving valuables to the poor family, and we forgot about the shepherds who made a difficult journey to see new life and thank God for it.
Now, as we read the Nativity story, we don’t see the angel speaking to Joseph giving him a lottery ticket. We see the angel telling him and Mary about the blessing of their baby. We don’t see the wise men on camels tutting with disappointment when the Messiah isn’t in a 5-star hotel. We see and feel the tears of all gathered around the tiny child in a lowly stable, and appreciate Christ’s birth. Appreciate new life, appreciate the community of gatherers, appreciate the love and peace that the baby Jesus will grow up to share with the world.
Christmas is about someone who brought that vision of peace and love for all people. It is about the world’s need to see what happiness can be found outside riches and material possessions.
Again and again in recent times I’ve asked myself, What Would Jesus Do? And I encourage all to also really think about that, especially this Christmas. Even if you don’t believe that Jesus is Divine, if you’re not a Christian, ask yourself what the vision of peace and love for the whole world needs to become a reality.
This Christmas, how about buying an Oxfam Unwrapped Gift?
Luke 2:10 …the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…