The Christmas shopping period – one of the busiest in the year for the retail industry – has begun with a starter pistol on so-called “Black Friday”, with the culmination due in the January sales. The period of celebration, feasting and gift-giving is critical to the annual revenue and profits of hundreds of consumer-facing industries, with the volume of spending increasing by more than 50% according to some estimates.
Against all of this is the charge that capitalism has served to distort and destroy the older traditions and practices of the holiday season. What was once a period of religious observance and a time for more modest celebrations with one’s friends and family has mutated into a mass shopping frenzy in which people care more about what they can buy rather than the meaning and significance of Christmas. Greedy retailers encourage us to spend increasing amounts of money on clothes, furniture, electronics, and entertainment that most of us probably do not need. We guzzle with merriment on tons of sugary and fattening food and alcohol, expanding our waistlines through a myriad of parties and get-togethers. Once we have stuffed ourselves silly, we then “invest” in our new year’s resolutions by forking out on so-called “detox” and exercise regimens, driving money to many of the same peddlers who made us fat in the first place.
Indeed, there can be little doubt that this “consumerism” has changed the traditions of the winter period in the past few generations, as retailers attempt to fill the long void between the end of summer and December 25th. Advent was previously a time of preparation and observance, during which the last of the harvest foods were gathered and preserved ready for the long winter ahead. Christmas, on the other hand, was the beginning of period of feasting and celebration that brought cheer and merriment to the cold, dark winter days which lasted until the arrival of Lent in mid to late February. With the evenings then growing lighter and the temperature warmer, the inducement to “give up” after the previous period of luxuriant consumption was altogether easier.
Today, however, the period of celebration – parties, get-togethers and splashing out – has shifted to December, culminating, rather than commencing, on Christmas Day. Once we have all had our fill of turkey, there is little more to look forward to other than new year’s celebrations, after which – at the darkest, deadest and least conducive period of the year – we are expected to start afresh by lifting weights at the gym and slimming down. It is for this reason that Christmas seems to come earlier every year. Given that so much is now packed into just three or four weeks of what is often still late autumn weather, all of the planning and preparation spills into the earlier months – sometimes, to the discontent of many traditionalists. Indeed, it is possible to spot mince pies and Christmas crackers on supermarket shelves as early as September.