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The Curse of Christmas Consumerism

If you can no longer see the Christmas tree through the forest of gifts, have we gone too far?

Most of my friends in the UK were aware of me only going home (to my parents in NL) for one week in December. This week was the 8th till the 15th. Me going home wasn't the baffling part. Me not being with my family for Christmas, that's what got to them. They asked endless questions about me not having a big family feast and not exchanging presents etc. I told we didn't do any of it. Shock horror: the freak that doesn't celebrate Christmas. And I'm not even the Grinch! So, my family and I don't celebrate Christmas. You might ask yourself: why not? Well, there's several reasons for that:

  • First, it's quite difficult for me to get that time off and travelling around that time is absurdly expensive. My mom is even working Christmas day (she works in healthcare). For us being together on any given day in any given week is just as nice as the week of Christmas.

  • Second, we have never been a family to give each other lots of gifts. We genuinely struggle to come up with things we really want or even need. As such, we're all quite difficult to buy for and we don't really care.

  • Third, we think it's a waste of time and money. It's too forced. The "having to get the whole family together" to over-eat and over-drink and give presents that might hit or completely miss the mark and regardless of that, cost a lot of money. It's not relaxed, it's not quality time and overall, you can do better...

  • Fourth, we're not actually religious. You know, it used to be a religious holiday. And none of us have seen the inside of a church in a long time, unless we're tourists.

So those ought to be plenty of good reasons not to celebrate Christmas. But for this article, it's the second reason I mainly want to focus on, casually dipping into the third once in a while. Let me explain why: Later, in the week that I did spend at home, I went shopping in Amsterdam with my mom (we do shop, just not for hundreds of gifts...). Walking through the main shopping streets (Kalverstraat predominantly), you could see the following "Christmas" decorations:

As it is part of the Christmas decorations, I suppose that this is now truly the Christmas spirit. And this is the part I dislike the most. The endless consumerism. Most of my friends are complaining already about December being incredibly expensive. Some of them are dipping into their savings (at least not into debt...) to be able to pay for the whole shenanigans. And I find it insane. Why on earth should someone diminish their own income beyond financial viability to be able to participate in this consumer clusterfuck? Why? Have we suddenly all decided we need or want a whole bunch of stuff? Because economically, that doesn't make too much sense. Especially not as a lot of prices suffer a "Christmas mark-up." Yes, you though you bought things in a Christmas sale, but you might have been tricked. Because we all know things just tend to get a bit more expensive as the holidays come up, and that the real sale only starts after Christmas, when stores really need to get rid of the unsold stock.


But in general, what about Christmas (a religious holiday about the birth of Christ) screams buying gifts? We know a lot of people are struggling making ends meet, so what exactly are they supposed to do? We know about the unequal division of wealth when it comes to our own countries, some being worse than others. But we also know about the blatant crimes against humanity by the rich on a global scale. Christmas used to be a holiday about gratitude, charity and connection. And now I don't care much about the religious aspect, but how on earth did this turn into "Merry Christmas here's yet another gift" ?! For parents I can imagine it's even worse. Kids go back to school comparing gifts, we know this is what happens, it's social comparison. But there is only one winner there: the kid who got the most gifts, so unless you're the parent that gave the most and best gifts, you're not winning regardless. But honestly, it's a race no parent can win. It's a race that will benefit no child's upbringing, as participation in it will emphasize that self-worth and social status are derived from material wealth. Which is a very toxic message to learn, especially at a young age.

There has to be more to this type of holiday than getting family together for the sake of it, and exchanging material wealth to express that you do actually care about them. Shouldn't the interactions on the other 364 days have indicated that you at least like each other?!


So what does my Christmas look like? Well, both mom and I are working the Christmas days (The Netherlands has a first and second Christmas day). We know other people really care about having the time off, and we just don't. She will actually be working in the dementia care home. I will be working by being on campus as a residential tutor (someone has to watch campus) with a bunch of friends who have similar jobs. We will spend the day (25th) together and will eat and drink, but nothing excessive. Again, there'll be no gifts, because my friends and I couldn't come up with anything we wanted or needed, so that went out the window quite quickly. It's going to be chill, relatively cheap and just nice. After Christmas day is over, my friends and I are going to go back to work. They will be revising, I'll mainly be writing. The peace and quiet associated with the break (campus is absolutely dead!!!) will give me plenty of time to write, to walk, clear my head, be in peace and get re-charged for the new year. Which was the only "gift" I wanted from the month of December anyway. And I did in fact manage to see my family, just without paying the "Christmas mark-up" price for the ticket.


If you derive great pleasure out of all these festivities, you do you. I'm not a total Grinch, I won't tell you you're a bad person for enjoying it. But make sure the rest of the family is also having a great time. Because if they are bending over backwards to take time off, engage in expensive travel and buy you even more expensive things whilst not being in the position to do so, what exactly are we celebrating?

And there's many alternative ways of celebrating Christmas to begin with. You can do Secret Santa, which tends to be just getting a small gift (if you really want to do gifts) for someone. You can celebrate through hosting a Potluck Dinner, where everyone contributes by making a dish. You'll have much less food waste and it's so much more creative. And if you don't think you'll have the time on the 25th of December, well than just make sure you can all make it a bit before or after Christmas, if you really want to celebrate. And ultimately, if all of this sounds horrific to you, just don't celebrate it. No one can force you.

So ask yourself: what kind of Christmas do you want to have?


Behavioural Science

Personal Finance



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