Written by Aiden Kearns
Place yourself in a massive toy store, December 23rd. You reminisce about shopping here as a child – the isles stacked unfathomably high, each colossal mound of enticing plastic towering towards the ceiling. A dazzling myriad of colours enthralled and entranced the faces of the children around you, leaving parents reluctantly reaching for credit cards with only the vague promise of peace for an evening stirring them onward. The problem is, this is no longer the reality. Since Britain is now known as the Democratic Republic of Champagne Socialism, the boxes have been torn from the shelves. Charred remains of power rangers lie scattered in the streets as party officials in plain silver cars shout from plain white megaphones, branding everyone within 10 feet of ‘Toys R Us’ a consumerist and a classist traitor. You look down at your younger sibling, who in the absence of Christmas has received their first power drill so that they might grow up and advance the economy in a more inclusive and less bourgeois fashion. Advertisements are torn from billboards and businessmen are dragged into vans deep into the night, questioned about tax avoidance and treatment of workers. The city hums with the whirring of mechanisms as more grey machinery is manned by grey workers under the grey influence of red taped maniacs.
This is of course a hyperbolic example of what might happen if we remove the more ostentatious echelons consumer market completely, and so dangerously close to Orwellian plagiarism it belongs in Room 101. But with the recent passing of Valentine’s Day and the build-up for many of us to Easter, it seems almost impossible to escape the grasp of consumerist holidays. It can be argued that the corporations who seek to perpetuate these traditions are purely nefarious. They create a trap whereby we can’t NOT buy anything for our loved ones, whereby our parents can’t NOT at least pick some of us up an Easter egg. And this vicious cycle of guilt induced purchasing can leave us with arguments amongst friends and with hard feelings towards parents who simply couldn’t step up to that shiny new console that will only be rendered inferior by next year’s model anyway. This reality is cold and systematic; bank breaking to get into and difficult to get out of. Whilst I appreciate the idea is that we get these rewards in our youth and then return the favour to our children in adulthood, I don’t actually remember consenting to this routine – endless as the pound coins we throw at it. Also, I certainly won’t be thanking anyone if my possible future children resent me for not waking up to anything on the mornings of these holidays.
Christmas, being the most prominent example of commercialised holidays, can seem far from a period of festive cheer to the more perceptive amongst us. Based on Pagan traditions (Remember Pagans? Those guys and girls Christianity basically wiped out in vengeful proselytization?).Presented as a time for giving, it is sensible to assume that we all have, or know someone that has, demanded an expensive commodity from our parent / guardian and given so little in return. A typical symptom of the materialistic vortex summoned by the glint of tinsel and wrapping paper. This is the entitlement that the privileged amongst us have ground into us from birth – once a year, that new guitar, that new PlayStation, that pricey ‘Lads on Tour’ endeavour is our wish to be granted for nothing more than a ‘thanks guys!’ and a card from Sainsbury’s. Not only this, but in a Western society that certainly should strive to include more and alienate less, shoving ecclesiastical elation down the throats of minority religions and the non-religious is almost certainly conducive to establishing a sense of alienation (spiritual or otherwise).
Surely Christmas can’t be all bad though, right? Every year charities like The Times Appeal and The Big Give issue challenges and pleas for international aid, and this isn’t the half of it. I’m sure anyone who frequents say, Birmingham town centre from November onwards will be happy to inform you of the jovial hi – Vis jacket militia that just want a ‘minute of your time’ – Brummy slang for about 3 quid. In addition to this, economists such as Derek Thompson over at The Atlantic prophesise that if you ‘lopped December off every shopping calendar’ then the retail industry would succumb to ‘permanent depression’. This is because Christmas generates considerable activity for the economy and, as of last year, Britain spends the most per person on presents in the world, generating an incredible £43 billion. Although, whilst this influx of wealth seems paramount to our fiscal prowess, it unequivocally contributes to the cancerous ‘we are what we own’ tumour beating in the heart of middle and upper class British culture.
And what about Valentine’s Day? Every year the tried and true rhetoric of either side clashes on social media. Based on observation and intuition, I’d say it’s mostly single people that complain about ‘soppiness’, the couples retorting with pictures of Thornton’s chocolates and accusations of ‘jealousy’, whilst a good mix claim they ‘don’t need a day to remind someone that they love them’. The latter of all three is surely the approach we should all be taking, but at the same time, what’s wrong with setting a special day aside now and again? Perhaps Valentine’s Day should stand as a reminder that in the haze of work and school driven modern life, we need to make time for our loved ones. However, this does not necessarily mean that we need to splash out on generic Pandora bracelets, teddy bears and other sentimentalities. We could also lift the veil off Easter whilst we’re at it – do we REALLY need another Christian holiday commercialised to buy one another chocolate? I like to think I speak for many of us when I say that I wouldn’t mind having them throughout the year – and I would also like to experiment with this approach towards Christmas. Instead of parents buying their child that new guitar because it’s Christmas, they buy it because they want to stimulate their musical creativity. Instead of a holiday borne from festive generosity, a holiday because travel is an imperative form of education. And finally, birthdays. Ah yes, the receiving of gratitude for staying alive for a certain amount of time. One would think with the fuss surrounding them that this was some kind of achievement that so few had completed before – especially considering one can only imagine that children of obscene wealth receive more for each birthday than many of us will earn in a decade, reiterating what we already know about the wealth inequality in our society. Are all of these holidays not, in their own deluded sense, missing the point of celebration and simply tapping into a system whereby our compassion and virtue are measured by our willingness to spend and be spent on?
I realise of course that I have only generated more questions than I’ve answered, and I’m not the first one to raise them. But if we are to call ourselves a progressive generation, then the contemporary question should be: how do we reconcile the celebration of holidays without the endless cycle of capitalist guilt imposed upon us? How do we tackle the severe inequality of wealth that leaves some of us with a pair of socks on December 25th and others with a new car? Why is it that although Valentine’s Day is a reminder for many that they aren’t all alone, it’s a painful, profound and prominent reminder of crushing solitude for others? It was Churchill’s invective tone that summed it up best when he said that capitalism is the ‘unequal sharing of blessings’. Although I am happy every year when I wake up on any given holiday to find that my parents have continued tradition and I don’t have to go without, I can’t honestly refer to these ‘celebrations, with all their guilt and inequality, as ‘blessings’. Wherever our scattering of questions may direct us, we should be striving towards a similar principle: let’s allow ourselves some days in a year to be altruistic and compassionate, but let’s also remember not everything worth having is meant to look good on your Instagram