It’s that time of year… when Michael Buble is paid thousands in royalties and individuals vow not to get embarrassingly drunk at their office/ university party. But with Black Friday shopping stampedes and thousands homeless this Christmas, what does the festive season mean in the 21st century?
Christmas is commonly depicted as an opportunity to spend time with family and treat your loved ones. Buying presents is therefore an important aspect of Christmas, especially in the modern era. In a time of slow economic growth across the world, with the UK falling into a double-dip recession in 2012 and only starting to recover, it would be easy to assume that maybe it’s no longer the time to spend time and money and looking for the perfect present.
According to a press release from Recruitment firm, Randstad, a recent poll they have conducted has found that consumers “were willing to spend 3% of their family’s entire annual disposable income on gifts this year”.
Spending is linked to inflation and with inflation reaching a 22-month high of 1% in September and an unstable pound, British supermarket giant Tesco told the Guardian rising food prices “would be toxic for consumers if stores found that they had to pass on extra costs”. In a time of economic uncertainty, is spending 3% of an entire household’s annual disposable income on presents maybe a little over the top?
The retail sector has created increasing opportunities for “deals” for consumers, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are days dedicated to ‘special offers’ in shops and online. These specific days dedicated to shopping ‘specials’ seem a little too good to be true and this is probably the case. Black Friday even has a website, Black Friday Death Count, which has recorded 10 deaths and 105 injuries worldwide since 2008.
Reflecting on the influence of Black Friday, Tom Chaddick, lead pastor of the Reality Church in London says “there has been a backlash” involving “justice-oriented businesses”.
“There’s a big company in San Francisco, Everlane, their Black Friday event was if you buy something they would donate money into a fund for their factory workers in Indonesia to have helmets that they can wear when riding their scooters, so they can be safe.”
Chaddick believes the message of Christmas is sometimes ‘lost’, to a certain extent even in the Church, explaining: “There’s a raw picture to Christmas that all the nativity scenes take away”. Once the “actual accounts” of Jesus’ birth are referred to the story is “so raw and hard-hitting”, especially when you consider “Jesus is the son of God” and was “born into poverty”.
This message “brings the Church” to realise that Christmas “isn’t a sentimental time when we have too much pudding”, he adds. If even the Church can occasionally lose track of the original significance of this festivity, then it’s little surprise that Christmas has started to lose meaning to the rest of society.
Though the exact details regarding the origins of Christmas are a little confused, popular belief is that it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. There has always been a religious aspect to Christmas, even if it may be subtle at times. Is the more philosophical aspect of Christmas getting lost under a pile of snowflake-covered wrapping paper?
Although the historical and religious connotations of this celebration is sometimes neglected, many still attend the Christmas Eve midnight service or sing in Christmas carol services at the St James Church of England, according to its youth and children’s worker, Ben Slater.
Slater mentions the use of the nativity scene “in some way or another” in “big shops”, suggesting that this depiction of Jesus’ birth can inspire children to “ask their parents questions” about Jesus’ life.
Is displaying scenes of nativity a way for businesses to capitalise on religious beliefs?
In a capitalist society it is not surprising that Christmas is increasingly becoming about lavishing family members with gifts, yet you are probably taking the cliché ‘It comes from the heart’ too seriously if you nearly suffer from heart failure while trying to find the perfect present. What shouldn’t be lost is the essence of generosity at Christmas, whether stuffing your face with too much stuffing or providing helmets to Everlane’s factory-workers.