The holiday season has arrived once again, catching many of us unprepared and unwilling to participate in the buying frenzy. Though there are some positive attributes connected to the giving season, the predominant theme of commodity fetishism has all but demolished the true meaning of Christmas.
The Canadian civic holiday was originally created to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, and the exchange of gifts was meant to symbolize the act of the magi presenting the newborn babe with gold, frankincense and myrrh. An homage to the saviour of the world and a time for families and friends to come together to show their appreciation for each other somehow got confounded with the need to spend money.
The once exclusive Christian celebration has morphed into an all-encompassing deluge of consumerism demanding the participation of everyone. Even when people do not want to celebrate, they are coerced through psychic institutions of political correctness with something so small as a response to the innocent “Merry Christmas!” greeting.
The expectation to reciprocate when receiving a gift adds to the mounting social pressure during the holidays. The cost of a decent gift is skyrocketing, and people are paying very close attention to price points. A $300 iPad mini cannot be exchanged for a $20 Starbucks gift card no matter which way you dress it up. Inevitably someone will feel jilted if the values do not match. Contrastingly, the shame and guilt of not giving something of equal or greater monetary value contributes to a growing negative perception towards this special time of year.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, rates of depression increase through November and December, returning to normal rates by the end of January. This says something significant about the major events occurring during the holiday season. A time when people should be surrounded by warm and fuzzy feelings has been hijacked by the melancholic sentiment generated by the capitalist machine. The burden of buying weighs heavily on souls, especially in a time of financial uncertainty. Canadian families hold record levels of debt according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. A Statistics Canada report released in October says the average household has just 63 cents of disposable income for every dollar of debt. When most Canadians are living on borrowed dime while being forced into purchasing Christmas gifts, it’s no wonder people experience depression during the holiday season.
For an economic system that, by its very nature, is supposed to remedy the ills of the world, we are seeing more inequality and discontent. It is time for us to snap out of the mesmerizing trance eluding us with sugar plums, tinsel and the hope to buy ourselves happiness. Contentment can’t be derived from the stuff we get from stores.
The true meaning of Christmas is the joy one attains from giving without expectations. Matthew 6:3 says “When you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Gifting should not be done for the purposes of gaining recognition or getting something back in return. The spirit of altruism can be nurtured at this time of year when we focus on directing our energy on making the world a better place, not by making someone more money. Appreciation for others can be expressed in many ways that do not require the expenditure of cash. The economy is only one conduit of energy exchange, but there are many others. Spending time with people, having meaningful conversations, making people smile and helping out when we can are alternative ways to demonstrate love for those we care about. Placing a greater emphasis on these things over the supply and demand of a capitalist economy will indelibly increase the positive energy within ourselves and on the planet.
It is time Canadians start creating new traditions that nurture bonds between people that fill us with joy, and forgo those based on material possessions. The question that remains is, Who will be bold enough to remove themselves from the hegemonic stranglehold of a capitalist Christmas?