In Defence of Christmas Consumerism

Starbucks’ red cups, Advent chocolate calendars and, of course the Coca Cola advert; these collectively announce the start of the Christmas season to our nation long before Mariah Carey is heard five times a day on the radio. As the festivities arrive, the high street and our televisions become inundated with consumables that we are told are essential for us to be able to imbibe the Christmas spirit. And while the latest John Lewis Christmas advert reaches nearly 3 million views on YouTube, it appears that we as a nation have wholeheartedly succumbed to the consumption of Christmas joy prescribed to us by the materialistic high street and media.

Christmas items are infiltrating shops earlier and earlier each year, with festive baubles and Christmas selection boxes adorning the aisles of Sainsbury’s before Halloween. As the big day draws closer, shopping centres become busier with shoppers eagerly searching for that perfect gift or essential Christmas outfit. To a society obsessed with shopping as a prime leisure activity and the consumption of fast fashion, Christmas appears to herald increased spending when the entire nation is grossly in debt.

This year may see a change in our spending habits, with Which? Research estimating that 4 out of 10 will rein in their spending and more than a third removing people from their gift lists. As the recession continues to pinch our pockets, the high street is beginning to feel the squeeze. Big retailers such as M&S have recently seen a 10% drop in profit and whilst this may not seem much, Sir Phillip Green, the Arcadia group tycoon, has admitted that amid predictions for low Christmas sales he may have to close up to 260 stores nationwide.

Whilst initially I would argue that reduced consumerist influence of Christmas is a positive change, in the culling of shops and therefore jobs there is also the loss of someone’s family income and a further reduction in the diversity of the high street. Obviously smaller independent retailers feel the freeze in Christmas spending worse than their larger rivals. For many business owners Christmas is supposed to be the peak period of sales which ensure their survival for the rest of the year. However, as consumer confidence dips they are forced to implement earlier sales and offers to entice people to part with their money; low Christmas figures can be fatal for many businesses and jobs. With employment also at an all-time low and over a million young people out of work, perhaps the superflous materialism exhibited by consumers over the Christmas period is not a negative development and actually has positive consequences. Royal Mail received just over six applications for every temporary Christmas position; increased Christmas-based consumption demands extra employment and thus provides more jobs.

I began the research for this article assuming that I would argue against the consumptionist element of the Christmas season, fuelled by my dislike for the constant barrage of adverts encouraging us to fill our homes with items to satiate our materialistic needs, supposedly as a way of commemorating the birth of Jesus. However, looking beyond the joy found in the contents of our stockings, it is evident that our consumption at least can have a positive effect on the job market and the maintanance of the high street. Whilst debt remains a serious problem for the country at large, maybe this is the year that we should show our support for our local independent retailers and buy an extra Christmas gift or two in the hope that it prevents closures and further loss of jobs.

Elizabeth Hill

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