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The commercialisation of Christmas

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Joey talks Christmas values and the hideous Littlewoods advert…

At the time of writing (late November), I find it only just about acceptable to begin talking about Christmas. Every year, it seems that Christmas preparations begin earlier and earlier. It’s hard enough when you see adverts for ‘Christmas 2011’ on Boxing Day 2010, but when shops are putting up displays and setting out cards in September, then you know something’s going a little awry.

Christmas is no longer about family. Regardless of whether you see the festive season as it was meant to be seen, as a celebration of the birth of Jesus (I don’t, personally), no-one can deny that spending some quality time with your family is possibly the most enriching thing about Christmas, and a superb way to round off the year. However, Christmas is increasingly being defined by shallow materialism, and proliferate spending. Nowhere is this more shamefully enshrined than in the Littlewoods Christmas advert. For the uninitiated (the lucky ones), let me fill you in. The setting: a school play- presumably intended to be a nativity play. The concept: children singing a song about how wonderful their respective mothers are. “Awwh!” I hear you cry, “isn’t that cute?” Well no, actually. In this case, the mother’s supposed ‘loveliness’ is defined by her ability to purchase a deluge of expensive gifts for everyone she’s ever met, spoken to in the street, or sat next to on the bus. Mum (or Moneybags Mum) buys Grandad an Apple laptop, she buys Uncle Ken a smartphone, and she even buys Jen (whoever that is) a digital camera! It’s entirely possible that this advert was made with innocent intent, and is a simple showcase of the array of gifts Littlewoods offers. However, the infinitely more sinister subtext is that you’re not a good mother if you don’t buy everyone hideously expensive gifts, paying for them on credit if you must.

We must face facts here: for a lot of people, Christmas is very tough. Not everyone can afford to shower their family with gifts and, unfortunately, some families circumvent this by buying presents they can’t really afford (often on credit). This results in debts that they struggle to pay off, and inevitably this worsens the Christmas after. It may be slightly contentious to suggest that this advert is a catalyst for this undesirable cycle, but it certainly encapsulates the general attitude that must surely be felt by the unfortunate people who can’t afford to buy their children that extra present.

Being self-centred for a moment, I do wonder whether my negative attitude in the run-up to Christmas (not the day itself) is due to having worked in retail. I worked in a generic clothes shop for three years, during which time I presided over three Christmas periods. That includes setting up the sales, putting up Christmas displays, and feeling depressed on Boxing Day as hundreds of people scrambled to return unwanted Christmas gifts.  I think all survivors (yes, survivors) of retail at Christmas will empathise when I say that working over the Christmas period turned me into a Dickensian miser who not even the most persistent ghosts could have stirred some festive cheer from.

But the feeling inevitably subsides after a year or two away from retail, which I think is a wonderfully apt metaphor for Christmas as a whole. Distance yourself from commercialisation and materialism this year. Don’t worry about what your family will or will not buy you. Don’t worry about what your boyfriend or girlfriend will get you, and just enjoy the time of year. Have a few drinks, get into the spirit, and spend some quality time with your family. And do me a big favour. If you see me in January, don’t ask me what I ‘got for Christmas’. Because I don’t care.

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