Written By Isobel Henley
From a young age, we are told presents are essential to Christmas; from writing our letters to Santa, to wading round the herds of equally stressed shoppers in the aisles of John Lewis on 24th December. All the chaos really does beg the question of for what are we participating in this?
The answer is, quite simply, because we’re told we ‘need’ to, not out of genuine desire to give your aunt a salt and pepper grinder set, but because the weeks, and months, leading up to Christmas are full of ‘top 25 Christmas presents you can’t go wrong with’, perpetuated by the media. We’re fed a false narrative of a ‘perfect’ Christmas day; being full of gifts for your loved ones.
As someone who is guilty of excessive shopping, I understand the constant battle, exacerbated around Christmas time. Everyone wants to get their loved ones the ‘perfect gift’, but as many of you will know, money cannot buy happiness, hence presents at Christmas cannot gift you the ‘perfect Christmas day’. For many, presents or no presents, Christmas is a particularly difficult time.
And what happens after the day is over? We go back to the reality of the dark winter days, stuffed of Christmas food, with a broken bank balance and a collection of items we often don’t need.
Christmas is centre stage in the ever-advancing secularising society, aided by consumerism and capitalism. The social pressure of gift giving at Christmas has obvious environmental consequences; with more than 40% of people in the UK admitted to having thrown unwanted presents in the bin after the big event. By that statistic, almost half of gifts given at Christmas are in fact ‘token’ gifts.
No, this is not another minimalist rant aimed at bash capitalist societies, but rather a mere question of would Christmas really be the ‘light in the dark days of winter’ without our full stockings and ‘for the sake of it’ presents? Perhaps we need to start asking ourselves what the true meaning of Christmas is.
My view is that the secularisation of Christmas is part of a bigger issue: an increasingly perfectionist society that is focused on items to fill their anxieties. A belief that 'I will feel better with this new dress' or 'I will fit in more in these new jeans' or ‘I will be able to work harder with this fit bit’.
Maybe that’s true for a short time. But what happens when a new trend, gadget or societal demand pops up onto your phone screen? No amount of goods will feed the constant demand of consumers. We will always want more, always be told by the media we haven’t got enough.
Of course, sustainable fashion and lifestyle can be suggested to counter some of the issues of fast fashion and mass consumption. But the crisis of our insecure society stems from the demand, not supply of goods. Whether you buy or make the perfect dress, this does not banish desire, or make it simpler to get dressed in the morning.
With this understanding, perhaps we can use these observations of Christmas gift giving as a lesson for the new year.
I don’t think it’s necessary to advocate a ban on all shopping and buying yourself the dress you want to wear. I’m simply putting forward an alternative way to shop, whether it be at Christmas or starting the new year: mindful that this new dress isn’t going to feed the desire in the long term or be the ‘perfect gift’, as demand is endless. Perhaps instead focus on what feeds the hole in your soul you’re trying to fill with that competition of biggest pile of gifts under the Christmas tree.
Go into the new year with a mentality of gratitude for who you are, not what you have, or don’t have.