what are you really giving this christmas?
It’s nearly Christmas and living in the city I constantly see the hustle and bustle of people rushing to get organised for the festive season. It’s the busiest time of year for shopping and retail. As the 25th of December gets closer, the streets become more and more crowded. At the time of writing, it’s two weeks until Christmas and I can’t even go down to the shop for milk without having to navigate around the frantic shoppers buying presents.
Though I too participate in the ritual buying of gifts for the festive season, I can’t help but wonder what the point of it really is? Personally I buy gifts because I want to show people around me that I care. But when did this start? How did I come to develop the reasoning that showing my love to family and friends at Christmas time is dependent on whether I give them gifts?
Having spent some time thinking about this I’ve come to the conclusion that, like basically everything else, the way we celebrate holidays depends on the society in which we live. Whether we like it or not, contemporary Australian society is built around a capitalist economy. With the rise of trade and business in the West, our lives have become dependent on the money we spend.
Money determines everything in Australia. The status of an individual’s health, education, and happiness is positively correlated with the amount of money they earn, and the amount they have to spend. When things start going bad, money is generally at a lack.
This is fairly obvious on an individual level. There is a reason it is not desirable to be poor… But it is not often we think about the extent to which the whole of society is influenced by economics and wealth.
When the health care system slows, or businesses begin to close, the government is asked for more money; and when policies are implemented to improve things, it is money that is used. Like the rest of the western world, everything in Australia depends on budgets, funds and expenses. Unfortunately, this is even the case for those festivities we claim reflect tradition. Christmas time is just one of the many festive holidays the capitalist market uses as an excuse to prompt people to spend money. The economy is the reason retail is so crazy this month. If you ask me, Christmas has become less about tradition and more about the consumption of products.
Now don’t get me wrong, my intention here is not to paint a picture that is all bleak. Like most people, I enjoy the festive season; and as much as I don’t like to admit it, I enjoy the phenomena of gift giving. Ever since I started earning money I started spending hours, and even weeks searching shops for the perfect presents. It’s just that recently, I’ve started to wonder, is it really a good way to celebrate tradition and show our families love?
When thinking about the relative poverty that exists in many developing countries around the world, I feel particularly concerned about the gift giving phenomena that has come to dominate the typical Australian Christmas. While in Australia we spend countless dollars on presents and unnecessary commodities to give our family and friends, there are families in many countries that can barely afford a loaf of bread It makes me feel somewhat sick to know that Australian parents are worrying about which colour iPad they should buy for their daughters and sons at the same time that those in other countries are fighting hard to maintain minimum sustenance and health.
Though this sounds like I’m throwing an attack at the typical Australian, I should note that this is no individual’s fault. In Australia we are brought up to believe that spending money is important. As adults it is expected that we buy presents for our family and friends. I conform to this expectation, and I’ll bet you do too. I’m not writing this article to blame any individual. I just wish that more people would think about the reality of the gift giving ritual.
As Australia is an economically prosperous country, it is rational to buy more than what we essentially need. Capitalism depends on the spending of money; and thus prompts us to value the consumption of products. Conversely, the western phenomena of gift giving would be considered highly extravagant in much of the developing world. When health and well-being is threatened, it is not a priority to spend money and accumulate belongings.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not writing this article to criticize any individual. Conspicuous consumption is relative to the society in which we live. But I am asking you to think about gift buying this Christmas. Is buying extravagant gifts really necessary to celebrate tradition and show your friends and family your love? The answer I suspect is ‘no’. Now I’m not asking you to give it up. It has become the norm in Australia to buy each other gifts for Christmas and it would be unrealistic to expect anyone to forgo this ‘tradition.’ However, I am asking you to think about it in relation to those that are less fortunate. If you want to do more and would like to take an action, perhaps consider giving to a charity Christmas appeal.
Through the World Vision website for example you can buy clean drinking water for a community or immunisations for a child. Unlike a box of chocolates or an iPad, these gifts are truly life-changing for individuals. If you do this World Vision will send you a personalised Christmas card that you can then pass on to someone. Is there a better way to celebrate tradition and show your care and love?