Capitalism’s corruption of Christmas
24 December 2021
TUMBY BAY - I come from a generation born in austerity. ‘Make-do’ was the order of the day.
In those what seem now like ancient days, Christmas represented something that now seems irretrievably lost.
Unfortunately, it all seems to be the result of modern human beings having a remarkable ability to subvert good things into bad things.
No matter how good something is, sooner or later someone will come along to take advantage of it for their own dubious ends. Christmas is a good example.
It is a celebration long observed throughout the Western world as the birthday of Jesus Christ, the founder of the Christian faith.
The true date of his birth is uncertain. It has variously moved from May to April to January and then, in the fourth century to 25 December.
The end of December was already the season of various pagan festivals connected to the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere - when the Sun reaches its most southerly position.
This had been celebrated for thousands of years before the Christian era.
The early Christian churches found it advantageous to take over many of these old festivals and give them explicit Christian associations.
Christmas customs today preserve many features of the old pagan traditions: gift-giving, an old man giving gifts to children, Christmas carols, kissing under mistletoe, holly wreaths and the decoration of trees are just a few.
The solstice had always been greeted with special rejoicing and merry-making as the turning point of the year. It was an occasion for joyful family gatherings, kindness and hospitality.
People decorated their homes with bright green and red holly and collected mistletoe to hang over the outside doors to keep away evil spirits.
As a young boy I remember going into the forest near my grandparents’ farm looking for a young pine tree to cut for Christmas as well as holly and mistletoe to decorate their house.
In those days if you caught someone in the house standing under the mistletoe you could demand a kiss.
And on Christmas day there was the thrill of finding sixpences in the sweet fruity puddings that my grandmother had wrapped in muslin and begun boiling weeks earlier.
The custom of present-giving goes back to the days of the ancient Romans.
Santa Claus comes through the Dutch from Saint Nicholas who was the special friend and protector of children.
But our modern image of Santa Claus, a rotund figure with a big white beard and clad in red fur, was largely developed by Coca-Cola for its advertising in the 1930s.
My most vivid memory of Christmas comes from the year I found in my Christmas stocking a handmade Native American headdress made out of dyed goose feathers.
For a young boy in the early 1950s obsessed with Cowboys and Indians it was and still is the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. I might have even believed it was genuine and not made by my clever English grandfather.
Those days, simple and exhilarating, are long gone.
In the years after World War II, capitalism would eventually seize Christmas as a perfect marketing opportunity. Its pagan origins were of no concern.
Whether people saw the event as celebrating Christ’s birth or celebrating of the turning of the year was of no concern.
The subversion had begun. From a celebration of the spirit, Christmas turned into a celebration of consumption.
Then, as capitalism morphed into its present neo-liberal form of winner takes all, Christmas was supercharged and people began to subordinate what it represented from a celebration of the spirit to a festival of buying and excess.
For children nowadays, Christmas is all about gifts and for their parents it is all about indulgence, eating and drinking too much and hitting the shops in frenzied spending sprees.
From its spiritual and religious roots, Christmas has turned into a profane exercise in greed and consumerism.
What was good has been debauched and degraded.
A time of peace and goodwill has become a time of short-lived mindless indulgence.
I’m glad I was born before that happened.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to see and experience what Christmas is really about and should still be about.
Dear Chris, Most of this shopping is done on credit for items they want but do not need and merely thrill for a minute and last for a moment.
Somewhat paradoxically, you have more consumer rights when you buy a $40 electronic gadget from Target than if you purchase an off the plan $10 million Meriton penthouse suite with ocean views - Hurry, only five left!
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 25 December 2021 at 06:17 PM
Merry Christmas indeed. I woke this morning to the caterwauling of Pariah Mary who almost matches the Subiaco Xanthippe.
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 25 December 2021 at 03:56 PM
Thanks for that peep backwards to Christmas in your childhood.
In Wales too we had the custom of putting a silver coin into the Xmas pudding. Not being as rich as you farming families we used silver 3d coins. Your 6d and my 3d upto 1945 both had 50% silver content.
If you feel despondent at what has happened to Christmas now being 'Mid-Winter holiday' think how the remaining 1000 Christians of Gaza feel hemmed in all sides by walls, fences, checkpoints.
At least 500 this year have been given permits to get to walled in Bethlehem. A lot of Xmas stories this week in my emails too many from all sorts of NGOs hoping for donations as this is considered the best month of the year.
A few articles I have read were well worth receiving. One was 'The bells would ring': How Palestinians celebrated Christmas before life under occupation' By Shatha Hammad in Occupied West Bank at www.middleeasteye.net originally published in 2019 but updated this week.
One from my file was 2006/06/14 'Europe Forsakes Christianity for Islam?' By Dale Hurd
CBN News Sr. Reporter at www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/060206a.aspx
Welcome to post-Christian Europe, a land filled with beautiful monuments to an ancient religion that few Europeans practice anymore or know much about. While Christianity is still very relevant in the United States, and is exploding in the developing world, Europe today has sunk below unbelief, and is now labeled "Christophobic" and "anti-religious."... liked one of last sentences:
“Europe is going to get more religious than it is either because of a revival of Christianity or because they go Muslim…you can't sit there with no babies for ever.”
Phil a quote by an Italian politician is pertinent: “.some would say Europe has a new religion. Italy's Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione, a devout Catholic, calls it "a nihilistic fundamentalism against truth." Stark calls it hedonism, and says it is why Europe is dying. No Western European country is having enough babies to replace its current population. “
As you said one of the joys of being old was that we were lucky to have lived when Christmas was more of simple family celebrations albeit in most cases within a religious ethos.
Question Is the growth of practitioners in psychiatry and psychology a symptom of the capitalist corruption you have noted?
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 25 December 2021 at 03:41 AM
Yes, Christmas is a time of enjoying n receiving gifts however we seem to confuse events that meant to be.
I agree with Philip that it was greed that blinded many so to indulge in physical rather than spiritualism.
I also agree that paganism crept in unnoticeably and capitalized on the event and really manipulated doing away the reality by changing dates n events with misleading information.
I totally agree with Messianic Judaism on the events especially Yeshua's birth date.
It is in the Jewish calendar and no one can argue because Judaism is the origin of all religion, beliefs and practices.
Posted by: Hanuva Netale | 24 December 2021 at 12:27 PM
The bilas stayed up for the twelve days of Christmas until 06/01/2021 but was never allowed to decorate the house for thirteen days.
Nowadays it is all torn down and sent to landfill immediately after the Boxing Day sales to make way for the NYE fireworks extravaganza, Australia Day and Valentines Day and before we can blink Easter is upon us.
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 24 December 2021 at 09:01 AM
Christmas has been corrupted by neo-liberalism into a Festival of Consumption.
Our children have been trained to demand and receive huge quantities of 'stuff' and we adults have been trained to cater to this 'need'.
We must consume so that industry can produce: never mind the waste and environmental degradation involved. This seems to me to be the antithesis of the Christmas religious ideal.
The irony is that Christmas as a religious festival originated in the Roman Festival of Saturnalia which was devoted to public entertainments, drinking, eating and merry making. So, in a sense, the modern Christmas has returned to its roots, just not in the way Christians might have hoped or expected.
The supposed 'magic' of Christmas is that it can generate vast profits for business. That is a magic that our political and business leaders can relate too.
Anyway, Merry Christmas to those who still believe that it is magical in some way.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 24 December 2021 at 08:34 AM