It’s that time of year again – the time of year we all love, Christmas. For uni students, as deadlines rapidly approach and the end of first term draws speedily to a close, the thought of the Christmas holidays, prospectively spent with close family and friends, couldn’t come quickly enough. For millions across the globe, Christmas is a beautiful time of year, a time of sharing, caring, and spending time with those we love. For Christians, it’s the pinnacle of the religious calendar – the birth of Jesus Christ, salvation of mankind.
But for many people, Christmas has merely become symbolic and representative of consumerism, the modern world, and a love of luxury and spending which refuses to go away. Its religious significance has faded, slowly but surely, over the years; particularly when one considers the fact that, according to the 2012 census, the number of Christians in Britain has declined by 12% since 2001. No wonder Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was quoted recently saying that Christmas presents ‘spoil life’ and ‘shouldn’t happen’, especially since they ‘put pressure on relationships because when you’re short of money you argue’.
Arguably Welby has a very good point. Especially for children and teenagers – although it also applies to many adults – Christmas is a purely materialistic venture: it’s all about the most expensive presents and gadgets that Mummy and Daddy, usually in the guise of Santa Claus, can afford. But what is the actual point? Birthdays occur to celebrate the existence of individuals and involve the giving of lavish items. So why Christmas then, particularly if these families are not even Christian? As the Archbishop said, if you love and care for someone surely you don’t need to buy affection, because it already exists.
Indeed, there is arguably no point in gift-giving: it’s materialistic, hedonistic, irresponsible, and selfish, to say the very least. People, especially in middle- and upper-class households, do not need more presents, more clothes, books, jewellery, money, whatever – they have enough of that as it is. Despite this, it has been reported that the average British family spends close to £1000 on Christmas – one might ask why? Yes, Christmas is beautiful in terms of being with family and friends – so why do we feel the need to, in a sense, symbolise this love with presents in a wholly materialistic sense?
Some might argue that you should only celebrate Christmas if you’re a Christian. Maybe they have a point. In a secular country like England, however, that’s hardly likely, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Instead, Christmas has become a materialistic, compulsively over-advertised, overhyped ‘festival’ involving gorging oneself in food, lavishing expensive gifts, and engaging in ‘quality’ family time often involving scandals and arguments. The real point of this festival has been obscured, even forgotten, as time has passed. The fact that my own charity shop started selling Christmas cards in August – a full four months before Christmas – speaks volumes about the degree to which people are encouraged, even unconsciously forced, to spend their hard-earned money on Christmas gifts in what are, essentially, ruthless business ventures months before Christmas even happens.
The Archbishop’s probing and thought-provoking comments deserve greater attention, for they speak volumes about our consumerist and selfish society. This selfishness and materialistic behaviour is nowhere more evident than at Christmas.
by Conor Byrne