By Ollie Gratzinger | Opinions Editor
The halls are decked, the stockings are hung, the mochas are minty and it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet.
‘Tis the season, I suppose, but every year, the season comes sooner. Malls were adorned with ornate bulbs and towering trees as early as Nov. 1. Stores sent out their holiday catalogues weeks ago, and towering signs for “holiday collections” and “Christmas sales” have been positioned in the windows of every shop in sight.
Now, there’s no problem with getting into the spirit early. I love Christmas songs and pine-scented candles as much as the next guy, but it always felt to me like there was something sinister amid the focus on consumerism, something detracting fundamentally from the holiday’s real substance.
For many, what used to be about spending time with loved ones, being thankful for what you have or celebrating one’s religious beliefs is now about getting the best sale, finding the best gifts and, for companies, making the most money.
On a larger scale, the corporatization of Christmas highlights a trend that has always been present, but it seems like stores coming out with holiday-themed merch earlier and earlier only strengthens the connection between Christmas and consumerism. By putting up a big ol’ pine tree in the mall and flyers in the windows of storefronts, businesses are incentivizing folks to buy stuff before the sale ends, before they lose the deal, before someone else gets it first, and the idea of gift-giving becomes complicated by a sense of urgency and false necessity. These corporations use Christmas as a way to make products more marketable, exploiting their workers and preying upon the consumer’s fondness for the holiday season.
There’s no doubt in my mind that capitalism — and the materialism that goes along with it — has irreparable consequence on our moral character. Don’t get me wrong; It’s no sin to buy your friend a nice present. That isn’t what I’m complaining about, here. The problem, instead, lies in the lack of responsibility on the part of companies to be conscious of retail workers’ needs. Corporations rarely care about those who work for them — especially not during the holiday season, which the National Retail Foundation estimates can yield 20 to 30 percent of its annual profit, depending on the store. Instead, corporations only care about how much the self-induced Christmas frenzy can put in the company’s pocket.
Employees are forced to put in tireless hours and sacrifice their time with loved ones, just so customers can come in and buy that sweater, TV or cup of coffee. Most stores find themselves understaffed and unprepared to deal with the rapid increase in foot traffic, and consequently, managers pushed to breaking points take out their frustrations on associates and cashiers who might’ve been there for eight, 10 or even 12 hours. Maybe they missed Thanksgiving dinner with their family. Maybe they weren’t able to attend their kid’s Christmas play at school. They had to be at work, instead, just because Christmas came early and it brought a bunch of sales quotas along with it.
Nevertheless, customers are almost always in a hurry, and when crowded stores yield long lines, they tend to forget that the folks ringing them out are people and not robots, and the words that are said tend to lack even the most basic kind of respect. Folks who would treat workers with dignity and perhaps even kindness during any other time of the year find themselves stressed by the holiday rush, and if they feel that the sale wasn’t good enough or the service wasn’t fast enough, all humanity goes out the window.
Is that really what Christmas is supposed to be about? Money and efficiency?
There’s a reason that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol portrays the fabulously wealthy businessman Ebenezer Scrooge, who rarely takes into account neither the comfort nor the plight of his employees, as a bad and selfish man.
If Dickens doesn’t suit you, what about the Bible itself? Wasn’t it Jesus who flipped the merchants’ table in the temple and accused them of transforming a house of worship into a den of thieves? Something tells me that Jesus wouldn’t be a huge fan of Christmas coupons.
For some, Christmas itself is as holy as a temple, and for others, it’s just a time to relax with loved ones. By kicking off the Christmas festivities early, corporations have found a way to capitalize on holiday cheer. Corporations sell their product under a model that assumes the more you spend on a person, the more you love them. But as the Beatles said, you can’t buy love, and you can’t buy Christmas, either.