To be honest, Christmas has always inspired more stress than excitement for me. This is the most relaxed I have ever felt this time of the year because I've totally divested myself from the culture of consumption that takes hold when Christmas comes around, which gets masqueraded by Corporate America as "a time for giving" (which makes sense from their standpoint, given that for some retailers, holiday shopping accounts for as much as 20-40 percent of annual sales).
Thinking about the rampant consumerism that takes control of so many people I know around Christmas time made me think about the following passage from Guy Debord’s critique of consumer society in his book, Society of the Spectacle, thesis 42.
"The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life. Not only is the relation to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one sees is its world. Modern economic production extends its dictatorship extensively and intensively... In the advanced regions, social space is invaded by a continuous superimposition of geological layers of commodities. At this point in the “second industrial revolution,” alienated consumption becomes for the masses a duty supplementary to alienated production."
In a consumer culture, “shop until you drop” and “spend like there is no tomorrow” is what we are constantly told to do and are expected to do. We are what we consume, what we get from others, what we have.
What troubled me most when I celebrated Christmas, and, although most people claim it should not matter, is the intense pressure to meet the high expectations friends and love ones have for the type of gift they receive from us and how we put intense pressure on them to meet our high expectations for the type of gift we receive from them.
“It’s the thought that counts,” we tell ourselves. Yeah right! It’s all about the commodity baby. “What did you get” or better yet, “what did you get me” are the questions I remember being asked the most.
But, I realize, my lack of the Christmas "spending" spirit makes me an outlier.
The final data on Christmas spending this season are not out yet. However, surveys measuring the intentions of consumers to spend this holiday season suggest that even in the context of a sluggish economy exhibiting only modest signs of recovery (the benefits of the economic recovery has skipped over most Americans), and a pervasive sense of uncertainty about their own financial future, people probably did their usual: shop, spend, shop, and spend.
The good news first: Christmas spending was projected to be lower than retailers hope for.
Nonetheless, according to a survey released in mid-November by the American Research Group, Inc., Americans planned to spend an average of $801 for gifts this holiday season. The average spending for those who said they planned to make catalog purchases is $1,166, while the average spending for those who said they would make their purchases over the Internet is $1,109. Based on survey results released in early November by the National Retail Federation, projected sails for 2013 are expected to be around $602.1 billion.
An eye-popping finding from a second NRF survey is that an astonishing 63 percent of shoppers said that did not set aside any savings for holiday gifts they planned to purchase. Break out the credit cards.
Whether you planned for it or not does not matter, because the pressure to spend is intense during the holiday season. While grabbing a few items from the grocery store, I stood in line behind a woman buying a gift card who was complaining that she had to make the purchase because a friend had brought her a gift and that she felt obligated to buy something for them.
With about 40 percent of consumers beginning their holiday shopping now before Halloween, Debord description of a consumer culture seems correct, “the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life.”
Shop until you drop!
Spend like there is no tomorrow!
I don’t miss one damn bit of it at all.