Ed West

In praise of consumerism at Christmas

In praise of consumerism at Christmas
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It’s about this time of year – the darkest days of winter – when we traditionally get those newspaper articles lamenting the amount we consume over Christmas and how it’s all grossly commercial, which is bad because some kids go hungry; followed by the Thought for the Day piece about how we should all embrace poverty, which is what the Christian message is really about, rather than stuffing our fat faces and spending loads of money we don’t have.

But to me what’s special about Christmas is that my children really enjoy being given presents, including the ones from Fr Christmas, now a sort of grandfather-god of consumerism. They’re still at the age where they think Santa is real, but then I tell them lots of white lies – the cat has gone to heaven, the Conservatives are going to win the 2015 election, daddy’s really rich and successful and all his arguments have been proved right.

Presents and consumerism are exactly what Christmas should be about – one great big John Lewis advert where you show your kids how much you love them by buying them lots of stuff, except it’s all slightly out of focus because you’re drunk.

One of my earliest memories is Christmas 1983, aged 5, and I can recall still the atmosphere of consumer-led excitement, with the carols, the glitzy, tacky tree, mum and dad and all their inebriated journalist friends, the Kenny Everett show on TV, and most of all the presents. Those are probably the happiest memories of my life – ripping open the packaging to see how mum and dad had proved their love by spending money on me, and then having a tantrum because I wanted a REAL SPACE ROCKET.

Happiest until I had kids of my own, that is, one of the advantages of which is that Christmas gets exciting again for the first time in 20 years. The whole point of the festival is it that it’s about children, and children like receiving gifts. There’s nothing wrong with that; the problem with consumerism as a lifestyle is that it’s infantile, so for adults to crave goods and shopping is emotionally unformed, and that’s why all the signals given by capitalism are infantilising (Want now! Just do it!).

I remember, perhaps aged 10 or 11, realising that material goods are not really that important, something which most people learn at that age, and although it’s a necessary part of enlightenment and growth, it also comes with a certain adult weariness about life.

But before that happiness of childhood is something that can never be taken away from you, and toys make children happy. (And it’s not as if selling a few goods is the worst thing ever done in the name of religion.)

Here’s to our spoilt, over-indulged children, and to a world where one day all children will be similarly spoilt.

Written byEd West

Ed West is the author of The Diversity Illusion, 1215 and All That and is writing a series of books on medieval history

Topics in this articleSocietychildrenchristmasfamily