It’s Christmas, a time when all of us wannabe commentators produce at least one predictable piece bemoaning the crass commercialization of Christmas.
These commentators assume that underneath the consumption is a meaningful cultural tradition worth saving. They assume that Christmas is merely debased by consumerism.
I call bullshit.
The modern Christmas is a modern invention, and commercialization is not it’s debasement, but it’s whole purpose.
In a recent comic, Randall Munroe noted that so much of the lyrical tradition we assume is a timeless part of Christmas, is in fact a product of 1950s America.
Randall Munroe theorises that a tradition is “anything that happened to a baby boomer twice”.
I would argue that these modern traditions are a product of what was happening in the most developed capitalist economy in the aftermath of the second world war.
The 1950s see the baby boom and the long post war boom in American economic growth. The industrial capacity utilized by the war could not simple lie idle, the pursuit of profit mandates that capital be reinvested. Without the war, a new market was required.
That market was domestic consumption.
American companies developed and sold all manner of goods to fill needs that the American working class never before knew they had. Marketing and mass media were the tools with which American business directly and indirectly created the new wants, the new needs, and the new culture, that we now identify as consumerism.
Those cultural traditions that supported consumption were emphasized. New cultural traditions were invented, existing traditions were transformed beyond recognition.
It was in this crucible that the modern Christmas was born. Christmas was re-written, it was transformed to serve the needs of a market predicated on selling ever more consumer goods to the working class.
Christmas today is little more than an amalgam of marketing strategies brought together under a faux cultural-religious brand. Any call to separate the tradition from the consumerism is now meaningless.
This piece was prompted by Ben Habib’s I’m Dreaming of a ‘Light’ Christmas.