Constraints, con­su­me and was­te. For most, Christmas in 2022. But is the­re still much left of the fes­ti­ve spi­rit? Not really.

For years, I have regar­ded Christmas as a cho­re rather than a fes­ti­ve act. I would rush into the cent­re of town at the very last moment becau­se I wan­ted to gift every sin­gle acquain­tance that I had. Within a few hours, I had collec­ted and wrap­ped every pre­sent ever so swift­ly. But when real­ly thin­king about it, you rea­li­se that this blind con­su­me­rism is not fes­ti­ve at all. Bigger, brigh­ter, more expen­si­ve — That’s the mot­to for most on Christmas. No one is hol­ding back on the money they spend. Christmas sales are making up at least 20 per­cent of the annu­al reve­nue. It pro­ves to show: For Germans, Christmas is all about buy­ing. An expen­si­ve watch for the part­ner, Christmas deco­ra­ti­on kitsch for the neigh­bour next door or a remote­controlled racing car for the child­ren that will not be of use nor inte­rest and will two days after inten­sive care be collec­ting dust in the cor­ner or doesn’t even func­tion any­mo­re. What stays is an empty wal­let, medi­o­c­re memo­ries of ano­ther Consumer­-, par­don, Christmas and of cour­se, a few kilo­gram­mes more on the sca­le from eating too much of the sump­tuous Christ­mas din­ner which’s lef­tovers no one was able to indul­ge. It isn’t so much about the high per­sonal or emo­tio­nal value of the act of gif­ting, rather than the com­pe­ti­ti­on of the best pre­sent. One wants to be able to boast and brag about how much money went into gif­ting and invests hours into extra­va­gant pack­a­ging for the short “wow­-fac­tor” befo­re the wrap­ping is final­ly being torn into pie­ces. Not sel­dom­ly, on the obli­ga­to­ry annu­al fes­ti­ve visit, exten­ded fami­ly does not even rely on pro­per pres­ents any­mo­re but resorts back to ran­dom­ly picked cards with cats or to a grea­ter or les­ser extend fun­ny joke and a bit of cash.

Money, money, money

But with such con­su­mer beha­viour, the only ones pro­fi­t­ing ulti­mate­ly are retailers, alt­hough the argu­ment could still be made that one only wants to streng­t­hen the local eco­no­my. Only lar­ge cor­po­ra­ti­ons like Amazon, which are incre­a­singly respon­si­ble for the extinc­tion of inner cities due to poor working con­di­ti­ons and cheap mass­produced pro­ducts, deri­ve the grea­test bene­fit from this beha­viour. What hap­pened to the cele­bra­ti­on of altru­ism? Where has the time of visi­t­ing and gif­ting your fami­ly and friends out of affec­tion gone rather than pure respon­si­bi­li­ty and social pres­su­re? Since the 19th cen­tu­ry sci­en­tists, poli­to­lo­gists and socio­lo­gists have been dis­pu­ting the sub­ject of gif­ting. American eco­no­mist Gordon Tullock went as far to say that a gift is always inten­ded to incre­a­se one’s own stan­ding and repu­ta­ti­on, and in 1996 the eco­no­mists Amihai Glazer and Kai Konrad theo­ri­sed that gifts should always sym­bo­li­se your own pro­spe­ri­ty out­ward­ly as well. So much for the altru­is­tic fes­ti­val of cha­ri­ty and the colour­ful­ly wrap­ped packa­ges under the Nordmann fir.

O Christmas Tree

Speaking of the Christmas tree, the mind­less con­su­me­rism natu­ral­ly doesn’t end with the pres­ents. Around 30 mil­li­on fir trees were fel­led in 2019 for a simp­le tra­di­ti­on, and that trend is rising. That’s 30 mil­li­on trees that fill homes with need­les for a few weeks and will be thrown on the side of the road by the new year at the latest, accord­ing to the mot­to “Out of sight, out of mind”. There is alrea­dy a more sus­tainab­le alter­na­ti­ve with reus­able fir trees in pots. At the cur­rent tree pri­ces, it pays for its­elf after just one year and is also signi­fi­cant­ly more envi­ron­ment­al­ly friend­ly. But humans are crea­tures of habit and what our ances­tors did hund­reds of years ago seems per­fect­ly fine from that point of view. The fir tree in the living room is hea­vi­ly hung with spar­k­ling bau­bles, tin­sel and fla­shing fai­ry lights in an exem­pla­ry house­hold natu­ral­ly hoar­ding boxes of Christ­mas tree orna­ments in the cel­lar or attic in order to be pre­pa­red for the next tree decora­tion trends every year. Of cour­se, this does not stop at pri­va­te house­holds. In addi­ti­on to that, cities also have to jump on this trend on a much lar­ger sca­le. The “Douglas fir” on Halle’s mar­ket squa­re is a full 25 metres tall and illu­mi­na­tes the Christmas mar­ket with over two thousand LED lights. In January, that majes­tic fir will pro­bab­ly disap­pear again. But does the fest of con­tem­pla­ti­on real­ly have to take place like this annu­al­ly? For my part, I will devo­te this year’s Christ­mas ent­i­re­ly to altru­ism. Baking coo­kies with my flat share, a small fir tree in a pot and no shop­ping spree a few days befo­re Christmas but ins­tead, well thought­out, per­so­na­li­sed gifts for tho­se peop­le who real­ly mean a lot to me in life.

Text: Till Menzel
Translation: Marlene Nötzold
Pictures: Any Lane, Kaique Rocha (via Pexels)

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