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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