Or, How We Can Celebrate Christmas Without Pointless Consumerism
By Joseph Amir
Is there a way to celebrate Christmas while abstaining from Capitalism? I know that Christmas holds many fond memories of receiving presents and spending time with family for most of us. Still, American consumerist culture has distorted Christmas into a poor imitation of the original holiday, one that does not involve celebrating what Jesus stood for but instead stands for moving out holiday inventory as stores institute extended return policies and video game studios put the finishing touches on their blockbuster games so they can be purchased as Christmas gifts.
Stores put up their “Sale” banners, ready to take advantage of shoppers who set aside “gift money” so they can take as much of it as possible to pay their CEOs and line the pockets of their shareholders in dividends. If you’re as tired of letting your wealth trickle up as I am, my mixed religion family can teach you the way to combat this.
Raised in a split Jewish-Christian family, I didn’t really have much of an idea of Christmas because the only family in the United States was Jewish. As a result, I never looked forward to Christmas gifts because I already knew what I was getting, a $100 check from my grandparents, to spend however I liked. We celebrated Hanukkah very sedately, gathering at my grandparents house where the focus was not on gifts (not that I didn’t get any) but on social interaction. The value was in eating with your family, not making gift lists. This allowed me to free up mental energy that I would have focused on dreaming about the things I was going to get towards focusing on my family and spending this valuable time with my grandparents and parents.
But when I did discover Christmas, it was in a different form than most—Swedish Christmas. My mother is Swedish, and as a result I have been traveling to and from Uppsala and Stockholm ever since I was 6 months old. I don’t remember my first Swedish Christmas exactly because I was very young, but I do know that I’m absolutely in love with the traditions surrounding it. The focus is not on gift lists, or what you can buy, it lies squarely on family and spending time with those whom you love.
We start off the month with the Julkalender, a 24-part miniseries aired each year on SVT (the Swedish equivalent of PBS), from December 1st until Christmas Eve. It is a miniseries centering around children, usually 10-14 years old, and deals with the spirit of Christmas. It is different every year, but always revolves around saving Christmas from some sort of threat. After we watch the Julkalender together, we will spend some more time together and look forward to Christmas Eve (when the Swedes celebrate) where we will get together and eat and drink traditional Swedish fare.
Gifts are commonplace, yes, but the focus is not on what we will get and I can’t recall seeing sales anywhere nearly as heavily promoted as here in the US. We spend time with our family, whom we love, and we talk, eat, drink, and are merry. But then again, maybe that’s only something you can do in a culture where wealth inequality is extremely low, taxes are high, and social services are available for all who need them. Either way, be the first step towards change and spend your money on your family in a better, more mindful way, and remember that no matter who buys something for you or not, you are all family and you all love each other the best way you know how.
Melanie Moyer '22,