A few brief thoughts on Christmas and Consumerism

Over the weekend I watched ‘What Would Jesus Buy?’, a documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock on the commercialisation of Christmas, the prevalent materialism over the holiday season, and the effects on American society.

On a slight tangent – It’s a fascinating watch, especially if you’re a Christian. The focus of the documentary is following ‘Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping’ on an evangelistic tour. The fascinating bit is that Rev Billy is not a Reverend, he’s a character – a hybrid of street preacher and televangelist, he spreads the message of the evils of consumerism and materialism using a choir, and often in churches. He even prays for people. You could see it as irreverent (and it probably is) but nonetheless it’s certainly interesting.

In the documentary, which includes thoughts from Jim Wallis among others, Rev Billy says this- “If we could change Christmas, we could change the whole year”. My question is, what could you change about Christmas (both as an individual and as a community / society) to improve it?

What would an improved Christmas even look like?

I’m not sure, but leaving aside the ‘real meaning of Christmas’ discussions, I’m certain it wouldn’t be so focused on buying stuff.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve read three blogs on how to make a change at Christmas that I think are great – Man vs Debt’s What Christmas Is NOT About, Wealth Artisan’s 5 Money Saving Tips For Christmas and Zen Habits’ The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents. Well worth reading.

On the back of that, here are a couple of my own thoughts of small changes we as consumers could make in our approach to Christmas:

1.       Give one gift, not loads.

I don’t understand why people buy tons of gifts for each other at Christmas. I’m being hypocritical here, as that’s exactly what we’ve done this year, but if anything says ‘consumer’ it’s buying multiple unrelated gifts –no? If you bought that person one thing rather than four or five, you’d have to think harder about what to get them. Giving loads of gifts is the easy way out. Agree?

2.       Make gifts and decorations

You may be thinking ‘I can’t make anything!’. Certainly this one is easier for some people than others. However, I think anyone can give it a shot. I imagine if you’ve got kids, this would provide hours of great activities. This year so far we’ve given plenty of ‘Brown-brand’ gifts to people, including from our grapevine, grape jam and grape rum. If you’re expecting a Christmas present from us this year, I hope you like chutney.

In the same vein, we’re sporting some natural Christmas decorations this year. One of the benefits of living in a semi-rural area like we do (that picture at the top isn’t a stock photo) is that we can get holly, ivy and berries in abundance. So Kat went out, foraged some foliage and arranged it tastefully. All this was done in the space of an afternoon, the same amount of time it would take us to drive into town and buy some decorations.  Kat’s also made some homemade tree decorations.

I’d love to get your thoughts on Christmas – it seems like every family and community does it slightly differently. For example, my Brazilian friend was telling me that back home their main dinner is late on Christmas Eve, and this weekend me and Kat are going to a ‘white elephant gift exchange’ which must be an American thing.

So, does Christmas need changing? What would an improved Christmas look like? And how would that affect the rest of the year?


~ by jgebrown on 15 December 2010.

6 Responses to “A few brief thoughts on Christmas and Consumerism”

  1. What a thoughtful article! I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve heard of that Reverend character. Some of the pictures I’ve seen are interesting to say the least. He’s been arrested on multiple occasions attempting to excise the consumerist demons out of Wal-Mart employees.

    Thank you very much for the mention. To answer your question, I absolutely believe that Christmas needs a change. I’m sure you could gather that from my article. It’s time to get away from the “one size fits all” mass-produced items and get back to the basics of just appreciating each other. Great job on this article!


  2. Hi Josh,

    Interesting that your views of Christmas are very much as Christmas was when I was a child and I am not ‘that’ much older than you! We were only given a gift that we needed, new shoes or a new coat, (love to get either for Christmas these days). I remember my mum making my sister and myself anoraks for Christmas and I just so wanted a ‘normal Marks and Spencers one like everyone else…..now it would be wonderful to have one specially made for you and so much more expensive.
    Christmas was special then because you had things that you would never have the rest of the year, fizzy drinks, prawns, box of chocolates to name a few. These days you tend to have these at any time so everyone is looking for something more at Christmas but what more is there?
    The very point of giving should give more pleasure than receiving but that seems to be lost now and what about it’s the thought that counts? Life goes around in circles and times are changing, let’s hope it changes for the better.

    Denise xxx

    • Interesting thoughts Denise – thanks for commenting. It’s so true that most people have everything they need, and more, so does that mean the pleasure has gone out of giving? Or just that we need to be more intentional in the giving of gifts?

  3. Something I’ve been thinking of lately, inspired by Mark Driscoll’s post about Santa: http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/mark_driscoll/2010/12/what_we_tell_our_kids_about_santa.html

    Having read it, I’ve decided that when I have kids I’m not going to pretend Santa exists. I’ve sometimes had a problem with the racial and class implications of the idea of an old caucasian guy going around bestowing gifts on the world’s population, but also the idea of lying to kids. If I’m lying to them about Santa, how are they to know I’m not lying to them about God? WDYT?

    • Yeah – read that when you posted it on facebook I think. I agree with Driscoll, makes a lot of sense and seems a good way to go. I can’t even remember being told Santa was real or not, I presume my parents told me early on that he wasn’t…? You could also argue that if you perpetuate the Santa thing or the ‘spirit of Christmas’ that Santa (mostly through Coke ads) stands for, you’re both lying and being irresponsible. However, I won’t!

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