Christmas and the Recession

Upbeat Christmas music echoes through the streets. The music is often drowned out by the constant chatter of excited shoppers. Some are window shopping; others are carrying bags of presents. The flickering lights and fancy decorations add to the festive cheer.

Window displays and commercials have stopped advertising their products as being “the best” in the market. They are now striving to offer “the best Christmas” experience. Yet attempts to attain such perfection seems to be illusive.

Most individuals seem be on a quest to create the “perfect” Christmas. In some comments to the media about the upcoming festive season the Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, described such pressure as being “absurd and ridiculous.” He noted that relationships may be put under strain by too many expectations: “it puts pressure on relationships because when you’re short of money you argue.”

He urges families and individuals to “be generous in a way that shows love and affection rather than trying to buy love and affection.” We are often reminded that the Christmas season is one which celebrates generosity. Yet that generosity may sometimes be misplaced. Being generous with our time and in small hidden acts of kindness may not be as appealing as grand gestures of fancy presents and money.

Sometimes we may give gifts out of habit. On most occasions we may expect that our gift is reciprocated. However well-meaning, this habit may become insincere or in some cases hypocritical.

Christmas is a time when advertisers seem to make an added effort to get individuals to part with their hard earned money. In some cases they have been successful. In the United Kingdom, the average household in 2012 spent around £1,000 on Christmas. In view of the ongoing financial crisis, such levels of spending are both unsustainable and irresponsible.

These figures prompt some thoughts: does generosity necessarily depend on the amount of money we spend? Have we still retained the ability to find joy and beauty in the things which are accessible to all? Is our quest for perfection intrinsically tied to materialistic whims? Can we show love, affection and appreciation without resorting to grand gestures?

Welby gives some sensible advice: “save up for the Christmas budget, be sensible, don’t put pressure on your finances – don’t make your life miserable with Christmas. Share love and affection with reasonable gifts that demonstrate you rally care for someone. That makes for the best Christmas you could ever have.”

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