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Unseasonal thoughts!

This is a very random post, and an idiosyncratic line of thought – so be warned!

Christmas isn’t nearly upon us, it’s a good two weeks away. We all know that for the last few decades, shops have started trying to drum up Christmas trade very early – and for the last couple of years I’ve noticed some ads for Christmas shopping starting around August! But in my childhood, which was admittedly quite a long time ago now, the ‘Christmas season’ started the week before the day itself. Indeed if you read Charles Dickens, you’ll see that many people didn’t really start celebrating or dealing with Christmas until the day before, or even the morning of Christmas Day (in those days you’d still find butchers, bakers and grocers open on Christmas morning, I think).

Well, times have changed. It’s not just turkey farmers who have to start production early to get the birds on people’s Christmas tables; pretty much all the stores have to order stuff well in advance for it to be shipped halfway round the world, etc., and that gives them several months to try to drum up interest in what they’re going to sell. These days, even I get interested in the event a month or so in advance – but that’s because I’m ordering a lot of presents online and want them to arrive by post and in time.

But in all this, spare a thought for the people whose birthdays fall around Christmas. For example V’s birthday is just the week before.  Does she want her birthday overshadowed by all the other festivities? No. So in our house, Christmas decorations only go up a few days before, once the birthday is out of the way.

Offhand, actually, I can’t think of any other culture where a regular annual event dominates the calendar the way Christmas does in Western societies. Chinese New Year? Nope – it falls around the beginning of February but when I lived somewhere that celebrated it big time, I never saw advertising for it until about two weeks before. Historically, the only events I can think of that took half a year’s preparation and involved an entire population were probably things like coronations, royal weddings, or wars!

This all looks to me like commodity reification; ‘the thingification of social relations to the extent that the nature of social relationships is expressed by the relationships between traded objects’.

Maybe there’s a case to start treating Christmas like a potlach? I quote: ‘At potlatch gatherings, a family or hereditary leader hosts guests in their family’s house and holds a feast for their guests. The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth… Different events take place during a potlatch, like either singing and dances, sometimes with masks or regalia … the barter of wealth through gifts … and sometimes money. … Typically the potlatching is practiced more in the winter seasons as historically the warmer months were for procuring wealth for the family, clan, or village, then coming home and sharing that with neighbors and friends.’

Under modern-day circumstances, how could we replicate this? Short answer – banks and governments could give out large bonuses or  tax refunds, or declare tax holidays, for the whole of December and payable right around now. And retailers could start giving selected things away free.

I wonder if the idea of the Christmas potlach will take off soon!

(Note – yes, I did include ‘fantasy’ as a tag deliberately!)

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  1. December 13, 2010 at 12:19 am

    By the time Christmas comes around, I think many of us are jaded by the constant input everywhere we go of folk selling Christmas. By the time the DAY comes around, I’m ready to heave a sigh of relief! Not only is it difficult to ensure you’ve got everything, been everywhere and contacted everybody you SHOULD have, but you’re broke, tired and ready for Boxing day. No wonder every comedy has Christmas scenes of folk falling asleep amid the festivities!

  2. December 13, 2010 at 12:42 am

    I agree – by the time the big day comes around, so much effort has gone into the preparations Christmas itself can be an anticlimax!

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