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Between Charlie Brown’s ranting against a commercialized Christmas (between commercial breaks) and the Grinch’s annual epiphany (“What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”), we try early and often to instill kids with an appreciation for the holiday’s more intangible blessings.
However, even those of us who grew up before the proliferation of unboxing videos knew these messages are mixed at best, and the cultural emphasis on Black Friday (even from those looking on in mock horror) suggests we’re even more in thrall to a consumerist lifestyle than ever before.
The following authors may seem like they’re just feeding into the same system – after all, they do have a book to sell you – but they’ve used their moment on the soapbox to remind us what our society trades away in exchange for that cheap, ephemeral jolt of dopamine that we get from spending. Are we really spreading good cheer, or are we just a bunch of junkies enabling each other – and delaying the inevitable post-Christmas crash as long as possible?
As a certain yuletide prophet might say: “Good grief!”
Aldous Huxley, Island, 1962
“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are overconsuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.”
Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh, 1982
“The Christmas presents once opened are Not So Much Fun as they were while we were in the process of examining, lifting, shaking, thinking about, and opening them. Three hundred sixty-five days later, we try again and find that the same thing has happened. Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we’re off to reach the next one, then the next one, then the next.”
William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984
“The mall crowds swaying like wind-blown grass, a field of flesh shot through with sudden eddies of need and gratification”
Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary, 1996
“Ugh. Would that Christmas could just be, without presents. It is just so stupid, everyone exhausting themselves, miserably haemorrhaging money on pointless items nobody wants: no longer tokens of love but angst-ridden solutions to problems…What is the point of entire nation rushing round for six weeks in a bad mood preparing for utterly pointless Taste-of-Others exam which entire nation then fails and gets stuck with hideous unwanted merchandise as fallout? If gifts and cards were completely eradicated, then Christmas as pagan-style twinkly festival to distract from lengthy winter gloom would be lovely. But if government, religious bodies, parents, tradition, etc. insist on Christmas Gift Tax to ruin everything why not make it that everyone must go out and spend £500 on themselves then distribute the items among their relatives and friends to wrap up and give to them instead of this psychic-failure torment?”
Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby, 2002
“Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?”
Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future, 1961
“This society is essentially a consumers’ society where leisure time is used no longer for self-perfection or acquisition of more social status, but for more and more consumption and more and more entertainment…To believe that such a society will become more “cultured” as time goes on and education has done its work, is, I think, a fatal mistake. The point is that a consumers’ society cannot possibly know how to take care of a world and the things which belong exclusively to the space of worldly appearances, because its central attitude toward all objects, the attitude of consumption, spells ruin to everything it touches.”
Lisa Jackson, Ready to Die, 2013
“Nothing says Peace on Earth like guns and string bikinis.”
Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, 1988
“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843
“They are Man’s and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”
Janet Evanovich, Visions of Sugar Plums, 2002
“Everyone wants a Christmas tree. If you had a Christmas tree Santa would bring you stuff! Like hair curlers and slut shoes.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree, 2004
“Hey, great idea: if you have kids, give your partner reading vouchers next Christmas. Each voucher entitles the bearer to two hours’ reading time while the kids are awake. It might look like a cheapskate present, but parents will appreciate that it costs more in real terms than a Lamborghini.”
Stephen King, Bag of Bones, 1998
“I stood for almost an hour in a line of shuffling, bitter-eyed late mailers (Christmas is such a carefree, low-pressure time — that’s one of the things I love about it)…”
Jeanette Winterson, Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days, 2016
“Christmas is about community, collaboration, celebration. Done right, Christmas can be an antidote to the Me First mentality that has rebranded capitalism as neo-liberalism. The shopping mall isn’t our true home, nor is it a public space, though, as libraries, parks, playgrounds, museums and sports facilities disappear, for many the fake friendliness of the mall is the only public space left, apart from the streets”
E.B. White, The Second Tree from the Corner, 1954
“To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.”