No time like the present: Capitalism threatens holiday traditions


Allie Pigg

I remember the Christmas of 2008 when my little brother got his classic red and yellow Little Tikes Cozy Coupe. He had been waiting for the kid-sized plastic car all year and shot out of his room on Christmas Day, his footsteps waking me up as he trotted by.
I eased my way out of bed and down the hall to find him admiring his new plastic hot rod, which had a huge red bow on top. He was so happy that morning, riding his coupe around the house like he was driving a sports car. His joy collapsed, however, when I opened a box containing a Nintendo DSi, a gift he decided he wanted, as well.
For the rest of that Christmas morning, my young brother pouted and argued that it wasn’t fair for me to get the DSi if he didn’t.  
While part of my brother’s frustration was doubtless caused by natural sibling jealousy, I’ve started to believe it’s partly because of what our society has done with Christmas. Our greed for presents has taken over the holiday.  
In fourth century Rome, Pope Julius I chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25, and a carnival-like atmosphere was to surround the holiday where the rich gifted their best food and drink to the poor, according to an article from While the first Christmas created the tradition of giving presents, time has transformed the custom into a distraction of the true meaning of the holiday.
Today’s Christian churches stress the magic of Christmas time to children, teaching that it’s the celebration of the Savior’s birth and that they must be the best Christians they can be during the season by showing humbleness and grace. Because of this, the children I have worked with in my own church fortunately understand that Christmas isn’t just a holiday for their parents to buy them something they’ve been asking for all year.
Yet the idea of presents still lingers in the mind of every child leading up to the last month of the year. How much they want that XBOX will dictate how they act during the month of December, not the moral principles of Christianity.
The abundant capitalist society that America has become may be to blame for this unwanted transformation of Christmas. According the Gallop News, Americans spend, on average, $99 every day in the month of December, higher than any other month. Having expensive electronics go on sale and advertisements available at every sight make it hard for individuals to not get wrapped up in giving and receiving gifts.
In an article on his website, financial expert Dave Ramsey explains how the generosity of giving stimulates the brain into a state of joy and peace, which make people live longer and happier. The good feelings wear off, however, when the stress of buying for every friend and family member outweighs the benefits associated with giving. Buying gifts is important to express compassion but not important enough to let it take over the entire Christmas season.
Instead of focusing on Christmas presents, society needs to turn back and focus on Christmas presence. We need to embrace the importance of being together with one another and block out the sounds of the shuffling of gifts that Christmas has become surrounded by. In 2014, The Huffington Post highlighted what Christmas is like for a family from Wise, Va., named the Brittons, who only earn $10,000 per year. For people set on the idea that the holiday is about presents, reading such situation may lead them to believe the Britton’s holiday lacked happiness and cheer. Despite eating their Christmas dinner through a local food pantry and not being able to afford any gifts for their 11-year-old son, Justin, the Brittons made their December special through watching Christmas movies, playing board games and simply spending time together.
Thus, it’s possible for Christmas to be just as magical without presents.
Christmas is one of the big holidays that everyone tries to come home for. It’s not just a day to glorify an event in the Bible; rather, it’s a season of reunion and reconnection. Focusing on presents can take away from this important aspect of Christmas. A friend or family member could be so worried about who to buy gifts for and what to buy for them that it distracts them from the excitement of loved ones coming home. There are not enough Christmases in our lifetime to be so frantic about giving things that we miss out on the giving of ourselves.
On Dec. 26, we easily get bored with our new iPhone or Cozy Coupe, but the impact of engaging in the holiday with friends and family stays with us for the rest of the year. Every year I, among others at RBHS, have a holiday party with friends that includes variations of Secret Santa or White Elephant games, where we all contribute small gifts to give as jokes or treats. It is never the gifts that bring my group of friends together to these parties, rather it’s the feeling of togetherness and joy in celebrating the season that makes them so memorable. Gifts are a fun bonus to Christmas festivities, but they aren’t the main reason why those dear to us want to come home.
To illustrate the madness of what Christmas has become with presents, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Dr. Seuss portrays the Grinch as a wicked, green monster who “steals” Christmas. The Grinch dresses up as Saint Nicholas and proceeds to enter each house in Whoville, taking each present from every Christmas tree. As a child, I always characterized the Grinch in my mind as a mean, bitter man because who in their right mind would want to steal Christmas? After experiencing a few more Christmases and pondering on the story’s meaning, however, I have realized maybe the Grinch wasn’t so terrible after all. Maybe, I’ve discovered, the Grinch’s act of “stealing” Christmas was actually him returning what Christmas is really about.
This season, we should be more like the Grinch, but not by breaking into our neighbors’ houses and stealing gift-wrapped boxes. This Christmas, when the air is turning crisper and silver bells begins to ring in our ears, we should get rid of the presents and return the presence. This year, instead of buying presents, I plan on making smaller, yet personalized gifts that my family will hopefully enjoy more so than expensive investments, and I also plan on putting my phone away for Christmas Day. While families may not approve of the complete elimination of Christmas presents, we can start with little steps, such as staying off of social media at Christmas parties to focus on being with the loved ones surrounding us. With time, the importance of the season’s ability to unite people, rather than circulate presents, will be obvious and appreciated.
Afterall, being together may be the best gift of all.