The Daily Illini

The sad, increasing materialism during the holidays

By Jessie Webster

I live for the holiday season. Each year on November 1, I hurriedly switch out my Halloween pumpkin and replace it with tinsel and holly. I’ve been known to start listening to Christmas music in October.

You could even say I’m one of “those people;” the one who is already in full holiday spirit before Thanksgiving, and has a “Countdown to Christmas” app on their phone. We all have that person in our life, and if you can’t think of anyone, it’s probably you.

I’d like to argue that my love of the holiday season isn’t my fault; it’s been ingrained in me.

One of my earliest childhood memories is taking in the Christmas Holiday Windows outside Chicago’s iconic Marshal Field building and then getting dinner under the giant Christmas tree inside. Every year, my parents and I wake up at dawn on Black Friday to pick out our own perfect Christmas tree.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized there was one common denominator in all of these fond holiday memories: materialism.

Whether you recognize Christmas, Hannukah or any other holiday celebration — religious or not — chances are presents are involved.

Businesses know this, and like a bowl full of jelly, their bellies are shaking with laughter all the way to the bank.

It’s not a coincidence that outdoor shopping malls often have live turkeys on display during Thanksgiving, or that they invite Santa to approve the wish-lists of all little good girls and boys. They want us to associate spending money with the holidays.

For most of us, this isn’t breaking news, that’s just the way things have always been. However, in a time of such political and social unrest in our country and throughout the world, now more than ever the holidays must be about doing good for humankind rather than spending time, energy and money on material items.

For many Americans, most holiday shopping is done the day after Thanksgiving, which has been referred to as “Black Friday” since the early 1960s, in reference to the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that occurs on the day after Thanksgiving.

Fifty years later, it has become one of the most important retail holidays of the year. In 2014, Americans spent $12.29 billion over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, according to CNN Money. [http://money.cnn.com/2014/11/29/news/economy/black-friday-early-estimates/]

While retailers offer significant deals during this period, the dilemma for many Americans has become whether or not to spend time relaxing at home or to go out and fight strangers to get the best bargain.

Recently, Staples and H&M both announced that they will stay closed on Thanksgiving this year, assumedly to give both their employees and customers the option to spend time with their families instead. The outdoor specialty chain REI even took it a step farther, announcing that their stores will remain closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

And, while several years ago such a decision to remain closed during one of the most profitable weekends of the year may have seemed unthinkable for many retailers, today their decision seems to be paying off.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mike Griswold, research vice president for the research firm Gartner, said that remaining closed on Thanksgiving can lead to increased brand loyalty from shoppers.

“I have not really seen or heard any negative backlash from folks being closed on Thanksgiving,” Griswold said. “I think what we started to realize is, ‘We can garner some goodwill. We aren’t necessarily going to take a huge hit financially by being closed on Thursday when we’re going to be open again on Friday.’” http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-retailers-thanksgiving-20151111-story.html

If retail stores are starting to stick out there neck and risk financial losses to make a statement about the holiday season, then consumers should embrace it, and run with it.

With time not spent worried about whether or not to go shopping, perhaps families could spend Thanksgiving evening serving food at a homeless shelter.

Or, rather than focusing on buying presents for one another, donate food to your local food pantry. Write a letter to a soldier overseas who will not be spending the holidays with his or her family.

It is neither realistic nor necessary to vilify the entire gift-giving tradition during the holidays. Many people view giving or receiving a gift as another way of sharing legitimate appreciation for one another.

However, the culture of competition and outdoing one another that is fostered by retailers incessant badgering to buy gifts and decorations has no place during the holidays.

As Dr. Seuss so famously wrote in the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” the feeling of happiness and thankfulness that surrounds Christmas, and the holiday season in general, is not something that can come from a store. It resides in our ability to love and to be kind to another. And that, more than anything else, is priceless.

Jessie is a junior in Media.

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