The Fetishisation of Christmas
Over the course of my life, Christmas has changed from a major religious holiday to a secular, commercialised undertaking. Although I am far from keen on the rampant consumerism that is now an integral part of the season, at its core Christmas is still about goodwill to others and a sense of coming together. So, if you’re expecting this to be a “Bah Humbug” post, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, I would like to focus on one aspect of Christmas culture that has grown exponentially over the years. It’s a phenomenon that seems to happen to most customs and rituals that persist in our consumer-focused society. Namely the fetishization of Christmas. By that I mean the way in which Christmas is packaged, marketed and shoe-horned into every possible commercial opportunity. We’ve reached a point culturally, where if we are exposed to a set of standardised faux seasonal stimuli, we are expected to have a specific Pavlovian response. For example, if I create a yuletide tableau featuring “snow”, “roaring fires” and “angelic children singing carols” one is contractually obliged to respond with what is colloquially referred to as “Christmas feels”.
If you do a little research, you soon discover that many of the customs and affectations of Christmas are bogus and were simply created by marketers. Our contemporary imagining of Santa Claus, ritual of decorating Christmas Trees, sending cards and the very meal we eat on Christmas day have all been shaped via commercial forces. Even a lot of the Christian heritage associated with Christmas has been taken from earlier pagan customs. Simply put Christmas has been distilled into a handful of arbitrary tropes and memes. A series of audio-visual cues that are designed to elicit a pre-programmed emotional response. Furthermore, these cultural markers are continuously added to, increasing the list of existing cues. Hence Christmas is effectively a fetish. By buying into the concept of Christmas (as it exists in a secular, consumer society), displaying and abiding by specific associated cultural markers (trees and lights, festive knitwear), one is signalling one’s participation in the process. Allegedly, the by-product of all this will be “fun” as you trigger all the associated cues.
Christmas in the non-Christian sense of the word has become one of many social occasions and events that are totally commodified. Christmas is now something that has effectively becomes a process. In fact, this seems to be a growing trend in our culture. In the past you would find obscure regional variations in seasonal festivities. Sadly, much of these have been eroded by more commercial activities. In fact, there is a growing trend of American origin, for all social occasions and activities to be formalised and standardised. Halloween has in recent years grown in popularity and spread throughout the UK and Europe with all its US commercial trappings. Senior schools now have a prom, again something that was conspicuously absent in my youth. Yet this insidious standardisation and commodification process, rather than engendering an event with real fun, actually seems to diminish it. Another aspect of this fetishization process are the self-appointed arbiters who feel compelled to ensure that everyone abides by the rules.
However, there is one positive aspect to emerge from this entire phenomenon. Because people are aware that many activities, rituals and traditions are artificial constructs, it empowers them to create their own. We can establish out own activities and habits among our own circle of friends and family and eschew those commercial ones that we dislike. The internet can be used to then propagate new ideas and help spread them globally. Plus, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that many of the pre-existing commercial activities associated with Christmas are still enjoyed by many people. I am certainly not advocating the denial of other peoples “fun”. I am merely contemplating its rectitude and longevity. From my experience the best social activities tend to happen organically. Trying to control all variables to force a specific outcome may well be prudent in science but is not exactly the best approach for social interaction. As for the fetishization of Christmas, the more it becomes homogenous and contrived, the more I shall pursue my own agenda. I suspect that over time, others may well do the same.