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It’s that time of the year again. Teens are trading their beach bags for backpacks, stores are stocking school supplies, and suddenly everything is becoming pumpkin flavored. In California, it’s hard to tell the seasons apart besides stores starting to stock decorations two months before the actual holiday. Even though it’s become part of the culture now, I have always wondered why we celebrate the holidays with mass sales on candy, costumes, and decorations. I believe it is because that is how America was raised.
When researching the history of consumerism, I came across an article written by PBS about consumerism in the 1950s. The article starts off describing how consumerism began around the 1920s and evolved after the second world war. The article states, “The values associated with domestic spending upheld traditional American concerns with pragmatism and morality, rather than opulence and luxury.”
One of the key elements of consumerism in the 1950s was what consumers purchased. People living in a post-war age spent their money on useful items for the home and day-to-day living. Many people were sold on the idea of a “perfect life” by magazines, radios, and television ads. This stream of advertisements targeting specific lifestyles, especially families and young couples, led to the desire for an almost passive-aggressive competition with the neighborhood to have the best product on the market. This ideology of having the best, and constantly buying the newest model out there, was the new lifestyle.
This type of lifestyle has become integrated into today’s society in the form of people’s desire to own the newest Apple product or the latest car.
Consumerism is prevalent throughout America’s growth as a country, so it is no wonder why we desire to spend more. But I noticed that the country seems to grow even more anxious to spend money around holiday seasons. Another article, written by Niall McCarthy from Forbes, states, “… consumers projected to splash $9.1 billion on candy, decorations and costumes.” This much money being invested into Halloween, into one night of the year, is insane, yet it is becoming part of American culture to spend mass amounts of money. But why? What causes people to suddenly want to blow away money on the holidays?
I believe this is partly due to two factors: companies and competition. Many big name companies, such as Target, Wal-Mart, and Amazon, will lower prices on goods like decorations that are designed for a specific holiday. For example, the Yankee Candle Company has a whole collection of themed candle holders released just for Halloween. The collection is called the Boney Bunch and is only released during October. Once October is over, the year’s collection is no longer available and will not be sold again next year. This type of mentality from companies only feeds into the consumerism of Americans. Factor in the idea that there are new decorations every year, each more extravagant than the last, and you can start to see how this becomes part of the holiday norms. And it only gets worse as the more well known holidays start approaching.
We all know the mass mayhem that is Black Friday; people getting pepper sprayed over gaming systems, neighbors trampling each other for a new toy both of their kids want, even people stealing from others’ carts as they are leaving the store. This kind of behavior is only seen during this time of year due to the tantalizing prices that companies put on items for promotion. Overall, this takes away from the spirit of the season and turns into crass consumerism. Yet, it is not just competition between companies that is to blame. Many neighborhoods have insane battles between one another for the best lawn or house decorations each season.
During Halloween, there are countless haunted houses set up, some even charging for admission. They range from simple to extravagant, and each year they seem to get bigger and bigger. Flash forward to Christmas with inflatable yard decorations, projectors facing the house, and whole streets participating in decorating contests. Some even pass out candy canes to the people driving through to see the lights. And similar to the Halloween mazes, these get more extravagant each year. I imagine that this is partially due to people not only wanting to get into the spirit as well as a small desire to prove themselves to their neighbors and the community.
Some might say it is purely the spirit of the season, but then why do you need another skeleton or snowman in your yard?
Instead of spending countless dollars on cheap costumes, spend some time to understand what the holiday you’re celebrating is actually about. According to history.com, Halloween is about the Celtic belief that, “the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead become blurred.” The Celtic form of Halloween also involved a bonfire celebration on the same day. “During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins…” This explains the costumes we see today.
In American history, Halloween was not as popular as it is today due to the Protestant ideology of early colonies. History.com also explains the act of trick-or-treating. “Borrowing from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money,” Because of this, the original Celtic traditions of Halloween began to disappear.
Contrary to Halloween, many people know the history, or at least the religious reason, Christmas exists. Christians view the holiday as the birthday of Jesus, but Christians are not the only people who celebrate Christmas. According to history.com, “In Germany, people honor the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights… then decided who would prosper or perish.”
This could also fall in line with the idea of Krampus, or Santa’s evil counterpart. To summarize Krampus, he is an evil form of Santa, who kidnaps the children that misbehaved instead of bringing coal like his jolly parallel. Fortunately, Krampus is only fictional, but so is Santa. Originally a cartoon, Santa was made in 1881, according to history.com. As many people know, Santa’s likeness was used to sell Coca-Cola starting in the 1920s, as stated on the Coca-Cola website. Using Santa to sell Coca-Cola products during the Christmas season was the stepping stone for the commercialization of the holidays.
I personally am only slightly irked by the consumerist aspects of the holidays. My family doesn’t go out of Black Friday, we only buy about one to three decorations per holiday, and we are trying to make costumes instead of buying them. For my family, and myself, the idea of the holiday, and all it represents, is much more important than the price tag that’s put on it.
Unfortunately, the holidays have become less about the actual holiday and more about the commercialism and consumerism from companies.
What was once a holiday about Celtic rituals and deep traditions is now about cheap costumes and admission to a homemade haunted house. A holiday about the birth of a religious figure or the fear of a pagan god is now about a fat man in a suit and how many presents you can buy for your kids. It’s unfortunate but true, and unless we as a society decide to remember the roots of these holidays, they will always be remembered as another commercialized reason to spend money.
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