Christmas and Capitalism

I was in India recently, and nearing Christmas and engaging in sometimes frivolous conversation with rickshaw drivers and the like, I often asked “what happens at Christmas time here?”  – The general consensus amongst all that I asked was “a really big party”. – Nothing unusual there.  But I had to ask, because I had to wonder.  – There aren’t decorations sprawling streetwards from businesses, or climbing lightpoles and strangling trees.  Christmas music doesn’t filter from speakers in lifts or lobbies or halls or rooms.  And there is very little (if any) advertising for “Christmas bargains!” or anything of the sort.

Across one small span of ocean from India’s east coast however, you will find Christmas has taken on a traditional flavour of the sort we are more used to here in the western world.  In Singapore, carols infest almost every space, with version upon version of all of the tunes we’ve come to know.  There’s advertising on walls, televisions, radios, buses, trains and their stations – the list is almost endless.  And I realize finally, after much detachment from the Christmas that I am used to, that we’re only a matter of days away, and the typical push for consumption and money that we see in the western world is indeed, slowly filtering in to the east.  Ah modern consumer culture.

But why not yet in India?  – Is this some measure of capitalism’s impression on a nation’s thinking?  Is it a sign of just how far Singapore has come, and how far India is from really being the player on the world stage that they are hoping to be? (Don’t tell them).  Look up how they celebrate Christmas in for example, Vietnam, Africa, Peru, Samoa or Uzbekistan (all of which aren’t yet dictated by capitalist ideas) and the focus seems to invariably be on celebrating family and feasting (just like India) – not spending and consuming.

The fact of the matter is that now – more so than ever – Christmas is a time when retailers can push consumers to give their profits one last positive kick for the year.  It’s the months leading in to it that determine whether or not salespeople hit their targets, and if you’re part of this machine (as we inevitably are in western society), you’ll jump right on to the train of thought that Christmas capitalism teaches.  What’s the point of really pushing for that consumer dollar (or rupee, as it were) if they haven’t yet inherited our culture of consumption and growth?

Seriously though, do we (or does anyone) really need an excuse to encourage consumerism in today’s consumption and growth-driven society? Where over-consumption and the inherent consequences of it (pollution, waste, global warming, climate change, death, greed, hunger, excess, detachment, escapism – the list is almost endless) are continuously and increasingly inhibiting and harming our lives and futures.

Are retail and commercial organizations not simply “cashing in on Christmas” in order to improve their bottom line? Is the fact that India wasn’t gearing up for Christmas (even in December) – where big spending of a commercial nature is only now starting to really grow – some measure of their society’s ability (or current inability) to contribute cash to the machine that Christmas has become?

The point isn’t to get back into church, and pick up your bible and speak to “god” (whoever yours might be) on Christmas day. The point is that the capitalist machine further and further infiltrates more and more aspects of our lives, wherever and whenever it can.  Getting back in touch with giving thanks for family, friends and our relationships, and sharing merriment ought to be far more important, especially over the behest of capitalism’s grave desire for growth – or should we call it a majority contribution to the destruction of our earth?  I’m sure the rest of the world will soon follow suit, because money is most important, right?

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