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Holiday Consumerism: True Meaning Lost?

Holiday consumerism has increasingly clouded the true meaning of celebrations that come around nearly once a month, but how much has it really changed over the years?

Start by considering your personal holiday commitments. Have you made Christmas plans with your family? Worried about all those presents you’ll have to purchase? Or maybe you’re just getting someone a piece of card, putting it inside an envelope and shipping it around the world, when maybe a simple phone call and “hello” would suffice?

This might sound cynical…But if a simple card would suffice for your entire family, that probably wouldn’t be that bad. It’s the billions of dollars Americans spend on gifts, food and decorations for the holidays (that come up nearly every month), that has us screaming in the face of consumerism.

Major celebrations that have lost true meaning to holiday consumerism:

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day roots back to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian day in the year 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day.

Pope Gelasius most likely didn’t have the divine foresight to predict the consumerist depths to which the holiday has plummeted. Shops fill with all those red, pink and “gushing with love” but isn’t it all just stuff? Meaningless fodder. A cheap representation of our deepest emotions?

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St. Patrick’s Day

What began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland has become an international festival celebrating Irish culture with parades, dancing, special foods and a whole lot of green.

Again, is all that green and blatant alcoholism a direct representation of the holiday? It’s now become more about wearing green, buying green decorations and an excuse to party than the acceptance and celebration of Irish culture. Is it all just a mess of green?

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Easter

Easter, of course was formed as a celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and Christianity’s most important holiday.

The oldest tradition is to use dyed and painted chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionary to give as gifts. The Easter Bunny was designed as a mythical being who would visit children on the sacred day to deliver this chocolate.

So how did a religious celebration go from a hearty, protein-filled egg to an excuse to fill children up with sugar? It’s a wonder predominantly-Christian countries don’t have an obesity problem… oh wait.

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Halloween

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain – a Celtic Festival. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween.

Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular community-based event that involved candy and child-friendly dress-up activities and was adopted all around the world. So history defines the holiday as the night before a celebration of saints and today the day after Halloween is a sore stomach for children, and head for many adults. Billions of dollars is spent on costumes and Halloween candy across the United States alone. Pumpkins, decorations, buckets of candy, is that what Pope Gregory III had envisioned?

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Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving is most well known as the celebration of the first harvest in the New World in October 1621 by the Pilgrims. The feast lasted three days, and – accounted by Edward Winslow – it was attended by 90 Native Americans. This story has been told for generations, although, the story fails to highlight that the same Pilgrims slaughtered those Native Americans in the coming years. Some believe this is why we shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving.

There’s also the consumerism associated with Thanksgiving. In 2015 consumers spent $1.73 billion, 25 per cent more than in 2014 on Thanksgiving, the number continues to grow as Americans become further enticed by holiday spending.

Christmas

Christmas Day is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed commonly on December 25 among billions of people around the world. The majority of the world knows and loves Christmas. As most know, Santa Claus is the jolly patron of Christmas, formally derived from the story of St Nicolas. Although, what many don’t know is that the soda company, Coca-Cola, influenced the Santa narrative told to children today.  

Many people are surprised to learn that prior to 1931, Santa was depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf. In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department-store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. From 1931-1964 Mizen’s Santa was shown in Coke ads all across the world. This is how Coca-Cola shaped the Santa we know today and consumerism started to take the true meaning of Christmas from the holiday. Christmas seems more about the presents, the food and the decorations than a true celebration of Christ.

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So are all these holidays too commercialized? Too focused on materialistic goals rather than the true meaning of each celebration? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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