I’ve never been a fan of Christmas. I have no unease with Christians celebrating their festival – I rather like Christmas carols. What I can’t bear is the Commercialmass that goes alongside it – the overconsumption, the waste, the pressure on poor people to overspend, the stress, misery and damage. The amount of wrapping paper we have to send to landfill because it’s not recyclable is hideous.
Having a minimal, lockdown Christmas has helped. I bowed out of gifting this year – we just couldn’t cope on top of everything else that has happened. It was a relief not to have to deal with that, and not to deal with the shopping, and the people in shops, and all the rest of it. Having a little more space has really got me thinking about why this festival is so pressured.
We’re seeing the same pressures build around other points in the calendar – Valentines, Easter, Mothering Sunday, Father’s Day and Halloween are all becoming commercial festivals with pressure to spend money. This is what constant growth looks like – we have to find more things to spend more money on, because if we don’t, we can’t have growth. Our economic structures depend on growth, which is a design flaw, not something inevitable.
It struck me, in thinking about this, that wanting economic growth actually creates pressure for population growth. A shrinking population would tend to shrink an economy. It’s the poor workers at the bottom of the ladder who create the wealth, and as ever more wealth gets siphoned off by those who already have most, we will need more people to create more economic activity to create more wealth for the few.
This is not something we can easily tackle as individuals. However, we can challenge the stories about what’s good during festivals – we can put forward alternatives and resist engaging in throwaway consumerism. Better to go for a small amount of what’s good and valuable rather than lots of tat that will end up in the bin. We can stand up for other people’s rights to control their family sizes. We can resist stories that simply blame the numbers of poor people for pressures on the planet – because while I would agree that a smaller population would be a good idea, it’s the ten percent who have most that need dealing with far more urgently than the fifty percent who have least.
What we need, when we celebrate, is human contact and meaningful engagement. You can’t buy that. It doesn’t come from a store. Beyond a certain point, more wealth does not equate to more happiness – once our needs are met, wealth does little good for a person. We need festivals that enrich communities and bring us together, not festivals that make us poor and damage the planet with over-consumption.