‘Tis the Season to Consume

SALE signs in shop
SALE signs in shop
Photo by Sadiya Teeple

If you ever want to experience true madness, just go shopping during the holiday season. Flocking through crowds in the mall, fighting over deals is nothing short of an Olympic sport.  

Online shopping is also a frenzy, with occasions like Cyber Monday causing flash sales that have caused popular sites to crash. In the spirit of giving- and receiving, we are bombarded with calls to consumerism.  

The average Canadian spent around $1,276 on holiday shopping in 2020. This year, economic uncertainty has led people to lower their holiday budgets, with 41 per cent of Canadians planning to only buy what their family needs.  

During a season of rampant marketing, though, can we remember what we actually need? Many critics have bashed the commercialization of the holidays. Not to mention the environmental toll, with post-holiday waste volumes in Canada growing by around 25 per cent from the end of November to New Year’s Day.  

Critics often believe the original meaning of the holidays will be lost in the sea of commercialization.  

“You have to question what the original meaning was,” said Brad Davis, associate professor of marketing at Laurier University. “That’s a bit of a fantasy, since a lot of these things were, to a very large extent, marketing inventions in the first place.” 

“In market-oriented societies, companies seize control of the cultural meaning of holidays and use them for commercial purposes. Marketing assigns meanings to the ritual behaviours around Christmas, like gift-giving.” 

Seasonal marketing campaigns tend to promote finding the perfect present for loved ones. Popular campaigns include Apple’s “Make Someone’s Holiday” and Coca-Cola’s “Give Something Only You Can Give”.  

“Holiday marketing creates pressure around not just buying presents, but buying the best ones. Shopping has become part of this social fabric to define relationships in your life, to the point where there’s social consequences for not getting the right present,” said Davis.  

While almost all industries participate in the frenzy of seasonal promotions, some generate more consumerism than others.  

“There’s a disproportionate amount of sales that happen before Christmas in the toy industry,” said Davis. “It’s also the biggest revenue period of the year for some electronics and appliances companies. There’s much less volume for them during the rest of the year.” 

However, holiday consumerism is also about aesthetics. After all, Canadians spent nearly $99 million on gift wrap and cards in December 2016, most of the wrapping for which ended up in the trash.  

Charity involvement also grows during the holidays, with nonprofits raising 17 to 31 per cent of their online revenues in December alone.  

“We become conscious of how lucky we are to be shopping extravagantly. You know, if I can spend money on some ugly shirt for my uncle, I should fork over a few dollars for a good cause,” laughed Davis.  

That said, it’s important to not overlook the commitment that comes with certain causes. For instance, those who adopt from animal rescue groups for the purpose of a present during the holidays should remember it’s more than a Christmas gift.

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