Is buying gifts the reason for the season?


The Christmas season should not have to be compared with a bruising game of hockey.  But, at this time of year, which in its very meaning is about the joy of sharing with family and friends and a spirit of hope for a better life in a better world, the main theme for many is, instead, stress.

In conversation with a neighbour, the word was closely associated to Christmas. What a pity. There is a definition for the main sources of stress – our expectations of others, their expectations of us, and our expectations of ourselves.

Aside from those expectations, the other factors at this time of year are time and money – mainly that there isn’t enough of either to meet the demands of the Christmas shopping list. Even among those who are counted in the low-income bracket, there are plans to spend more than $500 on Christmas shopping.

At this time of year, the dynamic between consumerism and religious observance engages in a battle, yet consumerism often holds greater sway. And it’s no use trying to lay blame at the feet of the Wise Men with their gifts to the Baby Jesus of gold, frankincense and myrrh as one grumbling Christmas shopper suggested.

A successful Christmas is measured these days in so-called ‘consumer spending’. To keep driving the machine, marketers have borrowed from that great consumer giant to the south and now have Canadians marching in a trance to the malls and retail outlets on “Black Friday”.

Dating back to the 1960s, the day after Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. became known as Black Friday because the amount of sales on that day could bring the kind of profit that would push retailers’ balance sheets back into the black ink column of profitability and out of the red for the first time in a given year. Since the 1990s, the day after Thanksgiving Day has been an unofficial U.S. retail holiday.

Now, making it a merchandiser’s dream weekend, Cyber Monday, in its sixth year, has entered the marketing lexicon, and has shown merit with its US$1.25 billion in sales this year adding to Black Friday’s US$11.4 billion in sales.

Not to be left out, spending in Canada increased over that weekend by 8.3 per cent on Black Friday and 15.4 per cent on Cyber Monday, compared to the same period last year.

While this is certainly good news for retailers, it may explain the seasonal stress in the general population, for the numbers bear out that more shopping is being done.

There are no figures on an upswing in attendance at places of worship, however. And yet, all the research suggests that people who have a habit of attendance at places of worship generally experience less stress. This time of year, then, would be even more reason to do so.

It would appear that the reason for Christmas stress is that the focus has become lost and that the spirit of the season has been hollowed out and replaced with a lot of stuff that cannot possibly measure up to its original purpose. After all, as the catchy phrase goes, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’.

Even the Grinch finally realized that Christmas doesn’t have to come with ‘ribbons’ or ‘tags'; that it can come ‘without packages, boxes or bags’. Wouldn’t it be different this year to see, as the Grinch finally did, that “maybe Christmas…doesn’t come from a store” and that “maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

If only for the same, or a little less, self-imposed stress, there is no better time to try a different approach to ensure that it won’t just be the merchandisers who enjoy a Merry Christmas this year.

A note on the comeback…

Who doesn’t love a story of redemption? It took 749 days and 26 tournaments – a period during which he faced very public personal and professional challenges – for billionaire golf phenomenon Tiger Woods to finally win another golf tournament. He did so on Sunday at the Chevron World Challenge in California. But was there ever any doubt? Finishing at 10-under 278, Woods donated his $1.2 million prize to his foundation. Golf fans are wondering if he’s now on his way back to the top.

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