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The consumerism of Christmas

BY KIRSTEN JACOBSEN | DECEMBER 16, 2010 7:10 AM

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Aisle after aisle of red and green clouds the vision of so many unfortunates attempting to wind their way through the unyielding mass of overflowing carts and screaming children. Incessant background music pipes its way into the morass, and tangles of ribbon and the finest selection of this year's fluorescent artificial trees are stacked and restacked by scowling employees.

Mass-produced treats with enough calories to take down a small rhino compete for your attention at every turn. Finding the mythical "perfect gift" becomes an exercise in futility.

This is the Consumeristmas, and it has devolved into holly-jolly holiday hell (batteries not included).
Why the downslide from glogg-and-Tannenbaum to premade eggnog and exorbitant expectations?

Don't blame Krampus for this one; holiday-season appropriation in the name of profiteering is the new Tickle Me Elmo.

"The holiday-sales period is crucial to many retailers, because it accounts for upwards of 50 percent of their sales and profit for the whole year," Robert Rouwenhorst, a University of Iowa lecturer and the director of the Marketing Institute, wrote in an e-mail. He also noted that the increased sales so far this year indicate a return to consumer spending on "discretionary items."

While spending is undoubtedly essential to the economic health (and recovery) of the country, is spending on prepackaged gingerbread-house kits or ridiculous plastic ornaments truly beneficial to anyone?

Elaborate decorations, the priciest of gifts, and the choicest of 4 a.m. deals have seemingly become proxies for celebrating the holiday. (To buy the gifts mentioned in "The 12 Days of Christmas" would cost $96,824 this year, according to PNC Wealth Management's annual Christmas Price Index.) Perhaps this has become a tired plaint, but instead of eschewing greed and avarice, we only continue to inflate the illusory Gatsby-esque bubble.

How's that for "Christmas spirit?"

Roughly $10.7 billion in Black Friday sales were recorded this year by Shopper Trak, a group that tracks people's buying habits. In addition, Cyber Mondays, a more recent phenomenon of online deals offered during the pre-Christmas season, have also done exceptionally well this year.

Christmas has gone from a one-day cover-up of pagan celebrations to a two-month-long buildup of sales promotions and incessant covers of "Jingle Bell Rock."

This year, let's demolish mindless giving like the last over-frosted cookie on the platter. Perhaps instead of investing in soon-forgotten toys or cheap stocking stuffers, donate to a charity or plant a tree in someone's name.

If having a physical item to stuff under the tree is preferable, buy something reusable or whose profits benefit a good cause. Better yet is simply spending time with loved ones, a free activity with memories that will last a lifetime.

Nine out of 10 Americans currently celebrate Christmas and are expected to spend a total of $475 billion during this holiday season — yet 65 percent of those observing it still regard it primarily as a "religious holiday," according to a recent Rasmussen poll.

I may well be a Scrooge, a Grinch, or some other iteration of jadedness. But on the upside, I won't spend hundreds of dollars to bring momentary smiles to friends' faces this year. Instead, I will gladly build a snowman or bake cookies with them and watch as the curbs disappear under forests of discarded trees and wrappings in the coming days.


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