Holiday Commercialization: a Byproduct of Holiday Cheer or a Deeper Issue?

 The holiday gift industry exploded in recent years, and is still on the rise.

(Getty Images)

The holiday gift industry exploded in recent years, and is still on the rise.

As the Halloween decorations come down, one of the things on many people’s minds is the holiday season. In the coming months, spiders and ghosts will be replaced with turkeys and gourds. Eventually, those will be replaced by red ribbons and fir trees. Whether it is visiting rarely seen family members, getting a break from school or work, or because of nostalgia, the holidays are a high point in many people’s years. However, the holidays are not just about family and fond memories.

Every passing year, it seems, the holiday season grows longer and larger. This is because it is profitable, with retail sales surpassing 1 trillion dollars in 2018. It is hardly a secret that companies want to cash in on this holiday hype. Seasonal and holiday-themed products range from coffee to candy to clothes. The United States is a capitalist society, and that becomes increasingly apparent through its holidays.

Capitalism is based on private control of the economy, which, in theory, uses natural human motivation to benefit consumers. The system assumes that every person is interested in helping themselves, so it functions by encouraging people to work in order to satisfy these self-interests. Everyone is motivated to work because the gains from the work are needed to survive. Capitalism is a clever economic system because it relies on people’s participation in the economy. However, this system places heavy prominence on the collection of resources and physical entities, because those items are usually the rewards for work. Because of this, our society treats the collection of these things like the goal of being alive. During the holidays, the exchange of these items can end up being the main focus of the season, which presents an issue.

There is no question that children are impressionable. What people see and experience as children goes on to shape their lives, and that is why childrens’ exposure to the rampant capitalism prevalent around the holiday season is an issue. From a very young age, kids are exposed to these elements of the holiday season. Holiday gifts were not only a hot discussion topic at school and among friends, but also prevalent in media. Even kids who did not celebrate these gift-heavy holidays could not escape the capitalist messages that these holidays promoted. There is specific importance placed on physical items. Because of this, kids begin to believe that possessions are some of the most important things and that physical objects equate to happiness.

Is this what we want children to believe? Parents and teachers know to be cautious when exposing children to content. Content maturity rating systems exist in many mediums including movies, TV shows, and video games to prevent children from watching or interacting with violent or graphic content due to the fact that children are impressionable. However, very little, if any, consideration has been applied to the exposure children face to perspective-altering ideas such as the level of capitalism the holidays’ exhibit.

To be clear, I am not suggesting we pretend capitalism does not exist around children, lead them into thinking it is less important than it is, or lie. Rather, we should take the time to teach kids that there is more to life than materialistic means. 

This may appear like a ridiculous concept upon the first examination. Clearly, we live in a capitalist society, and many if not all of the elements in our lives revolve around this system. Why would we purposely cause impressionable children to question how we live our lives? It is because we live our lives in a questionable manner. Overworking is happening more than ever. The belief that success is achieved through sleepless nights and constant work is commonplace. Unhealthy working habits are glamorized, not condemned. This mindset is already visible in children who, along with their parents, put themselves through long, sleepless nights and weekends without any room to relax, to get ahead in their classes and extracurriculars. Additionally, over a fifth of people in the United States believe that their Christmas spending will leave them in debt, and that means that not only do they believe physical gifts and presents are more important than their livelihoods but that they are passing that idea down to children as well. 

It may seem unwarranted to put all of this blame on holidays, and it is true that they do not bear all of the responsibility for the extreme and frequently unhealthy capitalistic habits that both adults and children exhibit. However, they do play a role. 

Unhealthy working, spending, and overall living habits are serious problems that are still on the rise, and there are many ways in which this issue can and should be fixed. Beginning with what we teach our children to value is a good place to start. Children are the future, and they are heavily molded by the adults that they see and admire. So, focus on creating memories and experiences with family and friends.