Illustration by Lydia Ryu
Illustration by Lydia Ryu

Does Santa Bring Presents or Money?

Festivity and Capitalism Collide During the Merry Season

December 16, 2021

Chiming bells, enlivening atmosphere, and heart-warming carols… the decorated streets shine like a star at the top of the Christmas tree, warming people’s minds during the holiday season. Christmas is the biggest celebration of the nation regardless of religion; everybody enjoys the holy spirit in the last week of December. Meanwhile, different opinions regarding X-mas emerge; while some argue that the festive holiday season promotes religious values, others insist that the purpose of the celebration has been distorted in modern capitalistic society. Below, Lydia Ryu and Raye Park give some perspectives on what Christmas is really for.

Christmas is for the Holiday Spirit

Christmas is traditionally the day that everyone gets to gather around the house to enjoy the warmth of the fireplace, talk about how busy their days have been, and appreciate some amazing meals with a family feast. This historical holiday, originating from the Victorian period, is usually celebrated to encourage having beloved people beside you – no matter if they are your families, friends, or even acquaintances. As such, Christmas as a day commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ definitely continues to reflect the values of love and spirituality that everyone can share with each other.

The origin of Christmas dates back to the arrival of Jesus in Christianity. This religious festival expanded through the decades to become one of the biggest secular family holidays (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica). Revolving around the primary purpose of Jesus spreading love and expressing gratitude, the definition added to itself as time passed by to involve the widely-known figure named Santa Claus since the Victorian period. This modern adaptation of the meaning of Christmas also depicts the affectionate nature of this holiday; by Santa giving out presents to lovely children who have done good deeds. As such, the definition of X-mas is full of love and gratitude regardless of how much time has passed since it first emerged from religious principles.

My personal experience with this day of the year definitely reflects this value. Our family members usually decorate a big Christmas tree using colorful ornaments to celebrate the festivity of the holiday. The process of driving to the store to purchase decorating materials, consulting each other about what would fit the tree the most, and working together to hang them up in the right places helped our family bond. Then, we would gather around the Christmas tree together after that rigorous work to talk about what we have done throughout the year and reflect as a group. We’d think back on our amazing experiences such as visiting our favorite French restaurant to get dinner and then go to Gyeongju for a short vacation. It is a day that could bring all your family together and foster love.

Studies help prove this positive impact that Christmas has on people. According to the study conducted on eleven datasets and over 2,500 participants from “The Journal of Positive Psychology”, “collective effervescence,” a sense of connection and meaning that comes from collective events could be felt from common gatherings. This feeling gives people meaning and brings joy to life; “collective effervescence” actually predicts well-being far more than other indicators.

This wonderful time of the year could become an incomparable experience for people who are stressed from repetitive daily routines. Carols and Christmas tunes are already filling up the streets — spending time with families, friends, and beloved people beside you will make this the best day to refresh yourself and finish up your restless year.

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Christmas is for Consumerism

The ornaments, presents, cakes, and even socks and other decorative elements to Christmas came from the idea that money should be spent in order to truly feel the festivity of the holiday. This capitalistic idea misrepresenting the intent of what should be a great holiday often disappoints us – looking at the contrast between charities being more active during the festivity season and stores putting every product on discount makes us think the nativity is more centered towards consumerism than its spirit.

The definition of Christmas on the internet is “the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25 in the Western Church” (according to Oxford Languages). But some of the close-related words are gift-giving, presents, and donations (according to reversedictionary) which shows the evidence of economic dominance in the word itself. Yule has undoubtedly become the biggest profit-making period of the year, becoming a great chance to wrap up the marketing gimmick like a present. 

In fact, I remember the day I was searching for the advent calendar to celebrate the last month of the year – the price of the product varied from a minimum of $50 to a maximum of $1,000, which was astounding. Nobody was forcing me to buy it but I felt deceived by the exorbitant pricing system of holiday merch, and I figured out that apparently, this feeling was mutual among friends and family members as well.

Rich YouTube vloggers who like boujee merchandise tend to make expenditures on items for Noel, but think about where all the money eventually goes to. After all, it’s not Santa that will be receiving your ‘expression of gratitude’.

Statistics from Fortunly added certainty to the argument: “In 2018, U.S. households spent an average of $1,536 during the Christmas holidays… $511 on gifts and gift cards.” Celebrating the festivity has become a golden season for businesses; in fact, non-Christians also welcome the moment as a consumer when it comes to spreading X-mas vibes. How much would a Christmas tree with a bunch of presents cost? How much would you pay to buy this happiness?

Companies will even incite more purchases by launching limited Christmas edition goods that everyone would be desperate to buy before they’re sold out.

The majority of the public tends to insist that the purpose of the holiday is to celebrate religion and familial connections, but the wonderful Noel feeling is something you absolutely have to shop for. Everything costs money and Christmas is not an exception; celebrating the season might sound virtuous, but the businesses are more thrilled to earn extra money from everyone’s hopes and dreams. 

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