Christmas as we have known it may be undergoing a seachange.
A season and a festival above all others that might be expected to spark a more wholesome approach to the structures of modern society, it has, for the last three decades at least, been shorn of the original morality of Christmas as it’s practised in much of the known world.
On the island, this year’s celebrations seem muted and more attuned to summer and sun, maybe because 25 December itself has cycled round to Monday, giving us a long summer weekend instead of hot and hasty shopping decisions; maybe because we are, finally, coming to the end of the Affluenza Age and the beginning of an awareness that now, this moment is all we ever have.
We still find ourselves whining about ‘First World’ problems – Christmas queues, unavailable services or forgotten delicacies – but we are catching ourselves sooner and more often.
Even when my own perennial experience of having no time made me, temporarily, threaten to hold Christmas only every second year from now on, it was brief and occurred more as an issue to be transformed.
It wasn’t, as it felt, a few hours since I packed my rather beloved Christmas decorations away last Twelfth Night. It was a whole year, and I’m reminded that I probably didn’t make the most of it.
The golden weather may not last. Impermanence may be just around the corner. Change is in the air and – in the middle of a paradise environment and near the top of Maslow’s instructive ‘hierarchy of needs’ – we’re in for the same ride as the rest of the planet.
The reality is we are part of a community of seven billion people and, across whole continents, a dystopian future has already arrived. Despots bomb their own citizens and cities that were the cradles of civilisation are being pounded into eyeless shells. Atrocities fester and burst and newsreaders advise us footage may be disturbing.
At a political and policy level, western society has been stuck between two great fallacies. The simplest version of economics says that rational people only care about money and that, when offered a choice between two similar products, the rational consumer will nearly always buy the cheaper one. The simplest version of marketing says that there is nothing rational about consumers and that – because most people would prefer to have more status than less – when offered a choice, the real-life human nearly always buys the more prestigious one.
Charting the course towards repurposing the resulting consumer endemic, author Richard Denniss says in his new book Curing Affluenza. “We must learn to distinguish between consumerism, the love of buying things which is undeniably harmful to us and the planet, and materialism, the love of things, which can in fact be beneficial.
“We should cherish the things we own – preserve them, repair them and then gift or sell them, when we no longer need them. We must foster new ways of thinking and acting that do not squander limited resources and which support the things we value most: vibrant communities and rich experiences.”
Changing the opinions of billions of people may not be as hard as it sounds, says Denniss. “In 7000 years of recorded history, communities have tried anarchy, communism and everything in between.
“We are surrounded by alternative ways to organise our communities and economies. The 195 countries of the world present a vast array of choices about how to structure a society and shape an economy. Within countries, different states and cities make vastly different decisions about the kinds of services to provide, the amount and the way in which those services will be developed.”
Denniss quotes former US senator Robert F Kennedy (speaking a decade before British prime minister Margaret Thatcher decreed there was no alternative to free-market capitalism):
“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.
“It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages. The intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our pubic officials.
“It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.
“It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
‘Christmas spirit’ has suffered badly these last 30 years but its soaring music and message of goodwill to all still shines a light on the way back.
Wishing all our readers and fellow
businesses a happy and rewarding
Christmas. – Liz and the Gulf News team