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Consumerism at its finest during the holidays

We’re in the midst of another yuletide season, and it’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla without giving much thought about the real reason for the holiday. It marks the symbolic date celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. I say symbolic because it’s almost certain that baby Jesus wasn’t born on that date. The actual date has been lost over the centuries, and nobody really knows for sure, so they decided to pick an arbitrary date.

I find it curious that so many non-religious people celebrate this holiday, even though their everyday behavior would indicate they wouldn’t even consider stepping inside a church. Let’s face it, the real reason this holiday is more important than all of the others, is because of the tradition of gift giving.

Without the giving of gifts, most people wouldn’t pay much attention to this, or any other religious holiday. Despite the myth fostered of some ultra-religious zealots, most Americans don’t attend church regularly. In fact, only 9 percent of Americans consider their religious belief to be the most important thing in their life.

This holiday takes on an exaggerated importance because of the barrage of advertising we are subjected to, and it seems as if it’s starting earlier and earlier. The traditional kick off for the Christmas season used to be Thanksgiving, but holiday decorations seem to be out in every store by Halloween.

This is done for very pragmatic reasons. The merchants rely on Christmas as a part of their profit expectations. In fact, the day after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday” for a very good reason. That’s when many retailers break even and the Christmas season is when they begin to make a profit. It seems odd to me that they could be in business all year, and only start making money in the last month. But there are a lot of things in our culture that I find enigmatic and absurd.

So a consumer has to keep this in mind before they succumb to the urge to give gifts that people don’t want, with money they don’t have. I’m sure merchants don’t want you to think about this, but putting yourself in debt for a contrived holiday is part of the reason the average credit card debt now stands at $15,799 per U.S. household.

Furthermore, we consumers are encouraged to spend, to get the economy going again, as if it were some patriotic duty to dig ourselves into a financial hole. But the sad truth is most consumer goods are made overseas and other countries benefit in the form of a greater trade imbalance and job creation in their country. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s holiday, but these are pragmatic considerations we have to think about when we make our purchasing decisions.

At this time of year, we often find ourselves in a reflective mood, in which we contemplate the past year and judge the achievement of our personal goals and aspirations. It forces us to come to terms with good and bad things that have happened over the past year and evaluate the need for changes.

This often results in New Year’s resolutions that we promptly break, but at least we recognize the need for improvement, and that alone is a step in the right direction. No other holiday that I can think of inspires such honest self-examination.

The Christmas season is part of American culture, and Hollywood has fostered myths that exceed our ability to achieve. This is one reason anxiety and depression are so prevalent this time of year. Remember your priorities, and don’t allow yourself to get brainwashed into conforming to someone else’s agenda. So enjoy Christmas and have a happy and prosperous New Year.

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