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Lisa McInerney: Don't feed the Grinch - Christmas is meant to be over the top

We overspend, not because we’re greedy or worried we’ll be ostracised if we don’t, but because we love how generosity feels.

Lisa McInerney

AND SO WE are into the final drag before the big day, when the red-clad man will bring mystery presents for the good kiddies and the grown-ups will get to stuff a turkey, then themselves.

The shops are beginning to fill up, not with Christmas tat – the tat’s been there since September – but with shoppers, who’ll fight over must-have toys and parking spaces and which niece is buying which pair of socks for Uncle Paschal. Commercial breaks on the TV are filled with ads for perfume, or for large pharmacy chains that stock perfume. Householders are totting up just how many emergency boxes of Quality Street they need to have on standby. And if you listen very closely, you’ll be able to hear those magical Christmas sounds in the air…

“I’m telling yeh, Christmas has gone to the dogs.”

As much of a custom as the candle in the window, midnight Mass and… eh, the Twelve Pubs is the declaration, made some time around mid-month when traffic gets particularly bad in town, that Christmas has become too commercialised.

“It’s all about money,” people huff, pointing out that Brown Thomas have had their decorations up since the last of the sun block went on sale, and that there wasn’t a single affordable knick-knack on the Late Late Toy Show. “And kids today are greedy, spoilt pigs.”

“It is possible to have a great Christmas without pauperising yourself”

Though it’s now become acceptable for us to don our fingerless gloves and shout, “Bah! Humbug!” at any sign of Christmas cheer, really, what is the point? What is the point in using the year’s conclusion, and the lavish overspending that goes with it, as a platform from which to air grievances with capitalism?

Ever since Dickens dreamed him up, Scrooge has been a Christmas staple, but at least in the stories, he learned the error of his ways. There’s far too much Scroogin’ in our modern Christmas outlook, far too much complaining and judging going on about how much Mary paid for that present, or how John could afford to bring his family to a hotel for the dinner.

It has to be said that if you’re thinking about landing yourself in the red to pay for the dream Christmas, please, please stop. Your family would rather your time than any number of inanimate objects if it means saving you from depression, ill health or a debtor’s court, and believe it or not, with a bit of creativity and ingenuity, it is possible to have a great Christmas without pauperising yourself.

“We overspend because we love how generosity feels”

But this is the thing: the reason we overspend is not that we think we’ll be ostracised if we don’t. No parent has ever been rejected by their kids because of a space under the tree where a games console should be, and the only kids that are really “greedy, spoilt pigs” are kids we dream up as stars of our own personal parables.

No, we overspend because we love how generosity feels, even if it means we’ll suffer for it afterwards. Debt is like a hangover; there’s no point in telling you to avoid it when you already know it’s bad for you and you truly believe it’s worth it.

We know that the country is in dire straits, and that prudent people would never spend their money on an eight-foot inflatable snowman, but Christmas is about celebration, and what is celebration, without reckless abandonment? It may not be advisable, and in some cases it’s so myopic as to be dangerous, but you can’t stop people giving if all they want to do is give.

And it’s always been so. Historians believe that the pre-Christian midwinter festival would have been the last opportunity for many early communities to eat, drink and be merry before the starvation months of January to April. And the custom of giving each other gifts has been
around since the Roman festival Saturnalia, putting paid to the notion that we’re only getting grabby in recent years. Granted, the December celebrations may not have always been commercial in the modern sense, but it’s always been a time of giddy extravagance.

Everyone who’s ever gone out and procured the ideal present for a loved one will know that buying presents feels fantastic. What do you look forward to most on Christmas morning: the wossnames and thingymajiggies you’re bound to get, or the looks on your kids’ faces as they see what Santa’s brought them?

“Santa represents the desire to make people you love happy”

Ah yes. Santa. Not even the big man is safe from the Christmas cranks. Often sneered at for being the creation of the Coca Cola marketing department (he’s not, and if you’re looking for modern Santa’s aesthetic roots, Thomas Nash is the man responsible), Santa’s acceptance of each personal Mission Impossible is as great and as beautiful as any other Christmas tradition; Santa is about wish-fulfilment, and we all know that doesn’t get any more likely the older you get. Santa represents the spirit of Christmas, the desire to make people you love happy, the giving of special presents, the honest-to-goodness magic inherent in going to ridiculous lengths to make someone else happy.

The whole point of Christmas is to be over the top. The whole point of the greatest festival in our Western calendar is to throw caution to the wind, either by buying your kid something he’ll love but doesn’t need, or by cramming so many mince pies down your gullet that you have to be hoisted off the sofa via custom-made lifting apparatus. People overspend at Christmas. Kids get more toys than they need. There’s always too much leftovers.

So you know what? Don’t feed the Grinch. Let us spend money at the Christmas market. Let us give twenty quid to the charity collector. Let us buy the bloke next to us at the bar a Christmas pint. Let us buy our kids stuff that’s going to be broken by New Year’s Eve. And if you can’t do it for a festival you have moral objections to, be they religious, economic or pragmatic in nature, do it for yourself. You might not even deserve it, but that’s the whole point.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Read previous columns on TheJournal.ie by Lisa McInerney >

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Lisa McInerney

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