Christmas: we spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need
Or is it the most wonderful time of the year? Pricewatch debates the festive season
Kathleen Harris and a chirpy cheesy Xmas Conor Pope. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
FROM CONOR POPE
I’ve heard rumours you’re not the biggest Christmas fan. That seems weird because – as the song says – it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s not like I wish it could be Christmas every day or anything but it’s still brilliant and there’s no better way to break up our long dark winter.
From as early as the beginning of November, our cities’ streets sparkle with fairy lights, while festive music plays on an endlessly merry loop everywhere. Christmas parties bring joy to the world, as do hilarious jumpers which we wear with pride in pubs and offices to show off our jolliness.
As the day comes closer families gather to eat, drink and be merry, presents are exchanged, people return from foreign lands – you’ve seen the tearful homecoming videos filmed at Dublin Airport, right? Then there are the work-free days that follow Christmas, days full of chocolate and mince pies and turkey sandwiches and the Sound of Music and Willy Wonka and lie-ins and late nights. And I’ve not even mentioned the man of the moment: Santa Claus. It is just so magical – you’d want a heart of stone not to love it all.
FROM KATHLEEN HARRIS
Nope, not a fan I’m afraid. As I see it, town becomes so frustratingly chock-a-block with frantic shoppers I’d prefer to avoid it. Getting a seat in a restaurant or pub becomes a competitive sport. Garish, meaningless decorations made in Chinese factories slowly make their way towards landfill. The words “detox” and “cleanse” (even more annoying than “twas” and “ho ho ho”) start popping up everywhere. People spend money they don’t have on crap they don’t need. And children, just because they’re children, are overloaded with toys, 95 per cent of which they’ll forget about 10 minutes after tearing off the overpriced wrapping paper (more landfill).
It’s Christmas as money-spinner I despise. It’s wasteful, it’s stressful and it’s unfair on people who really can’t afford it or don’t believe in it. Now I like the tradition of brightening things up in winter and bringing living green things into your home. I love fairy lights and hot chocolate. I love reuniting with friends and spending time with family. I gladly participate in all of the cosy things that can be enjoyed, but while we like to say family and friends is what Christmas is really about, you cannot separate the holiday from all the crass excess. It all together defines Christmas. Call me Grinch, but I’m not a fan.
I’d never dream of calling you a Grinch. Or Scrooge. But I will call you Grumpy. You can’t say you love reuniting with friends and spending time with family on the one hand, and then moan about crowded pubs and restaurants on the other. The very reasons pubs and restaurants are so crowded are the very reasons you love Christmas. They are full of other people’s friends and families getting together to have a merry Christmas. How dull the world would be if our pubs and restaurants were so quiet that we could all get a seat in December.
That is what January is for.
And of course you’re right to say children struggle to remember some of the toys they get on the big day, but take it from me they come back to them days, weeks, months and ever years later in most surprising ways. Parents do go overboard but they do so for the best of reasons. They’re not driven by the need to acquire mores stuff but to make things for their children as magical and memorable as possible. Whether a certain toy gets played on cue is irrelevant. The anticipation and the excitement is everything.
Yes, we do spend more money than, for example, our Dutch brethren on Christmas. And, yes, we do put ourselves under pressure financially. And, yes, an Irish Christmas does last the guts of a month compared to barely a couple of days in most parts of the world. But if we’re going to be the best in the world at anything, isn’t being the best at Christmas something to celebrate?
Of course I can say I love spending time with friends and family and then moan about crowds. I accept pubs and restaurants are going to be clogged in the lead-up to Christmas, but the lead-up gets longer every year. And I’m not talking about just friends reuniting over a few drinks. I’m talking about the multiple nights out, parties with different groups of work colleagues, plus drinks with different groups of friends.
As people fill out jam-packed social calendars, they simultaneously complain about how ridiculous it all is, worrying about the money they will spend and planning a “dry” January to give their livers a vacation.
And then there’s also the manner in which a lot of this merriment unfolds. Town is a mess with packs of Christmas-jumper-clad folks insisting they can crawl their way through 12 pubs without making drunken arses of themselves. When I meet up with my friends over the holidays, I prefer to walk home without having to dodge piles of vomit. And then, of course, you don’t have to go out in the first place. I’m a cheeseball who loves my family’s tradition of playing charades and board games together at home over the holidays.
As for parents going overboard with presents, I agree they’re not doing it simply to “acquire more stuff”, but rather to bring happiness, anticipation, excitement to their children. I’m not questioning their motives, I’m questioning their methods. I’m not saying there’s no place for gift-giving. Giving someone a present or two that you know will be appreciated is brilliant. But a whole pile of presents? Absurd. And I think gift-giving as a way to “make everything ... as magical and memorable as it can be” is misguided; nothing is more magical or memorable than experience.
And you’ve just equated being the best at Christmas with being the best at spending loads of money on stuff. Good job.
Okay, okay, so the 12 pubs thing is a nightmare. And stepping over pools of vomit is never fun. But what about Willy Wonka and the Sound of Music on the telly? And selection boxes? And turkey and ham? And Brussels sprouts? And hilarious Christmas Cracker jokes? What about all the time off? Other countries go back to work as early as the day after Christmas. People here take the guts of a fortnight off. Surely we can agree that our zealous commitment to celebrating is good?
I love Willy Wonka and the Sound of Music, both of which are not Christmas films. I can do without selection boxes – too much sugar. Eating turkey, ham and Brussels sprouts is not restricted to Christmas (and, by the way, I’m vegetarian). If I could take those days off whenever I wanted, most of them would not be spent on Christmas. Show me a “hilarious” Christmas cracker joke and I’ll eat an entire selection box and bounce around the Irish Times newsroom dressed as Santa while singing Jingle Bells backwards.
Why does Santa have three gardens?
So he can ho ho ho.
I rest my case. And I’ll get you your selection box.