Tis the season to be sappy. Twee cartoon reindeer and Santas, pointy trees and beribboned boxes, tinsel wreaths and spray-painted snow, and above all, inescapably, in every shop, that dreary treacly music that is the aural equivalent of sitting in a bath as it goes lukewarm. The fact that late December is midsummer in New Zealand gives all the doggedly wintry imagery an extra edge of falseness. You can tell that people are feeling it, because the other thing you get this time of year is movies and TV specials offering to reveal the true meaning of Christmas, which evidently is hard to find otherwise.
Well, if its hard to find, then the true meaning cant be money worries and time pressure. Which is pretty much what Christmas is nowadays, if youre an adult: a time to lavish gifts and food and hospitality on your friends and family or theyll think you dont love them. Even that wouldnt be so bad, if only the gifts were things that were useful, beautiful, thought-provoking or informative. But no. As George Monbiot recently noted, businesses ravage the environment and sweat poor workers half to death so that we can present each other with
a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a hilarious inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle... a Scratch Off World wall map... An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped iPhone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog...
Monbiots right. These things amuse us for a day or two and then we compound the damage done in their manufacture by adding them to the worlds overflowing landfills. They end up in the ocean. Plastic doesnt rot. Tools exist that we can use to clean it up, but not at the rate it keeps arriving. And once weve cleaned it up, what do we do with it? Burn it, and release the carbon to the atmosphere? Another bad idea. The best I can think of is to recycle it as building materials say, underfloor insulation since thats at least something we would like to have last forever.
Its become a kind of society-level addiction: better to buy cheap plastic crap than be that one guy who doesnt give Christmas presents. And of course, the more people who behave like this, the more of a Scrooge youll look like if you dont join in as well ironically, considering Dickens original Scrooge was motivated by profit maximization just like the businesses foisting the cheap plastic crap on us. I dont know how long the cycle of guilt and cheap plastic crap would go on if it werent regularly given a kick along by all the advertising.
This commercialism has even managed to infect the true meaning stories. Back in 1956, Ted Geisel (aka Dr Seuss) could write How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, in which the townsfolk of Whoville wake to find all their presents and decorations gone and still sing for joy that its Christmas. Contrast that with the 2011 movie Arthur Christmas, whose plot-driving problem is that a single present has fallen off the sleigh, destined for a child who already has lots of presents from her family but will apparently nevertheless be absolutely devastated if she doesnt get something from Santa as well. Hear that, parents? Better nip out and buy one more just in case.