Winter holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah originated from significant events that occurred in the past relevant to that religion. For Christmas, this was the birth of Jesus Christ. For Hanukkah, this was the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
The real reason people are in love with the holiday season is not because of the religious commemorations, however. There is an underlying factor that made holidays like Christmas so popular: the influence of commercial America.
Winter holidays are all similar, because they are associated in people’s minds as a time for gift-giving. Getting gifts for friends and family is a tradition out of Christian origin to remember the gifts given to Jesus by the Wise Men, but it was not religion alone that made the act of gift-giving so expected of others (regardless of the holiday they celebrate).
Capitalism may have taken advantage of what was once a small tradition for only strong adherents of Christianity, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. With the addition of a sense of cheer, generosity and family bonding, the holidays are more memorable and significant in people’s lives than if they were focused solely on the religious aspects. It is likely that without the aid of commercial America, Hanukkah would be a completely different holiday than it is today, as would Christmas.
A great example of this is the Christmas tree becoming a popular tradition. According to the History Channel, bringing pine trees into one’s home during winter was a practice many people took up before Christmas even existed. It became known as a “Christmas tree” when German Christians brought them into their homes for Christmas in the sixteenth century, but it was uncommon and unaccepted by Americans until 1846, when the Illustrated London News featured Queen Victoria standing with her children by a Christmas tree. At that point, Christmas trees became popular in England, and as a result, in America as well.
Christmas trees would have stayed in Germany if it were not for a British news-magazine that existed for profit only. They would not exist or be a significant symbol for the holiday if it were not for a journalistic publication hoping to sell their product.
Regardless, Christmas trees are the basis of memories for children and adults alike; buying, decorating, and looking at the tree is arguably the most enjoyed and remembered aspect of Christmas, and it would not exist without a sense of capitalism in America to encourage the tradition.
Corporations nationwide feed off of a person’s need for “holiday cheer” in December. Instilling a sense of a seasonal feeling in a person can be accomplished through themed music, TV shows, movies and of course, commercials. The end result may be a less impressive bank account for some, but the cheer spread to others annually makes everything worthwhile.
Even though Freeform’s “25 Days of Christmas” is a clearly obvious way of taking advantage of a religious holiday that is actually important to some people for its original meaning, the movie marathon is still highly anticipated.
Seasonal scented candles from Bath and Body Works may exploit the consumer and provide a product with a ridiculously high mark-up, but no one can say that they were not content with the smell of pine needles in their home coming directly from melting wax.
Of course everyone can go without seeing another “Toyotathon” commercial, but who can go without seeing the joy they bring others during the holidays, even if it is a result of greedy CEOs who are searching for the best way to take advantage of middle class America.
Say what you will about commercial America, but without it, the holiday season is nothing.
Photo by Ryan Sullivan