Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Saturday 22nd July 2017 | Manchester, UK

Christmas Controversy

The Christmas Controversy is a media and social talking point every year during the festive season. As a culture which often has an unquestioned excitement about Christmas, the Christmas Controversy provides a counterbalance to the status quo.

One part of the Christmas controversy is its decreasing connection to Christianity and being seen as an increasingly secular holiday. Its widespread disassociation with Christianity comes partly from the development of a more multicultural society. Many Western countries are now full of thousands of religions and cultures. Although Christianity is still seen as the biggest religion of the UK, its declining numbers and rise in other religions has led governments to portray Christmas as a secular holiday in which all can participate in gift-giving and relaxing days off work and school.

However, some would argue that this diminishes the true meaning of Christmas as celebrating the birth of Christ. Having said that, in 2013, church attendance figures throughout the year averaged at roughly 1 million, but that same year, church attendance on Christmas Day was 2.4 million, according to the Church of England. This is a clear sign that a significant amount of people respect what Christmas was originally all about.

This leads to one of the other main debates regarding the Christmas Controversy; its materialistic nature. Perhaps the increasing disassociation from religion and holiness creates the opportunity for businesses and marketers to seize this festival as a hotbed for consumerist activity, since the whole nation can be the target market.

That’s not to undermine the fact that Christmas is great time for the wider family to get together after periods of being apart from one another. Everyone gathered round, appreciating each other’s gifts, joking and laughing (and probably a good dose of arguing too). However, the consumerist lengths we go to in order to celebrate Christmas is astonishing.

Giving gifts is not usually seen in a negative light. It tends to be things like decorations, trees, cards and wrapping paper that hold an unnecessary position. It would be more simple and cost effective to either cut down on these to a more moderate amount or do away with them altogether. But we seem to now be at a point where an item isn’t considered as much of a ‘gift’ or as exciting if is not wrapped in colourful, shiny paper and placed under a sparkly tree – all of which businesses greatly profit from.

Moreover, companies, especially more dominant ones, like to make full use of advertising in order to boost sales. For example, the Christmas adverts for Coca-Cola and John Lewis began in 1995 and 2007 respectively, and the latter has since become quite a grand event, reported in the media and discussed as if it is a cultural phenomenon. This year’s John Lewis advert, released on 2nd November 2015, has already had over 16 million views on Youtube. Their adverts tend to send out a message of giving and sharing, yet this is with the aim of more people purchasing their products.

The fact of the matter is that economically-speaking, the Christmas spending period is vital. It is a peak selling season for many retailers. Many businesses who fail to reach their targeted sales may face losses and even closure. Many major stores begin advertising and supplying Christmas goods as early as October, before Hallowe’en is even over. According to Learning English, in 2003 Christmas shopping counted for a quarter of all spending in the USA, much of which can be attributed to their Black Friday after Thanksgiving. To consider things on a smaller scale, Christmas markets up and down the country offer local and independent businesses and traders a bigger market exposure than they would have perhaps had all year.

The meaning of Christmas may now have no religious bearing to most who celebrate it, yet church-attendance figures are high enough to see the respect is still there. Christmas has taken on a new meaning, and the consumerist element of it may be very over-the-top, but it’s showing no signs of disappearing. However it does not necessarily have to be something we are forced to put up with as a piece of mainstream Western culture – there is still a choice in participation.

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