Celebrate something deeper than shopping

This morning every retailer in the country will wake early, stirred from their fitful sleep by a mixture of optimism and anxiety.

They will be optimistic because this, two Saturdays before Christmas, is one of the great, if not the greatest, shopping days of the year. That optimism may be tinged by the fear that it might not be and justifiably so — many, many retailers might not survive another poor Christmas, maybe the sixth or seventh in a row.

The indications, though, are that we will rise to the challenge and that most shop owners will sleep far better tonight than they did last night, the sound of purring tills the perfect, reassuring lullabye. One estimate suggests we will spend something around €530m on food and drink alone this Christmas, a spectacular figure by any criteria in a country of around five million souls.

Our commitment to consumerism, our almost complete abjection to materialism will, as it always does, win out. We will celebrate the story at the root of one of humanity’s great, empowering codes — Christianity’s placing of love at the very centre of all human activity — by spectacular shopping sprees. This is certain even if, as in far, far too many cases, we can’t afford the indulgence. So powerful is the zeitgeist that families borrow, often at Tony Soprano rates, to be part of the extravangza. Unsustainable debt is seen as a better alternative than not taking part.

So gripped — enslaved is hardly too strong a word — are we by the idea of pleasure through consumption that to even suggest an alternative way of celebrating is to invite the usual Scrooge, bah humbug accusations that are really a form of denial. Almost like circus animals, we willingly jump through the hoops so carefully put before us and to even point that out means an accusation of being a killjoy is inevitable. Bah humbug to that.

Of course it is very easy to be too sanctimonious, too boring and far too prim in arguing that we can celebrate, be warm, intimate and life-affirming with each other without using a credit card. That we all instinctively know this, and hopefully regularly experience it, is one of the sustaining joys of being human. That we need to be reminded of that great well of strength is not at all surprising, especially as Christmas is now preceded by what seem ever-earlier advertising campaigns.

That most of us can hardly remember what we were given last Christmas, much less a decade ago, but can vividly remember happy, heart-filling moments with relatives and friends is probably the only argument we need to understand to be more confident about putting more emphasis on the really enriching, emotional part of this ancient festival. It is, after all, really about what we share with each other, not what we give each other. That does not mean that the next two weeks should be dull or Spartan but maybe we should try to better balance the joy of pleasurable company, loyal friends and loving family with whatever this year’s must-have gee gaw is — usually next April’s recycling bin junk.

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