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21 Dec 2006 11:28
In olden days the orgiastic merry-making of Christmas was justified simply as being, “for the children”. This pretext hasn’t changed much.
Today, however, that same hoary old battle cry has been purloined in dedicated fashion by advertisers, retailers and anybody else who is dependent on the Christmas season for obscene profit.
No longer the simple, small gifts lovingly placed in the Christmas stocking hastily fashioned from a pair of Dad’s high, old socks or Mum’s throwaway stockings. No longer the special, larger gifts (one per person), surrounding the base of a Christmas tree acquired during a family jaunt some weeks before the big day, from a nearby forest. No longer the weeks of preparation involved in adorning the tree, and where the family was encouraged to use its dormant creative tendencies in inventing fun and sometimes outlandish decoration for it.
In simple terms, we’ve forgotten what Christmas is about. Instead we’ve allowed ourselves collectively to be led by our noses into the sphere where both economic and other forms of brash competition have become the norm.
This year, Christmas advertising seemed to start earlier than ever before. If I recall correctly, the first tentative feelers were already testing the temperature at the beginning of October, some two or three weeks earlier than is politely fashionable. Since then, and with burgeoning intensity, advertising has swamped us in a concentrated “in your face and don’t you dare not notice” flurry. And it’s had the desired effect. Shoppers are responding to the calls of “spend, spend, spend” like shoals of pirhanas at a feast. It seems even the effect of Tito Mboweni’s increase in the interest rate was like raising a red flag in an empty parking lot.
The effect of the premature advertising gambit was a reminder to big spenders to become motivated. First on the agenda would have been in the preparation of a list of potential Christmas card recipients. This minor exercise always demands singular time and effort, not to mention having gingerly to step around what might be perceived as possible snubs. For instance, last year you received a card from Ted and Joan. Problem is, Ted and Joan whom? The fretting starts. You begin to wonder if they’re unimportant enough to ignore. Your mind trolls through an endless list of acquaintances you’ve come to know in the last two years. But the subconscious, being the punitive devil it is in such situations, elusively ignores the demands made upon it to provide an answer. Ted and Joan remain anonymous. On the other hand, the quandary requires some kind of action, so you end up finding the most convenient solution. That from this time forth and forever more, important or unimportant, if Ted and Joan haven’t had the nous to provide a surname, let alone a return address, they will have to be struck from the list. Thus begins the great Yuletide Greeting Shuttle which could continue unabated for the rest of your natural lives.
Then come the presents. This round of the competition can be extremely bruising, especially if the premise of keeping up with the Joneses is an important factor in your life.
First, there are the children. This one wants a new Playstation, that one wants a laptop, the next one wants a laptop, a Playstation and a cellphone. What to do? So you end up buying all three. By now your credit card is going down for the third time, but you simply can’t have the children telling friends their main present (not to mention all the other little things) was a book. Imagine what their parents would think?
Onwards and upwards, the husband wants a new Porsche, Rolex and Harley, she wants jewellery, in gold, diamonds and sapphires. At this point logic has reached the “bugger the consequences” stage. So he buys her all three, and she buys him all three. His friends will think she’s a top-notch provider and he’s lucky to have her, and her friends will think he’s a top-notch provider and she’s lucky to have him. Problem solved.
Next in the catalogue of “to dos” are the Christmas Eve dinner, the Christmas lunch, the New Year’s Eve party and the New Year’s lunch. Who’s invited whom, and to what and when and where and how? A simple answer satisfying these myriad questions comes to mind — a quick call to this year’s “in” caterers, invitations to all and sundry, and the problem is solved. Family, friends and acquaintances will forever remember the parties as those never to be forgotten, and your reputation and standing will remain intact.
By now the bank is rubbing its hands, the advertisers are happy, the retailers are ecstatic, and marital discord surrounding money and the lack thereof is about six weeks away from taking centre stage.
So, here’s to a “Jingle Tills”, Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and remember there are only two-and-a-half shopping days left.
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