Most Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25. For Eastern Orthodox faith adherents, it's January 7. It commemorates Christ's birthday, even though it's widely acknowledged not to be that day.
Many African Americans also celebrate Kwanzaa from December 26 - January 1 to reconnect to their cultural and historic heritage. In addition, Jews commemorate Hanukkah. The eight-day Festival of Lights observes the rededication of Jerusalem's Holy Temple at the time of second century BC the Maccabean Revolt.
Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, the season also involves obsessive consumerism. Merriam Webster calls it "the promotion of the consumer's interests; the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; (and/or) a preoccupation with and an inclination toward buying consumer goods."
Investopedia defines it as the "theory that a country that consumes goods and services in large quantities will be better off economically."
According to Wikipedia, it's "a social and economic order based on fostering a desire to purchase goods in ever greater amounts." Its zenith is reached during the yearend holiday period.
In 1915, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first used the term to mean the "advocacy of the rights and interests of consumers." Over time, other meanings developed, including OED in 1960 calling it an "emphasis on or preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods."
It reflects a "keeping up with the Joneses" mindset. In 1899, Thorstein Veblen's "The Theory of the Leisure Class" coined the term "conspicuous consumption" to mean spending to reflect income, wealth, and social status. He distinguished between industrial productiveness and other forms of business, producing products and services for society's leisure class.
Applicable to his day's nouveau riche, today it reflects excess discretionary consumption overall, especially during holiday season binge shopping.
Critics like Fr. Timothy V. Vaverek denounce consumerism's "destructive hold." In a "Faith and Culture" article, he expressed concern about "the social and economic instability which consumerism is fostering," and advocated "break(ing) the hold."
Steven Miles calls it "the religion of the late twentieth century" that's flourished in America earlier throughout the past century. In his essay, "Consumerism and the New Capitalism," Rip Cronk said it's degenerating Western society's values.
Worldwide Institute's Christopher Flavin believes "(r)ising consumption has helped meet basic needs and create jobs, but (today's) unprecedented consumer appetite is undermining the natural systems we all depend on, and mak(es) it even harder for the world's poor to meet their basic needs."
According to National Geographic News (NGN), almost 1.7 billion people comprise the "consumer class." NGN calls them "the group of people characterized by diets of highly processed foods, desire for bigger houses, more and bigger cars, higher levels of debt, and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods."
In his essay, "A Crisis of Consumerism," Amitai Etzioni distinguishes between consumption and consumerism, saying:
Consumerism's "the obsession with acquisition that has become the organizing principle of American life. (It's) not the same thing as capitalism (or) consumption."
"Consumption turns into an 'ism' when material objects are used to express affection and to seek self-esteem, and when they dominate the quest for self-actualization." This "ism" then becomes a destructive social disease.
Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs is useful. It begins with essential ones like food, water, shelter, healthcare, education, and homeostasis, etc. In most societies, obtaining them involves consumption.
In contrast, consumerism depends on satisfying discretionary desires. In excess, it's indeed socially destructive.
The term "consumption" originated hundreds of years ago. It referred to infectious tuberculosis (TB). Its original meaning is relevant in today's acquisitive society where consuming for essentials is worlds apart from overindulgent consumerism.
It involves excessive, intemperate shopping for desires, not needs, irrespective of personal or societal consequences.
Untreated, TB (or consumption), consumes victims slowly and painfully. Consumerism mimics it through over-indebtedness, ecological destruction, unhealthy and unsafe consumer products, corporate empowerment, greed and profits, militarism and imperial wars, neglected vital needs, and democratic decay in a corporatist state disdaining human values.
Overindulgent spending involves what clinicians call obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For addicted consumers, it reflects obsessive shopping, spending, and accumulating excessively.
Nonetheless, millions in America and elsewhere buy stuff they don't need. Economist Paul Baran described it as "want(ing) what we don't need (consumer unessentials) and not what we do," including safe food, clean air and water, education, healthcare, and good governance.
It's worst at Christmas when frenzied spending dismissively becomes getting into the holiday spirit until bills arrive. Institutionalized self-gratification diverts people from what matters most, including ending imperial wars, eroding civil liberties, human rights and other democratic values, lack of jobs, gutted social services, ecological destruction, and policies benefitting America's privileged at the expense of beneficial social change.
Consumerism also enhances corporate power by satisfying its insatiable need for profits by any means. They're used to consolidate to greater size, exert more influence, and exploit new markets, resources and cheap labor at the expense of popular needs gone begging.
Tragically people succumb. Whatever Christmas was, it's no longer. Seasonal sights and sounds subvert its meaning. Consumerism glorifies receiving, not giving. It ignores predatory capitalist harm, neglects what matters most, and legitimizes overindulgence instead of condemning it.
It's also mindless of those most needy. For them, Christmas is "Bah Humbug," and Santa a heartless Scrooge - all take and no give.
New Year's Day
A week after Christmas, it concludes the long holiday season. Beginning after Thanksgiving, it climaxes at Christmas, ebbs briefly when its over, then builds for a celebratory new year's welcome with more overindulgent eating, drinking, partying, and binge-shopping for bargains or whatever Santa didn't bring.
It's also traditionally time for resolutions, excluding ones mattering most. They include peace, civil and human rights, equity and justice, good will toward others, sharing and respecting everyone's rights, and working cooperatively for what's fast eroding in Western societies.
It was that way long ago in simpler times before the old world became America. Restoring what's lost should be goal one for everyone each year. Imagine what's possible if millions resolved it, and made it a promise to keep.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.