#ConsumerCorner: Unwrapping the hidden toll of Christmas
With the festive season fully underway, there is an undeniable air of excitement as we embrace good tidings of comfort and joy amidst the Christmas celebrations.
However, behind the façade of impressive window displays, glittering lights and the sound of cheerful carols, Christmas has gradually transformed into a retail festival that has drifted far away from the origins of gift-giving.
The societal expectations have shifted and for many, the festive season can leave people nursing stress and anxiety, in additional to a hangover.
This is particularly acute among younger generations, as they embark on a silent struggle to meet societal expectations.
According to a recent poll by Ipos, 58% of 18- to 34-year-olds are worried about the cost of Christmas.
The pressure to participate in the gift-giving culture, host gatherings and partake in activities can lead to overspending, leaving many young people grappling with the aftermath of holiday induced financial stress.
Food and drink was reported to be the biggest contributor to the growing cost of Christmas, rising by £25.87 on average versus 2022. This was followed by gifts (£18.62) and activities (£11.86).
Stripping back the reasons behind gift giving, societies historically saw it a form of social banking – older, more affluent members of the community would give gifts to the younger generation to help them start out.
As these younger individuals aged, the tradition continued, creating a cycle of reciprocal giving.
However, in the contemporary Christmas culture, this has largely evolved into a tit-for-tat exchange, where individuals feel compelled to match the perceived value of the gifts they receive. This obligation therefore detracts from the true spirit of gift giving which is intended to be selfless.
Paradoxically, the giving of gifts can be selfish as it can also leave the recipient with an undue financial burden.
Ironically, the most thoughtful gift giving can be found in releasing others from the obligation to give. Limiting gift exchanges to close friends and family can reduce pressure, mitigate debt and result in more joy at this time of year.
Alternatively, opting for a Secret Santa arrangement with a £5 or £10 budget can also encourage a shift towards less materialistic and more meaningful exchanges, whilst reducing the expectation for expensive gifts and therefore alleviating financial pressures for many.
As the cost of Christmas continues to leave more than half of young people worried, it is essential to reflect on the hidden toll that the commercialisation of the season can take on individuals and communities.
By revisiting the roots of gift-giving, encouraging thoughtful gestures over materialistic ones, and liberating others from the obligation to give, we can collectively shift towards a more authentic and meaningful celebration which can transcend the confines of material expectations and reclaim the true spirit of Christmas.