The National Retail Federation forecasts that Americans this year will break the record for holiday retail sales by collectively spending over $800 billion on Christmas shopping. It is therefore unsurprising that the Christmas season brings not only joy but also a lamentation of consumerism.
Critics of the modern celebration of Christmas argue that this growing emphasis on consumer goods dilutes the meaning of the holiday by instilling greed over generosity. Even Pope Benedict XVI expressed such grievances in 2011, lamenting the “superficial glitter” of Christmas.
While religiosity is declining in America at an alarming pace, it is wrong to assert that this trend is connected to the rise of consumer goods. Likewise, it is incorrect to label the gift-giving tradition as “greedy.”
According to Pew Research Center, 40% of millennials are religiously unaffiliated, more than double the rates of secularism among significantly older Americans. Coupled with an average Christmas shopping of almost $1,000 per person in the United States this year, it’s understandable to initially assume a correlation between these two figures.
However, consider the Netherlands, where about 50% of the population is irreligious. If consumerism causes secularism, then the Dutch Christmas shopping must far exceed that of the United States. The Netherlands is the 9th richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita, outpacing many other European countries and ranking only three spots below the United States. Yet, the Dutch spend an average of under $200 per person on Christmas gifts, far less than the United States.
The American tradition of a commercialized Christmas derives not from the decadence of an increasingly secular society but from America’s unique culture of freedom. The American’s Creed, first articulated in the Declaration of Independence, posits that the United States ought to value freedom as among the highest ideals. Consumerism is simply the purest expression of a culture that values economic freedom.
Furthermore, the claim that Christmas consumerism fosters greed is patently false. Is it greedy to buy gifts for your loved ones? Or to pay for the wages of the hundreds of thousands of seasonal retail workers who enable Christmas shopping?
According to National Giving Month, 31% of annual charitable donations occur in December. Moreover, The Salvation Army raised over $550 million during the 2020 holiday season, increasing the previous year’s donations by 27% despite the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Christmas shopping does not detract from generosity; it augments it.
In fact, the attack on consumer spending is Marxist in origin. Karl Marx believed that human nature could be perfected once material needs are met. Any failure to live up to this utopian ideal is attributed by Marx and his acolytes to the capitalist system, which, in their view, has failed to meet the material needs of society. Thus, they view capitalism as an absolute display of decadence.
Far from failing to meet material needs, since 1990 capitalism has lifted 1.25 billion people out of poverty. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of GDP in the United States. These voluntary transactions between consumers, including holiday Christmas shopping, have been among the greatest assets for creating economic prosperity.
Contrary to Marxist dogma, consumerism brings out the best in us. In this season of giving, remember to be thankful for what makes that generosity possible: capitalism.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.