My late grandmother used to tell us children about how her own mother was Father Christmas and how they got toys as gifts. After two weeks those toys disappeared just to come back next Christmas again. These memories were dear to my grandmother without her mentioning anything about scarcity or such. Even today, rather than depressing I consider the tales to be beautiful.
My own memories of Christmas are on top of the warm traditions also around toys, paper, pencils, perfumes I received year after year. Not until I had spent several years in China did, I start to question the consumption habits that we have around Christmas. If a child is kind and well behaved, he or she will receive gifts whereas the not so well-behaved are left without. As adults we all know that wealthier families’ kids are the kindest!
According to some marketing researchers we live in a global consumer culture and consumption (Arnould and Thompson, 2005) coupled with creed to eternal economic growth is the social dominant logic we live in (Sandberg, 2018; Gorge, Herbert, Özçağlar-Toulouse, & Robert, 2014). Rather than building up our identities around national or local cultures we do so by consuming (Belk, 1988; 2013). Our traditions around Christmas enhance such consumption. But the very same researchers also notice trends of anti-consumption (Lee, Cherrier, & Belk, 2010), sharing (Belk, 2010) and degrowth discussions. At the same time, natural scientists warn us of loss of biodiversity, climate change and health issues related to our consumption.
Is there a change in the air for another social dominant logic or will Homo Sapiens be forced to change?
On my way back from a marketing tutorial this year in Vaasa I overheard young doctoral students talking about shopping for Christmas presents. They agreed on that the world has change so much that it is acceptable to give recycled or pre-loved gifts. I fully agree! Even if I still love stuff, my gifts for this year will be handicrafts by my grandmother, harvests from my own or my neighbors garden or little items that I can make myself. These are coupled with stories and tales as well as instructions on how to use them and their purpose in an everyday life context. As of last year, my 50-year-old tradition to use an Advent Calendar made of old matchboxes is now filled with thoughts and aphorisms from others and from myself written on paper that is made out from bed sheets. I build up my own and my family’s’ identity around these habits.
Though Christmas has been a big commercial success and a newly adopted festive tradition, most people in China do not celebrate as people do in the West. Their celebration has instead been around the Luna calendar where the biggest celebration is happening on the Lunar New Years. Is gift giving part of the celebration? No. Instead children receive from their family, relatives and friends Hong Baos, red envelopes, that are filled with money. I asked my good friend; do you go shopping after the Lunar Year? I received the straightforward answer, No. The money is given to be saved. The tales that are told while giving the red envelopes are around saving: this is for your education, housing, or health. Despite huge economic growth in Asian countries their saving rates remain high, much higher than any Western countries. Could I learn from this tradition?
Pia Polsa, Associate Professor, Department of Marketing at Hanken School of Economics.
Arnould, E. J. & Thompson, C. J. (2005). “Consumer Culture Theory (CCT): Twenty Years of Research,” Journal of Consumer Research, 31(4), 868–882. https://doi.org/10.1086/426626
Belk, W.R. (1988). “Possessions and the extended self,” Journal of Consumer Research, 15(2), 139-168.
Belk, W.R. (2010). “Sharing,” Journal of Consumer Research, 36(5), 715–734. https://doi.org/10.1086/612649
Belk, W.R., (2013). “Extended Self in a Digital World,” Journal of Consumer Research, 40(3), 477–500. https://doi.org/10.1086/671052
Gorge, H., Herbert, M., Özçağlar-Toulouse, N., & Robert, I. (2014). “What do we really need? Questioning consumption through sufficiency,” Journal of Macromarketing, 35(1), 11-22.
Lee S. W.M., Cherrier, H., & Belk, W.R. (2013). “Special Issue: Anti-Consumption Research and Society,” Journal of Macromarketing, 33(3), 187-189. https://doi.org/10.1177/0276146713485
Sandberg, M. (2018). “Downsizing of housing: negotiating sufficiency and spatial norms,” Journal of Macromarketing, 38(2), 154-167.