By Jake Baum
For the Mitzpeh
Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, after people finish their Black Friday shopping, the snowflakes, string lights and Christmas trees immediately go up. “Jingle Bells” starts blaring in every grocery store, shopping mall and public venue you can imagine. The most powerful forces of American consumerism, such as Target, Amazon and Starbucks, immediately flood customers with wintery apparel, special drinks, deals galore and general merriness until January, when they move on to Easter.
Remember the times before the winter holidays were turned into a month-long roller coaster of inflated expectations of presents and overspending for the latest meaningless gift? Before we tricked ourselves into thinking we’re doing it in the name of a higher purpose? The reality is, that only about half of all Americans see Christmas as a religious holiday. In fact, even almost one-third of American Jews celebrate Christmas in some form or another, such as having a Christmas tree in their home. It seems like, for most Americans, it’s more about the presents – more about the time of year itself – than the religious practices upon which these winter holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah were originally based.
As a Jew, even I am not ashamed to say I love Christmas. What’s not to love about a time of year filled with hot chocolate, presents, ugly sweaters for all, and an unrelenting feeling that everyone around you is just as happy – or “merry,” if you prefer – as you are? Some might see Christmas in 2016 as a disappointment, an indication of the heavily-apparent trend of the American public’s favor of secularism and multiculturalism over identifying with any one religious group. One-third of millennials and just under one-fourth of the total American population are completely unaffiliated, yet most “doorbusters” for Christmas are still overwhelmingly marketed towards millennials – far more than any other age group. The gift-giving traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah are blending into an American tradition more than any specific religious celebration, and companies are taking note.
Big companies that dominate the holiday shopping season realized this long before Pew did. The holiday-themed merchandise is all around us, and it’s been much more representative of minority religions these days. Along with products for Christmas, they’ve got Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and even something for the political nut who’s taken up Trump as his religion. And, because the internet has made it so easy for the giants of holiday shopping to pinpoint their markets, multicultural marketing is at the forefront of capitalism. It’s pretty simple – multiculturalism sells. The American people love messages of unity and togetherness, and, in capitalism, profitability trumps all.
It’s sort of a win-win situation. America is a land of unprecedented diversity, and we love that diversity. As evidenced by our obsessive Christmas/Hanukkah spending, we also love companies that promote diversity and the normalization of multicultural society in their products. And, perhaps most importantly for our economy, the companies love to produce these products, because they profit from these sales more than anything else. With these profits, they can produce more and broaden their horizons, incorporating every winter holiday they come across into the broader message of American unity, which the cross-celebration of these holidays has come to represent.
With these products, companies like Target and Amazon are creating a generation of freer Americans – free from bias, free from hate, and free from the notion that we have to believe in the same God to come together and celebrate our country. The holidays are a time of happiness – a happiness that is not restricted to any one group of people. The message is universal, and winter staples like ugly sweaters are helping us live out that message.
Jake is a senior international business major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.