Gimme Gimme Gimme: Holiday Consumerism in American Culture

What do you think of when you hear the words Holiday Season? Maybe you remember decorating the Christmas tree, lighting the menorah, the seven principals of Kwanzaa or one of millions of other holiday traditions. These days, though, it seems like all that Americans think about is the gifts.

Consumerist America began to take hold in the years following World War II.  Soldiers were coming home to happy families, having had no comforts overseas. Luxury goods, such as cars and televisions, became more readily available to the American people and wartime industry had finally boosted a struggling economy. During that time, Americans bought more home goods than ever before. Washing machines, refrigerators and vacuums flew off the shelves. Television provided an opening for advertisers to force their way into what had before been the privacy of home. It was during these years that buying things became a central part of our country’s collective DNA.

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to shop.  Big-box stores have come into existence and online shopping services such as Amazon or Ebay have revolutionized how we buy and sell. Along with credit cards, they have given new meaning to the term impulse buy.  These online super-stores have also made shopping even easier; people don’t even have to leave home to buy their holiday gifts anymore.  New studies by the American Psychological Association also show that stress might lead to reduced self-control, a bad thing when deciding how to spend your paycheck.

So what’s the deal with American consumerism? It can’t just be because we’re stressed out – According to Bloomberg, we’re only the 54th most stressed country in the world.  No one knows exactly why we’re so focused on “getting” during the season of giving, but one thing is for certain: It isn’t good.  Millions of Americans (myself included) cringe when they see Black Friday mobs or a December squabble over the newest iPhone.  Our greed overtakes respect for others and chaos ensues. Once-meaningful holidays have been lost to avarice. It’s disgusting.  I like getting gifts as much as anyone else, but before you unwrap your new sled, or phone, or whatever else you may receive this Holiday Season, try and remember what you’re really celebrating.

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