Christmas is for the retail business

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MIKE WOOTTON

MIKE WOOTTON

A RECENT survey of selected countries in Europe attempted to determine enthusiasm for Christmas festivities. The finding was that the French were the least enthusiastic with the other countries surveyed being all about equal, i.e., fairly enthusiastic.

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What was interesting given that the survey was published in the UK where people are not always too well disposed towards the French were the reader’s comments, the vast majority of which expressed a wish to move to France for Christmas. Such comments as there were complained about the commercialization of Christmas, which in the UK is microscopic compared to how it is in the Philippines.

Christmas is a family time centered around an important Christian event.

It is a time of “goodwill to all men.” It is also the height of the retailer’s year from a sales perspective and in a nation where economic growth is consumption-led then Christmas must do wonders for Philippines GDP statistics.

There is a long holiday, about seven working days this year given that most people will take leave on 29th and given the level of industrialization here then as long as people are spending, such a long holiday shouldn’t cause too much of a problem!

People in the Philippines start putting up Christmas trees and decorations in September when some stores start playing Christmas carols over the piped music systems. The anticipation and excitement builds over a three or four month period.

The roads start getting clogged up with shoppers about the end of November and seasonal bazaars have started well before that. Many Filipinos break the bank for their Christmas festivities and as it is a time of goodwill to all men then lots of hands appear all over the place in expectation of a bit of financial goodwill.

So Christmas in the Philippines is a time of great excitement, great shopping and great merriment. And there is nothing wrong with that provided that people can afford it.

The problems arise when people can’t really afford it but because of the general level of excitement and expectation, in which everybody gets swept up, feel that they have to take part whether or not their budget stretches enough, and then towards the end of the month they are out of money again.

Aside from that I’m sure that not everybody likes to be stuck in traffic for hours on end or have to wait in long lines to be served in shops (I had to wait for 40 minutes to pay for a purchase yesterday), or have to fight their way through the shopping malls. But by my observation this is mostly in Manila, get out into the provinces, like Palawan where things are a lot quieter and more focused on the real meaning of Christmas with rather more modest celebrations.

But Christmas is meant to be cold, it is in the middle of the far northern winter; it’s all about snow, log fires, pine trees, holly and mistletoe, and possibly sleigh rides. These icons look a bit out of place when the temperature on Christmas day will be about 34oC with bright sunshine. There is absolutely no link between the Philippines the inflatable snowmen and the other wintry Christmas things on display all over the place.

The 25th December in the far northern hemisphere is the end of the old winter solstice after which the nights get shorter and days longer so gradually improving conditions for agriculture, and as such was a cause for celebration in those parts of the world in ancient times well before the birth of Christ.

The worst of winter was considered to be over and spring and summer were to be looked forward to as all the northern ancients huddled around their fires wrapped in animal skins, scratching themselves and gnawing bones whilst snow was lying thick on the ground outside. The days were dark and the nights were long and most of all it was cold.

Christianity was brought to the Philippines by Spanish missionaries, notably the Society of Jesus who in their teachings explained the birth of Jesus and its biblical representation which in any event is unclear as to an actual date. The missionaries did not introduce snowmen and Santa and his sleigh which in reality are imported and inappropriate retail gimmicks harking back rather tenuously to the times when the winter solstice was cause for great celebration.

They do, however, provide a convenient focus, imported from the “good old USA” I guess around which retailers can “psych up” consumers in order to wrest as much money as they can from them.

So the consumer -focused retailers have taken everybody from the winter solstice and flea bitten greasy old bearded ancients huddled around log fires, though the notional day of the birth of Jesus and thus an important day on the Christian calendar, into their shops en masse and got them spending as if there were no tomorrow.

Whilst I don’t want to sound too much like Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” I do have to say alas that Christmas has become the biggest retailer con-job of all time and if everybody tried to keep things a bit more in perspective instead of being caught up in the rush to spend, spend, spend, then Christmas may actually get back to being a time of family, simple good will to all men and for want of a better date, an important Christian festival—and it would be much more relaxing perhaps.

Now I have to go and do some shopping . . . ! Happy Christmas to one and all.

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.

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