‘Why I believe Christmas is grotesque’

Tis the season to spend money: The average American spends $900 on Christmas presents. © Getty
by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

She has won numerous awards including Media Personality of the Year in 2000 and the George Orwell Prize for political writing in 2002. In 2001 she was awarded an MBE for services to journalism.

Christmas is a time of warmth, companionship, joyful consumption and generosity. Or is it? Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says “bah humbug” to the festivities. To her, they reveal nothing but greed.

One Friday night I was booked to do the newspaper review on the BBC News channel. As I walked to the studios along London’s Regent Street, I saw the area had been roundly trashed.

Broken glass, beer cans, wet and filthy red hats, coats, white fake moustaches filled the street and pavements. Had there been a mass abduction of Santas by envious, ill–mannered, inebriated extraterrestrials?

The stench of urine was everywhere; next to All Souls church, someone had defecated and a blank-faced, tired, black cleaner was using newspapers to clear up the mess. This was the goodwill left behind after the annual SantaCon parade, when revellers dress up as Santa ostensibly to cheer people up.

A Christmas Carol, the nation’s favourite at this time, is no longer a story of times past but times present.

I talked to a few who were still around and compos mentis. Was it a charity? “No. Just, like, fun.” Not for the rubbish collector. Nor those BBC broadcasters who had to get police escorts. Nor restaurant staff who had to barricade themselves against marauding drunks.

Not since the last urban riots had I seen such scenes of nihilism and wilful degradation. It was, though, a perfect metaphor for what we have become – selfish, unrestrained, Bacchanalian, orgiastic.

I wonder if these goodtimers saw the homeless on the streets? Did they stop for a chat and offer money or food to the cold and huddled in sleeping bags? Somehow I don’t believe they did.

In December the humble son of God now must give way to the voracious god of mammon. Christmas, more than ever, celebrates unholy consumption and greed. Poorly paid workers toil away in this country and abroad, making stuff which the loaded don’t need but must have.

In a glossy Sunday mag, models were wearing shimmery, sequined party dresses for these insatiable millionaires and billionaires. A red “jewelled” number by Dolce and Gabbana costs £32,946 exactly. How many women stitched those jewels on the fine fabric? How much were they paid? Did their eyes hurt and, if so, how badly? Did their fingers bleed?

For £50 a British child of a single mum here would get some proper food, perhaps shoes and a dress for Christmas.

More working households are on the breadline; food and fuel poverty are at shocking levels. Millions of Britons can’t make ends meet. Voters are persuaded that the poor, not the rich, are social and economic vultures.

Back in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan brought in the first wave of guilt-free avarice and rebranded it as patriotism. Michael Douglas, as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, represented that new breed of go-getters who were properly and almost universally despised. Today’s Gekkos are not in such danger, not even when they wreck world financial markets.

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the nation’s favourite at this time, is no longer a story of times past but times present. The most vulnerable are cold and hungry, the disabled driven to the edge. But hey, lucky self-pleasurers, don’t give a damn. Spend, spend, spend, get, get, get, eat, eat, eat and get sloshed.

This is an extract of a longer piece, reprinted with kind permission. For the full essay please see the link in Become An Expert.

You Decide

  1. Can excess consumption be a good thing?

Activities

  1. Plan as economical a Christmas as possible, while still buying presents and cooking Christmas lunch. How much does it cost?

Word Watch

Bacchanalian
Referring to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, fertility, and prophecy.
Homeless
More than 8,000 people slept rough on London's streets during 2016/17. The number has more than doubled in the last six years.
Mammon
Wealth regarded as an evil influence or as a false object of worship and devotion.
Gordon Gekko
Gekko has become a symbol in popular culture for unrestrained greed with the signature line, "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."

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