Black Friday: generosity, greed and guilt

Selfie: 51% of Christmas shoppers buy gifts for themselves too. Image © Tutu

Are Christmas presents a waste? “Black Friday” today and “Cyber Monday” mark the start of a huge spending spree in rich countries — big enough to end world hunger for the next eight years.

A pair of high-definition binoculars with built-in compass? A platinum fountain pen? A Nikon underwater camera?

It’s that time of year again. Today is the day when the Christmas sales traditionally launch and the roads are so packed that that someone in 1950s’ America called it “Black Friday”.

And hard on its heels comes “Cyber Monday” — a huge bonanza for online retailers.

The binoculars, the pen and the camera mentioned above all cost around £220.

That is the amount that every single one of 7.7 billion people living on planet Earth could receive this Christmas if the total global spend on presents was shared equally.

According to a German company called Statista the combined global Christmas shopping bill in 2019 will be, roughly, £1.7 trillion.

What else might we do with the cash?

One answer comes from the United Nations.

It says that the annual cost of “achieving zero hunger” is £205 billion a year.

In other words, we could ensure there were no hungry people for the next 8.2 years.

Surely it is time to ask: are presents a waste of money?

Jingle bells

It has to be admitted they are, say some. From the days of receiving a new thriller and a bar of chocolate in your stocking, to the current mountains of brightly wrapped junk, looming with their promise of tears before bedtime, in thousands of slightly over-heated front rooms, surely we have lost touch with good sense?

“What puritanical joylessness is this?” the majority respond. Giving and receiving presents is a hallowed tradition, harking back to a stable in Bethlehem. Jesus didn’t want frankincense and myrrh, but it would take a particularly obtuse mind not to understand that they were a symbol of something else. Our gifts, too, are important symbols: symbols of love. That is what makes us human.

You Decide

  1. Do you get too many presents?


  1. Imagine that you can only get presents worth £10 or less. What are the five presents that you would most like, in order of preference?

Some People Say...

“I get mad when people give me presents. I don’t want them, I don’t need them.”

Suze Orman, American author and financial adviser

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A 2018 survey by Deloitte of 9,169 consumers across 10 European countries found that UK consumers expect to spend 42% more than the European average (£400). The UK is the highest spending market in Europe ahead of Spain (£526) and Austria (£475).
What do we not know?
How much on average people give to charities over Christmas. Total spending is going up and charity donations across the world during the holidays are increasing, however.

Word Watch

A German online portal for statistics, which makes data public that has been collected by market and opinion research institutes, and data from the economic sector.
Of something unwanted or unpleasant about to happen soon.
Showing very strict, moral attitudes.
Very respected or praised because of great importance or age.
Harking back
To return to, or remember.
Slow to understand; not very intelligent.

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