may all your christmases be white

the cult of christianity and consumerism

by: karly van puymbroeck

please note: all manner of religious discussion is a form of this author’s individual opinion

With Christmas just a few short days away, I feel pressed to write a piece about the overall growing discontentment I have towards the holiday season.  I feel really disconnected to the all the Christmas songs promising love, happiness and peace and disheartened at all the racist issues that seem to prop up on local, provincial and federal news at this time of year.   Having just finished exams two days ago, I’ve had the first 48-stress free hours since the beginning of September, and am finding all this time on my hands to be spent trying really hard to find that warm fuzzy place inside me that all the Christmas well-wishers seem to have in overwhelming abundance.

As a feminist, I cannot help but question the motives of a holiday that is so centered on dominant Christian ideology and false conscious consumerism.  Although I am not against Christians, I am suspicious of most organized religions, typically those who have a long history of violence, misogyny and oppression.  It is not about my personal disdain for the Christian faith – it’s really about how our culture has chosen to favour one religion above all others and turn it into an all or nothing holiday.  That is, through direct-to-consumer advertising and pop culture’s representation of Christmas itself, the holiday is so blatantly exclusive to the dominant class (white/heteronormative/middle-upper class).  I have compiled a massive list of points as to why Christmas is, in reality, a sham, but narrowed it down to three main points that may speak to why myself and others may be feeling slightly…left out this holiday season.

You are not a Christian.  I have chosen in the past year to stop identifying with the Christian faith, (a choice that I respectfully choose not to elaborate on at the present moment) but I am so conditioned by our culture’s Christian sympathies to still believe that Christmas is a time for me to rejoice in the … blah blah blah.  In short, as an ex-Christian, it is really difficult to pry myself away from the sticky confines of Christianity, particularly Catholicism and it’s guilt-tripping tendencies.  However, what is even more difficult to do is to negotiate finding this “warm fuzzy feeling of peace and happiness” by shopping endlessly for friends and family and feeling immense pressure from television ads that equate the meaning of Christmas with spending money.

Also, if you are not Christian, then this particular holiday may not have any real meaning to you.  This should be a given fact considering the diverse population this country is made up of.  However, our yearly schedules in employment and school are made up solely around Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.  At many places of work, it is often difficult for people to negotiate time off for any other religious occasion that exists outside the dominant faith.  Christmas and Christianity works to alienate all other religions and spiritualities by creating the inherent assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas.

– You are not white – Christmas in 2011 is a time for advertising that over-indulges itself with the white, heteronormative ideal.  It doesn’t take a genius to point out the absence of any racialized persons in television commercials or Christmas specials, but it does take some critical thinking to determine why this is so.  Christianity is so closely knitted with white supremacy, which has a long history of racialization, colonialism and patronizing attitudes towards marginalized groups like the poor and the Indigenous.  At Christmas, we hear John Lennon crying out for people to take notice of the oppressed people in the world, but Christianity has high jacked the Beatles’ song and used it in their commercial to raise money for the poor, starving black babies in Africa (the only racialized people I see in ads for Christmas). There is nothing wrong with supporting an organization such as this, but you need to ask yourself why this commercial only plays at Christmas time.  The commercial pulls on our heartstrings by playing on a dominant Christian notion of helping the “deserving” poor – all of whom are African-American in this case.  I challenge you now to find a Christmas movie at Wal-Mart that has a black male or female lead or to find commercials or any Christmas narrative that is represented by any racialized person(s).  (You don’t actually have to look – I already did, and there isn’t anything).

Christianity is closely tied to whiteness, and whiteness is closely tied to the oppression of racialized people.  Commercials such as these play on the idea that only whiteness (and everything it entails) is deserving of Christmas!  The absence of racialized people in dominant modes of media, particularly advertising, demonstrates how Christmas is exclusively for white people, completely negating all other communities of racialized people who follow the Christian faith around the world.

– You are not part of a nuclear family or a heterosexual relationship  — Christmas is only made to seem accessible to those in a nuclear family (father, mother, brother, sister) and to those who are heterosexual.  This is seen in nearly every advertisement.  We usually see the mom shopping for the entire family, the dad in his patriarchal position carving the turkey and cutting down the Christmas tree.  There are millions of examples of the nuclear family at Christmas, but the point I’m trying to make is that our culture is filled with families who are made up of all different types of people now, and also many families who operate with one sole parent, making the consumerist Christmas we see on television nearly impossible to recreate for their families (a single income doesn’t get people far in 2011). What I find most repelling is that many sects of Christianity still do not recognize certain persons in our modern day world.  Many churches and sects deny GLBTQ persons, who many of us have in our intimate families and social circles.  It’s obvious to me that the Christmas spirit comes with fine print.

Given the three points above, it’s no wonder I feel disconnected to the holiday season, like so many other people do.  We have been conditioned into accepting Christian propaganda, even if we don’t believe in the faith itself, while all other religions are told by many to “suck it up” and “if you don’t like it, go back to your own country”.  Christmas may seem like a time to relax and see friends and family, but all the other stuff that comes along with Christmas can be disheartening, and well, isolating to those who do not fit the norms of our culture. Furthermore, I am embarrassed how our culture has adopted a religion’s principle core values and beliefs and made them into something that can be bought and soldThis is a paradox: at it’s most basic principle, religion and spirituality is supposed to be an individual’s inward journey towards discovering the meaning of life by different religious and spiritual practices of the person’s chosen faith.  It is not an Ipad or Xbox; it is not a debt-induced free-for-all at the local WalMart.  But our culture has made these spiritual values into an economic exchange that has huge impacts on people who cannot keep up with exaggerated consumerism, resulting in immense pressure on everyone during the holidays to not only spend exuberant amounts of money, but to also try and squish themselves into a tight, rigid mould of the Christian doctrine.

editor’s note: karly is a fourth year english literature and women’s studies double major.  she enjoys teaching and mentoring young girls through feminist principles and has a particular interest in hip-hop and indigenous feminisms.