The Holiday Season

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There are all sorts of ways to go about politicizing the holiday season: talking about the “true” meaning of Christmas from a religious perspective, accusing groups of trying to “steal” Christmas because certain businesses say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” so as to not “offend” other religious groups. Some people cry about “the family” being under attack and all this other nonsense. The funny thing about this politicization is that it doesn’t really have much to do with politics, rather religion and what some call family values. So much for separation of church and state, huh?

I personally don’t care to bring religion into anything, the winter solstice included. What interests me, however, is the economic ramifications of the holiday season and what it means to average people today. People frantically rush around buying as much as they can as soon as they can so as to give their families a “merry” holiday, but does anyone take the time to think about how that effects everyone else? The people they aren’t shopping for or cooking a Dickensian Christmas goose for may not feel so merry about having to work on Thanksgiving and miss dinner with their families so the shop-‘til-you-droppers can get their Black Friday bargain.

I’ve been the type to generally enjoy the holiday season since I was young. The warmth of the colored lights and spending time with friends and family always appealed to me as it does to millions of other Americans. Sure, we’re always seeing charities and church groups collecting for less-than-fortunate individuals and even families that can’t afford to enjoy the holidays, but what about the people who aren’t quite in that group but struggle to have a merry holiday? Consumer confidence is at a pretty substantial low this holiday season, and though the purchasing power of the American people has risen enough to compel a lot of us to invest in new cars and new homes, economists say that it’s left little room for discretionary spending on holiday presents.

Aside from those Americans who can’t afford to get little Johnny thousands of dollars worth of soon-to-be-obsolete technology and video game systems this Christmas are others who have it even harder. The already eroding middle class, in large numbers having been forced into working in the retail industry, is now being forced to work earlier and earlier on Black Friday every year, now bleeding into Thanksgiving day with many large retailers opening at 8, 6, and even 5 PM on Thanksgiving. Retailers, knowing that it’s going to take a lot of discounts and bargains to bring in the shoppers this year, are kicking it up a notch by opening earlier and offering more deals. The people who show up on Thanksgiving will blow their money on electronics and clothes that even when 80% cheaper are still marked up hundreds of percentage points from the pennies they cost to manufacture in under-developed nations by slave laborers. Now our fellow Americans in retail are looking more and more like those slave laborers. And other Americans, by throwing their money at these unethical companies, are basically damning their counterparts in retail into working these horrible shifts for little pay.

So many hard-working people out there who are trying to support their families by working in retail are denied benefits, full-time hours, overtime, job security, consistent and fair schedules, and even the respect and recognition they deserve for the jobs they do. That’s not to say that a job working in retail or customer service is one of great difficulty or physical strain, but the mental strain of dealing with consumers and being over-worked and under-paid takes a major toll on people who may already be working other jobs or having trouble supporting their families. Retailers who open their stores at ridiculous hours during the holidays and make their employees endure torturous shifts and rushes of customers are only validated by their ploys at bringing in shoppers being successful.

To go back to the “attack on the family” idea during the holidays, in all honesty, I think that’s what we’re facing these days. Not by the liberal left, atheists, or Christ haters, but corporations that care more about profits than working even half as hard to please their workers as the workers do to please them. And these villains are only succeeding because of the endless efforts of their abused workforce and the revenues they reap from Americans who are not always so much better off than the retail slaves but are selfish enough to shop at 5 in the evening on Thanksgiving and give the customer service associate helping them a hard time because they can’t use triple coupons.

I think we need to take a step back from the glittering consumerism this holiday season and remember what really warms our hearts during Christmas; spending time with our friends and loved ones and enjoying the simple things like a lit Christmas tree, some holiday music, and a glass of eggnog. Who of us can really say that the warmth of the holidays that we enjoy is found in stampeding over an elderly woman in a department store to be the first in line to buy a 100” flat-screen TV?