Deck the halls with pushy shoppers

Meghan Kenny

The holiday season is careening toward us at a rate that would surely make Rudolph blush; just beyond a seemingly endless sea of exams and papers is enough Yuletide gaiety to put even the Grinchiest Grinch in the Christmas spirit.

This year, as we ceremoniously trim the tree and gather together with loved ones, we remember what is most important to us: the bonds of family, the joy of giving, the sincere selflessness that is the true meaning of Christmas. We are sure that from now on, our troubles will be out of sight.

That is, of course, unless Santa doesn’t bring us what we asked for.

In our commerce-driven culture, product is king. Most of us will do almost anything to get the latest IPod model, the hottest Burberry scarf, the newest version of Playstation, even and especially if we have to go to great lengths to obtain those coveted goods. And what better time to ask for such pricey merchandise than during the holiday season? Mom will be thrilled to fight through scores of testy holiday shoppers at the mall to spend a fortune on you… after all, ’tis better to give than to receive, right?

For those of us fortunate enough to exchange goodies on Jesus’ birthday, the merry holiday has become all but synonymous with presents. And for the kings of capital, the holly, jolly holiday is the ultimate jackpot. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retailers expect to take in as much as 40 percent of their annual sales in the six weeks before Christmas– enough to make or break a company.

Beginning bright and early on the day after Halloween, Christmas season is in full-swing (despite the tepid weather and outlandish costumes), and the pressure is on. Every mall in America is bedecked in enough garland and white lights to circle the earth twice, and individual stores follow suit. Before we even sit down to gorge ourselves with turkey on Thanksgiving, many of us (not withstanding myself- I wait until the last minute every year) have already scoured the countryside and coughed up our life savings in order to procure the most desired merchandise. Sure, we might end up with sore feet, an empty wallet, even a few scrapes and bruises from a tussle with an overzealous patron, but we chalk these up to minor sacrifices in the pursuit of the almighty product.

As Christmas approaches, and shopping quickly surpasses sleeping and eating as the most vital of human activities, Americans are dropping major cash on Yuletide cheer. In fact, the NRF expects the average consumer to spend $791.10 this holiday season, up from $738.11 last year.

And, of course, the media only exacerbates this annual routine. We are virtually inundated with advertisements in magazines, in commercials, on billboards, the sides of buses, and websites. They tell us what we “must have” to be cool, fun, sexy. To be on the cutting edge. They basically create needs for us, and boy do we buy into them. Literally:

While we always love Oprah’s in-depth reporting and emotional interviews (who doesn’t?) the popular talk show host garners her highest ratings from her annual “Favorite Things” episode, during which she essentially instructs the shrieking studio audience, and millions of eager viewers across the country, on what to buy each holiday season (to the tune of thousands of dollars, of course).

And with the hype around new toys and gadgets like Nintendo’s wii and Tickle Me Elmo TMX building for months, these hot commodities are in high demand and very short supply. The new Elmo doll, which reportedly rolls around in hysterical laughter and slaps his fist on the ground, has been consistently selling out of many toy stores and Web locations since its September release. Its suggested retail price is $39.99, but with the holidays (and greedy children) nipping at parents’ heels, the giggly doll is selling for as much as $1,000 on some sites.

Crazy, right? Then why do we do it? Maybe our culture needs to rethink its interpretation of “the season of giving.” Maybe we would do well to remember what we are celebrating as we push our neighbor in the mall Santa line or snatch the last pair of Ugg boots out of a fellow shopper’s hands. This holiday season, let’s really give a gift that keeps on giving… and not because it’s rechargeable.