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Santa Claus and the commercialization of Christmas

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It is astounding how the myth of Santa Claus has prevailed and become a central feature of the observance of Christmas.

To me, it is a cruel trick played on poor people. I have seen too many occasions on which poor people struggle, even steal, to make sure their children get gifts for Christmas, only to give credit for it to Santa Claus. The commercialization of Christmas feeds on advertisement through the many technological gadgets now available. {{more}}Advertisements that feature toys give the children the idea that there can be no Christmas without them. The children then make demands on their parents. They are sometimes told to make a wish list that would be sent to Santa. There are no limits on cost, since conceivably Santa has a lot of money to be able to supply kids all over the world with toys. So, parents try to accommodate their children’s wish list and give Santa the credit. He is known to climb down through the chimney. For Caribbean children without chimneys, they try to accommodate Santa’s entry by leaving a window open. Today, the technology allows us to take a photograph of Santa standing in front or at the side of our Christmas trees. To the children, this is proof that Santa is very much alive.

Santa is central. We might soon forget the real purpose of Christmas as the Christian tradition tells it, especially for those who no longer grace the church doors. With the traditional Christmas carols and songs, the birth of Christ was central. It appears to me that today we pay more attention to Santa, who we are told is looking for a Caribbean wife. Santa will create problems for our families when fathers find out that Santa had been kissing their wives under the Christmas trees. Caribbeanizing Christmas music is good, but we have moved away from the traditional Christmas story. We do not hear carols as much as we used to. Santa fits beautifully in to the commercialization strategy. You feature Santa at a store during the Christmas season and we all rush to take our children there.

Kingstown was commercially crazy even though the crowds at the cashiers’ desks did not match those that filled the stores. Vendors occupied just about every available space in Kingstown. You saw them at places you had never seen them before. Goods sent down by barrels were peddled on the streets and street boutiques were created. Many vehicle trunks were open to display the goodies that could be had quite cheaply. Sometimes one got the impression that there were more sellers than buyers. People looked around to find anything they could conceivably sell. Those who spent their monies often spent it on wants rather than needs. And why not, for we have accepted that commercialization is what Christmas is about. Journalists, commenting on how good or bad Christmas was, interview business people to find out about the state of their business. Good sales mean a good Christmas and suggests that there was a lot of money in the country. The lines at Moneygram and Western Union told their own story.

I was told that on one night last week there were seven robberies in Cane Garden and 14 on the next night. The following night gunshots filled the air, as if people were on a firing range. To some, there is no other way to meet what we consider the necessities of Christmas than by stealing. It was hustle time for the minivans and craziness par excellence. One day and this was only one of many, I was driving down Casson Hill on my way to Greaves; vehicles were lined up from Marion House to the airport gap. I had reached just below the old Casson house entrance when unexpectedly there was a minivan bypassing the 50 or 60 vehicles, driving on the route of oncoming traffic. I looked to see how that was going to work itself out, only to see a lady a few cars ahead stop and create space for the van. One other followed suit and just barely had space to avoid oncoming traffic. I was even tempted to do the same. I got a lot of ‘cussing’ from drivers who, when confronted with an obstacle, like a parked vehicle, still convinced themselves that they had the right of way. I was prepared to answer one of them, but remembered that discretion was the better part of valour.

Some people believe that Christmas involves being in Kingstown, even if they had nothing to buy or do there. So, you are hustling to get out of the overcrowded sidewalks shared by vendors and people when you meet a group of ‘limers’ in front, sometimes four or five, side by side chatting or texting, oblivious to others behind who want to pass. Flow was crazy and needs to reorganize their set-up, because it is sheer frustration there. Then, the banks! At one of them there was a line serving senior citizens, where six or seven people standing in line had to wait until the single cashier had spent a little over an hour servicing a customer. What Christmas did was simply to highlight the craziness that normally exists.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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