Illustration by Anya Chytrowski

Every year, we whip out our wallets as the holiday season approaches. However, while people may measure the holidays by what we buy, these purchases do not represent the real spirit of the season. The holiday spirit is about happiness, being with family, and helping other people, not having new stuff. The trend of consumerism during the holiday season corrupts the holiday spirit. Consumerism is characterized by the preoccupation and inclination towards the buying of consumer goods.

The average American adult will spend $419 this year on holiday related items, such as toys, technology, clothing, food and more. This season has become such a big deal for the US that the health of the American economy is often measured by the amount of money spent during this time period.

There are many reasons that gift-giving has become important to Americans. To start, we buy gifts in order to express our love and affection towards the people we care for. Far too often we evaluate our relationships by the size and expense of gifts we are given. One of the most common gifts given during the holidays is jewelry. The desire of people to give is seen as an opportunity by companies to make more money. This time of year is a big money maker for large corporations, and they focus on marketing to boost sales.

Holidays also come from religion; without the traditions and rituals, the holidays can lack meaning. For secular people, gifts can become the most important focus of the holidays.

Consumerism defeats the purpose of the holidays. Showing love is a good instinct, but the way we commonly do so during the winter holidays can be detrimental to the planet, our bank accounts, and the rest of our community that could benefit from charitable giving. Rather than spending away money on material items, our time and money should be spent in ways that help others. The holidays are an excellent opportunity for generosity. Holiday cheer can be spread through giving back. We should focus more on giving money and time to charities and the less fortunate, spending time with loved ones, having fun, and enjoying ourselves. It is essential that we focus less on measuring each other’s love through the value of their material gifts.

Giving gifts is the one tradition that most winter holidays have in common but it is not the only way to enjoy a meaningful holiday. In Mexico, one of the most important holidays is Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. It is celebrated by people coming together, eating delicious food, and making offerings to honor their ancestors. Many traditions around the world have people gathering to sing songs, put up decorations, eat meals, and be together; such celebrations bring meaning to a holiday without requiring religion or consumerism.

It is important that we nurture the holiday spirit in ways that go beyond shopping.