People tend to flock to arts markets during the festive season, looking for gifts for loved ones, or treating themselves. I write in celebration of these markets and to urge others who want to shop ethically to seek out their local arts markets all year round.
by Liv Barnett
Christmas is rightfully criticised as an event of extreme consumerism and financially the most challenging time of the year for many, especially as satisfying the desires of children come with an increasingly steep price tag. But it is also a time where everyone celebrating it demonstrates the capacity for generosity, self-sacrifice and thought for others. No doubt, the 20th and 21st century history of Christmas is one where people consume as much as possible, with little care for waste or the environment. Articles circulate annually telling us of ‘Christmas towns’ in China where the whole town is populated by families painting little plastic trinkets red, only to be sent to Europe and America for temporary use during this festive season. It is also the time when people accumulate most of their debt, the time when drunk and disorderly behaviour in the UK sky rockets and domestic violence increases dramatically.
However, let’s not feel too glum, even for the those who resent the un-unionised Amazon workers standing in for “Santa’s Little Helpers”, or the fact that Father Christmas is supposedly an old white dude with a beard who delivers gifts, meanwhile a less old white dude with a less impressive beard is remembered for his anthem aiming ‘to save Africa’. There’s still something positive we can focus on.
Christmas is a time where people in the western world also mark a moment in time and space with togetherness
It is one of the only times of year where everyone is encouraged to spend time and feast with loved ones. Feasts traditionally bring people together, for better or worse, and contribute to how people make and maintain different forms of social relationships. Rather than thinking of Christmas as a time where we are forced to be with family, we can think of it as a time where family is made. The sharing of particular ritual foods, meats and special vegetables puts Christmas in a similar category to feasts that take place throughout the world during significant moments in life, and just like in societies idealised for their collective way of life, Christmas is a time where people in the western world also mark a moment in time and space with togetherness.
Alongside feasting and sharing of particular foods, there is also gifting. Within the academic discipline of anthropology, gifting is not understood merely as a one way transaction of an object for the sake of demonstrating love or kindness, but rather a social practice that establishes ongoing social relationships. These may not always be benign. Gifts can draw people into obligations to others, or begin the process of competitive gifting where people out-gift each other in value or substance and establish their own prestige. Nonetheless, gifting is the antithesis to alienation – it is a moment we give something of ourselves to another person – it might be time taken to find the gift, money spent purchasing it, or thought gone in to choosing it. The gift is far more than the object that is exchanged, it is a material representation of both the social relationship that exists between the participants of the exchange, and also a symbol of the amount of effort and sacrifice someone is willing to make for another without any direct or immediate material gain. Such sacrifice and thought for others is increasingly more rare and is not a virtue promoted in the current neoliberal climate – where we are expected to exercise individual choice and freedom without regard of our impact on others or the environment.. Thinking of others before ourselves is one aspect of Christmas that exists alongside the otherwise alienating aspects of it, where those producing the objects later purchased and exchanged are never to use the object or meet the people who do so (an aspect of what Marx termed as estrangement).
Therefore, this Christmas (and in the lead up to the New Year) try to remember and remind your loved ones, that what has made this period significant to our communities
Christmas, for those fortunate enough to have the resources to celebrate it, and loved ones to celebrate it with can be a time of closeness. It can also be a time of intense stress with an increase in domestic violence and family conflicts. It puts a huge strain on women in particular, who often carry a large proportion of the invisible material and affective labour of Christmas on their shoulders (cooking, choosing presents, decorating, organising guests, placing presents in stockings and cleaning in preparation for hosting). Therefore, it is certainly not a time of ease. But we should nonetheless remember that it is a time where we reforge and maintain our most significant social relationships. This, paradoxically done through immense consumption – is nonetheless a moment where many of us make time and effort to reconnect with family and friends. Christmas is one of the few rituals left that brings people together in time and space through feasting, gifting and even singing the odd carol. Therefore, this Christmas (and in the lead up to the New Year) try to remember and remind your loved ones, that what has made this period significant to our communities is not just the birth of a religious figure, the reincarnation of earlier pagan rituals, the royal’s taste for German trees or Coca Cola’s branding skills but our relationships of care that are made and maintained. Through the acts of gifting and sharing at Christmas we emphasise the ways we are all connected and affected by one another, as opposed to prioritising the individual that is otherwise pervasive in contemporary political and economic ideologies.
Featured image : Christian C (no changes made, under CC 2.0)
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution and fund a better media future.
by Jonathan Lee
You can sign the petition to request Otis Bolamu’s case be reviewed and his deportation halted here!
Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP
Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
Dear Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP,
I am writing to you to regarding the imminent administrative removal (or forced deportation) of a Swansea resident, and Congolese National, Otis Bolamu (Home Office reference number: HO-B1980997).
As another Christmas passes us by, society suddenly remembers about the people living their lives on the streets. The cold weather and family focus of this time of year always seems to bring about fresh discussion, reports, and news concerning the issues around homelessness. Thankfully, much of the talk on the subject – especially on social media – is rather positive. This year I’ve seen a considerable number of friends and colleagues on Twitter and Facebook talking about admirable projects that provide food, care and company to those without a home during the Christmas period.
For many, the festive season can be a stressful time of the year as well as a joyous one. There’s all the gifts you have to buy, making sure to post presents and cards in time for the big day, getting the whole family around a table on Christmas day – and these are just a few of the many things you have to deal with. There are many people who don’t celebrate Christmas, of course, but for a number of those who do Christmas can actually be the loneliest time of the year. They might not have families or friends to go to. Amongst these were the 300,000 elderly who spent Christmas day on their own last year – but loneliness and isolation can be one of the hardest things to overcome for other people too. For someone with a disability or a rare or invisible condition that others struggle to comprehend, loneliness can be exceptionally hard.
By Sam Naylor
The Christmas month has arrived. For some this realisation comes with a groan as materialism and capitalism grips the nation tightly, churning out ‘heartfelt’ Christmas adverts for supermarkets and the repetitive spew of songs from Christmas pasts. Though I am guilty of a deep-rooted love for the festive period, where family and friends merge in the winter landscape. December is also the month for many University students where deadlines loom overhead, either intensifying the stressed-out mentality or acting as a dampener to the winter wonderland. The juggling act to keep all the tasks moving smoothly begins to experience shakes and wobbles. Now I’m not saying that being a student in the UK is the hardest life (though the scraping of maintenance grants and proposed change to nursing and midwifery tuition payments will certainly make matters much worse), but it isn’t just Netflix and takeaways either.