Public holidays, be they religious in origin or national, are meant to bring communities together enabling them to renew their ties. They foster, or are supposed to foster a community spirit and the virtues of charity, love and compassion. Yet looking around at ‘the feeding frenzy’ that has enveloped shopping malls worldwide, it is impossible not to stop and wonder whether the initial aim has been perverted. The Pope warned the world this year to beware of consumerism and it is not hard to see where he was coming from.
There is no corner of our existence that the free market economy has not infiltrated and with it comes the profit motive. In order to flourish and for the wheels to keep turning, the system demands that the public spends continually, which means that appetites need to be tickled and temptation needs to be irresistible. The modern shopping mall is like a black hole whose pull no consumer can escape: millions are spent on trivia which is beautifully packaged come the day of the festivities but chucked out the next; people gorge on rich food that ends up clogging the arteries and laying the groundwork for heart attacks. People who can ill afford it are bankrupted by the whole system and are privately glad when it is all over for another year. What is more, all this happens while half the world looks on.
The vast differences in standard of living mean that a large portion of the population have to watch while others gorge on food they will never know the taste of or while they unwrap parcels containing all manner of consumer goods bought on a whim: the latest Barbie doll, action man, video game, perfume and the like are enjoyed briefly and then tossed aside to be replaced by newer versions. Despite all this, it seems to occur to no one that spending sprees associated with public holidays are obscene. No one seems to be unduly concerned that half the world is starving while the rest eat an eight course meal. The real purpose of our religious festivals seems to have been completely forgotten.
A more concerted effort needs to be made to return public holidays to their original purpose: helping those who are less fortunate, feeding and clothing them and contributing to their happiness. Charity becomes especially important during so called celebrations because people should be able to celebrate together; together that is with those who are less fortunate. The tents set up during Ramadan where everyone can break their fast together are a case in point. Would it really matter if people gave family members a hug and gave to orphanages or to old people’s homes instead? However, this doesn’t mean that all celebrations should be abolished; far from it.
The essence of religious festivals worldwide has never been about promoting the market economy; it has been about remembering and getting together with family and friends and strengthening bonds of love and friendship. One other fact that needs to be remembered is the fact that the love you feel for a person does not need to be measured with the amount of money spent on a gift. People need to stop and think about the values they are instilling in the next generation and remember that if the profit motive is allowed to dominate every aspect of their lives, we cannot expect them to grow up to be caring and loving individuals. Many more poor people will succumb to hypothermia on the snowy streets of great metropolises, many more will starve in third world countries and many more will drown trying to reach a better life unless we try and moderate the consumerism that we have allowed to infect us.
The free market economy has perverted and corrupted some of our best traditions and it has to stop if the poor, the weak, the sick and the infirm are also to have chance of happiness and fulfillment. A compromise may be reached by changing the focus of our shopping sprees. The urge to do so will not come naturally; parents, educators and world leaders need to be our standard bearers and we should follow in the knowledge that we are making the world a better place.