Personal Blog of Mark Hoskins – Anarchist Writer and Community Organiser
Marley was dead to begin with, right?
You beat your way through the throng of shoppers. Last minute again, you’re sweating and there’s a whole family standing right in front of the shelves where you think you’ll find the thing you need to buy. They’re taking an eternity, just staring vacantly at the display of brightly coloured objects, as if they aren’t real people, as if they were put there, to obstruct you, to test you.
If Marley was dead, and in hell as the story goes, then why did he care what happened to Scrooge? And why did three ghosts not give him the opportunity to save his soul? Would it work the other way around? Would Scrooge have come back to warn Marley if he’d popped his clogs first? Right now, you’d sell your soul to be finished with this shopping, “Three ghosts to aisle four”. But dammit, why would the devil take your soul, when you’re already in hell?
If you live in Ireland, you may be familiar with that advert for the Meteor mobile phone network that depicts a day in the life of a company called Christmas Ltd. It opens with the smarmy CEO, Nicholas St Wenceslas sitting on his desk, introducing his organisation as “the company that makes you pay more for Christmas, while giving you less.” He laughs maniacally as he fires a man in the marketing department who questions the idea of marketing Christmas in June, he tells his secretary to fire “the old one” from the boy band recording a Christmas single before admitting that “year on happy new year, we squeeze people to the limits and our profits grow fat and juicy”. A voice-over at the end juxtaposes Christmas Ltd’s mean spiritedness to Meteor’s “Christmas Unlimited” deals, which aren’t really unlimited, they’re just special offers.
The “mean Mr. Christmas” archetype has existed for over a century and a half, at least, since Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. The story goes that mean old Mr. Scrooge hates Christmas and doesn’t think anyone else should be allowed enjoy it, Bah Humbug! His old business partner Jacob Marley takes a few hours out of burning in hell to scare the bejaysus out of his old buddy and pave the way for the introduction of the three ghosts – when you think about it there was only one ghost, Marley, the others were time sprites surely? – who were tasked with showing Scrooge the real meaning of Christmas, and turn him from miserly money grabber to benevolent boss.And what do you know? A Christmas miracle occurs when the ghosts pull at Scrooge’s heart strings and he becomes a living embodiment of the Christmas spirit – kind, empathetic, giving; God bless us everyone! But you all know that story, right?
Trader of Christmas Futures
Well what you probably don’t know is the story of Dickens’s unpublished sequel, A Christmas Windfall where we meet Scrooge the following festive season as debt collectors hover and his business and home are in danger of being repossessed. Marley returns and tells Scrooge that he didn’t mean for him to run their business into the ground by giving everything away (because apparently tortured souls in hell still care about profit margins – or maybe he just fancies another day away from the flames). Marley then announces that Scrooge will be visited by three traders, who will show him the true, true, meaning of Christmas, that will enable him both to be full of festive spirit and get filthy rich.
When the first trader, decked out in three piece suit, bowler hat and jet black umbrella, appears in Scrooge’s bedchamber, of course spirited in by the invisible hand of the market, he introduces himself as the Trader of Christmas past. He takes Scrooge back to the previous Christmas eve and it’s aftermath showing him his mistakes – buying that turkey for the Pratchett’s when he should have at least sold it to them on special offer – paying for Tiny Tim’s medical care, when he could have offered Bob Pratchett overtime, or sold him health insurance – and generally being way too generous for his own good. When Scrooge tells him that he thought the message of last Christmas was to be giving and caring, the trader’s face goes stony and he points off to the distance and vanishes, upon which appears the trader of Christmas present who is a PVC clad dominatrix with a bull whip who just lashes Scrooge out of it for an hour while screaming “Look at this mess you filthy pig. Look at the state of your business you fucking leveler. Are you going to try harder? Are you? I can’t hear you pig, speak up.” (This is possibly why the book wasn’t published).
With Scrooge a quivering, blubbering, reddened mess on the floor, his tormentor turns and struts away, high fiving the incoming trader of Christmas futures who looks very like Leonardo Di Caprio dressed in a bright yellow jacket, though no one would have noticed that back then. Futures grins, smile as bright as a thousand burning suns, and exclaims, “Scroogie baby, the future can still be bright, festive and lucrative, just take my hand and I’ll show you.” The pair take flight, travelling through time and space, a flight filled with bright coloured lights and Christmas trees up in November. They see people queuing for toys, buying too much food, businessmen rubbing their hands with glee and piles of dead trees beside piles of cash, symbolising, futures tells Scrooge, January.When the flight is over and the trader of Christmas futures bids farewell, old Ebeneezer Scrooge finally realises the true meaning of Christmas, giving requires buying, not giving brings guilt, those who can sell, do Christmas well.
Christmas too unlimited
Dickens’s sequel, though unpublished has become the secret Christmas handbook of capitalism. Christmas is big business; Many of us moan about the phenomenon known as ‘Christmas creep’ where the marketing for Christmas gets earlier and earlier every year. Nowadays, the marketing really kicks in full force the moment Halloween has passed, but on smaller scales it is creeping back into October. Why is this? Because Christmas is big business. It entails a massive spike in spending right across the globe, it is now an integral part of capitalism’s annual profit cycle. At this point, I’m sure you’ve realised that the afore mentioned Scrooge sequel is not a real thing, that I made it up to illustrate a point, that point being there is no inconsistency between capitalist greed and festive generosity. Christmas doesn’t necessarily need capitalism, but capitalism sure needs Christmas.
Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that expenditure in department stores nationwide rose from $20.8 billion in November 2004 to $31.9 billion in December 2004, an increase of 54 percent. In other sectors, the pre-Christmas increase in spending was even greater, there being a November–December buying surge of 100 percent in bookstores and 170 percent in jewelry stores. In the same year employment in American retail stores rose from 1.6 million to 1.8 million in the two months leading up to Christmas. Industries completely dependent on Christmas include Christmas cards, of which 1.9 billion are sent in the United States each year, and live Christmas Trees, of which 20.8 million were cut in the U.S. in 2002. In the UK in 2010, up to £8 billion was expected to be spent online at Christmas, approximately a quarter of total retail festive sales (Economics of Christmas)
Christmas invades our thoughts months before and the pressure is on to get out and buy. And we buy, we buy things that people barely want for the sake of participating in the festivities. And what happens then? January comes, the gifts get stashed away, mountains of wrapping paper and cards get discarded and rotting trees are sent to the tip. What a metaphor for capitalism; Spend, pollute, spend pollute, rinse and repeat. Of course nowadays, no sooner is Christmas over and people are queuing for the January sales. The midwinter festival has always been adapted to the society of the day, from pagan sun worship to Roman orgies, from Christian piety to commodity fetishism.
As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.
- Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1
Saint Nessa of Barry Island
While the Scrooge’s four ghosts (and the three traders) needed to use some mad magic skills to make Scrooge see the meaning of Christmas for the capitalist class, a more Earthly entity in recent times perfectly summed up the meaning of Christmas for the billions who scrape their money together to spend on the festivities. Vanessa Shanessa “Nessa” Jenkins, from the hit BBC comedy Gavin and Stacey, grabbing the seasonal bull by the horns one festive season, adds Santa Clause impersonator to her extensive list of jobs. In the process, she educates children on the disappointments that await them in later life with the gift of a single ‘celebrations’ sweet. There are some complaints. But it is her words of wisdom to one little boy, that really captures the spirit of Christmas for the have nots.
Nessa (Dressed as Santa): O. O. O. Merry Christmas. Did you send me a letter?
Nessa: That’s right, I remember. What was it you asked me for again?
Boy: An Xbox .
Nessa: That’s right, I remember. Now you’re Sue’s boy, is that right? And Tony’s your step?
Nessa: Nasty business that, your dad’s due for parole? Will he be out for Christmas?
Nessa: Probably for the best, given the amount of people that eventually came forward. Now I don’t want to disappoint you but I reckon the Xbox is a bit pie in the sky, like. I’m thinking Sega Megadrive, maybe Playstation one. But when you opens it, try and look surprised. Cos your mother’s been through enough this year without you sulking all over the shop. Now here’s a gift from me and Rudolf (an individually gift wrapped ‘celebrations’ sweet), be on your way.
And in one fell swoop, no ghosts necessary, we get a vision of Christmas that occurs in every town in the western world at least, with parents trying desperately not to disappoint their children and children, if they are good children, pretending not to be disappointed. People spend more than they can afford, so as not to feel a sense of guilt that they might be Scrooges, and mothers, because it is usually the woman of the house who ends up doing it, slaving in the kitchen for much of Christmas day – sure, Scrooge got all the plaudits for buying that massive turkey for the Pratchetts, but it was Mrs.Pratchett who ended up doing the hard work.
Not trying to be a Grinch here but…
The Christmas message of peace on Earth jars with the reality of thousands of child labourers working in sweatshops getting paid a pittance to make toys and trainers that parents in the west both rich and poor will shell out big bucks for to gift to their children.The millions of Children who live in war-zones that were created by the capitalist imperialist powers in order to keep the wheels of capitalism turning will not experience peace and goodwill this Christmas. Right now in Ireland, there are 2,500 homeless Children, will Santy know where to find them?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have festivals at the solstices and equinoxes and other important dates. However while we celebrate we should remember the huge contradictions at the heart of our society and therefore it’s associated festive seasons. We should look at ways of subverting the capitalist Christmas message, and making it truly a festival of peace and solidarity, instead of rampant consumption while wars rage around the world. Look to the future and imagine what the midwinter festival of a society built on solidarity, mutual care, freedom and ecology would look like, and try to start implementing some of those ideas today. Bury the Christmas traditions of the dead generations, exorcise Scrooge’s ghosts, and welcome the light of the new year.
Happy Solstice. Merry Christmas. Jo Saturnalia. Happy Hanukkah. May your Yuletide be filled with peace and joy. Let your Kwanza be fulfilling. Nollaig shona daoibh.
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