Don’t confuse holiday consumerism with a ‘giving spirit’

Erin Gutschke | Mercury Staff

With the holiday season officially underway, sales from every store imaginable have begun to roll out without the slightest hint of stopping, turning a time meant for charity into a season of unnecessary spending. Whether it be minimizing your purchases this sale season or donating to charities with the money you would have spent, students can take steps towards wise spending and avoiding unnecessary waste — and finally have that fulfilling holiday we long for.

Far beyond physical advertisements, the internet these days feels like a breeding ground for promotions and sales. Sometimes I feel so bombarded by it all that I genuinely start to question: should I be buying more? Do I need to buy a chamoy pickle kit? What harm could a new hair styling tool do? The most recent example of this culture of blatant consumerism is TikTok’s November launch of its shopping feature. For the past few weeks, I’ve seen my For You Page transform from a conglomeration of silly little videos curated for me to an overwhelming ad campaign for suspiciously cheap versions of popular products such as makeup products and hair styling tools. It feels like I can’t scroll more than five videos without encountering an influencer pushing me to buy from TikTok Shop, and the For You Pages of my peers all across the country must look terrifyingly similar.

With social media playing a crucial part in holiday sales this year, it is no wonder that consumers aged 17 to 25 are predicted to spend 15% more than they did in 2022. Part of this increase may be that Gen Z is growing up and that people have more disposable income now the pandemic has ended. What used to be a week of sales has turned into a month-long event; early Black Friday deals come weeks before the actual Friday, and according to a survey by Shopify, in 2023, 41% of shoppers said they planned on beginning their spending at the end of October.

As someone who does not celebrate holidays during the winter months, these trends make it seem like the joy of Christmas has become about the joy of shopping. Growing up Muslim, my standout memories of holiday celebrations included volunteering and charitable giving for Eid. As I began to interact with Christmas through holiday parties at school and gift exchanges for clubs, I was told Christmas held a similar sense of giving. However, as I get older, it feels like companies exploit the value of giving for the purpose of increasing sales.

From the outside looking in, Christmas seems corrupted by the American need to buy and consume. The original charitable giving and familial celebration aspect of the holiday has been put on a backburner; whether it be purchasing lavish gifts for friends and family or just updating tree decorations, shopping seems just as much of a Christmas tradition as Santa Claus coming down the stairs.

I’ve found myself falling prey to the big bold letters advertising 50% off, ending up with junk I did not need. If 66% of shoppers plan to participate in Black Friday sales like me, that could end in a lot of potentially wasted dollars. When you are constantly bombarded by new deals wherever you look, it seems almost nonsensical to opt out — almost as if you would be losing money by not buying the items on sale. The culture of constantly having to buy more as a result of social media and holiday marketing has created what feels like a societal pressure to spend while the iron is still hot on discount season.

This culture of unnecessary shopping has caused me and many of my peers to fall into a hole of buying and regretting over and over again; my fear of missing out enables me when I see a good deal everyone around me is purchasing. Materialism has found its way into trends with online hauls of massive purchases getting millions of views. Focusing so much on my wants and desires to purchase sometimes blinds me from the economic inequalities around me. I feel myself slowly losing the lessons of generosity I learned growing up.

UTD is an incredibly diverse campus, meaning there are other students who celebrate holidays such as Diwali and Ramadan that also encourage the nature of giving that I feel the desire to return to. They contrast with ideas of consumerism that have developed around the American holiday season and, therefore, can inspire us to change the narrative and encourage a generational return to the holidays’ original spirit.

From the North Texas Food Bank to The Salvation Army of North Texas, there are plenty of organizations with opportunities to volunteer and give back during the holidays. Cutting into just one hour of holiday shopping time to volunteer can make a difference, especially if you do it alongside others. Starting small can help reignite the magic of Christmas.

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