Looking for the missing spirit of Christmas…with zombies…

We went to the local mall on Sunday. It was packed, of course, with the usual shopping zombies, their minds destroyed by the glitz and glam.

The Zombie Christmas Maul
The Zombie Christmas Maul

Whenever we visit the mall, She Who Must Be Obeyed forbids me to shuffle along behind them, matching their gait and murmuring “braaaaiiins….”

Well, I’m not forbidden, but she won’t walk hand-in hand if I do, instead she’s on the other side of the mall saying things like ‘I don’t know that weird guy.’

Being the weekend-before-the-weekend-before Christmas, there were a LOT of people shopping last Sunday, interspersed with cellphone-toting teens whose minds were miles away, and toddlers drifting aimlessly around the whole lot like the wayward satellites of some Jovian supergiant. Every so often, one of the squidlings would squeal with the exact pitch and timbre of a gym shoe being scraped across a polished floor.

Looking at the way everybody had been reduced to brainlessness by the pressure to buy, buy, buy for Christmas, I couldn’t help thinking we’ve lost something.

It’s Christmas. It’s a time for caring. A time for families. A time to think of others. A time – well, it’s Christmas Spirit, isn’t it.

What’s it become? A marketing frenzy. A shallow exercise in consumerism. A concerted effort to extract as much cash as possible from the wallets of many who cannot really afford it.

Here in New Zealand, the shops will be open right through Christmas Eve – and open again on Boxing Day when, inevitably, it will be ‘sale time’. I believe that’s true elsewhere too.

Where has the spirit of care gone? Your thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: Fun holiday stuff – with some history, geekery and writing stuff. Regular writing tips, science geekery, history… and more… returns in the new year. Watch this space.

14 thoughts on “Looking for the missing spirit of Christmas…with zombies…

  1. “Buy, buy, buy” — yup, that’s the modern “spirit” of Christmas. I’ve felt that way for too-nearly a half-century.

    What would a Christmas be like that was about the affirmation and renewal and celebration of life, instead of this life-sucking soul-eating (i.e., zombified!)(wait, is that a word?) morass of commercial desperation it’s been for way too long?

    I remember my grandmother (b. 1910) telling me that when she was a little girl if you even mentioned Christmas more than two weeks before, your chances of getting coal in your stocking became pretty good.

    Speaking of things in your stockings, I’m ashamed to confess that I thought getting apples and oranges in your stocking on Christmas morning was pretty lame when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I got older and realized that my parents and grandparents lived through the “Great Depression” that I saw through their eyes a bit, and understood what that orange meant to them.

    Maybe the corollary to Christmas commercialism is in the fact that we’ve become so USED to the idea of things (pick it) being so easily available — and in relative abundance — especially if you have money. Or credit. We don’t have the perspective that will show us the worth of that orange in the stocking on Christmas morning; maybe, if nothing else, what Christmas once meant.

    Sorry to comment at such length, Matthew, but as I may have made obvious it’s an issue of mine, too.


    1. You’re welcome – glad to hear from you. And you’re right. I often wonder about the role of the Great Depression in shaping attitudes through to even the late twentieth century. My grandparents lived through it; my parents were brought up during or soon after it. And they knew about respecting and preserving material things, because they were hard to get and hard to replace. These days, we live in a world of easy disposability. I think that change of attitude – generational, inevitably – goes a long way towards also explaining the way Christmas and the spirit of kindness has been transformed into this dismal orgy of commercialism.


  2. The brainless shop-a-holics are out in droves here in the States too. Our stores are open well into Christmas Eve and open early the day after as well. For me, the spirit of Christmas lies in the quiet moments, whether alone in nature or visiting with family and friends. You’re right, though. For most true spirit of Christmas has been all but forgotten.


  3. My sarcasm could run amuck here concerning lost Christmas spirit so I’ll just agree with what you said. It’s all gone down the corporate profits rabbit hole (whoops, sarcasm). Okay, I’ll add that if we didn’t go out shopping on holidays then the stores wouldn’t be open. The world has been overrun with shopping hypocrites who complain about the stores being open on their phones while waiting outside in the cold for the stores to open. As consumers we’re in control, but we’ve lost control—of ourselves.


    1. I think we have been conditioned, as a society, to shop as entertainment, or as a way of asserting status, or to buy goods as proxy for affection. It is never more clear than at Christmas. I fear that it has become so much a thread in society that we don’t notice. Of late my wife and I have been trying to give gifts that don’t succumb to the issue: such as taking out-of-town family to lunch. Things that show thought.


      1. I loved your last line, “Things that show thought.” I’d rather one inexpensive gift that someone agonized over selecting then ten bought with no consideration at all. The gifts that I still have and that mean the most to me are the pictures my daughters drew when they were little. They’re priceless.


  4. Oh yes, here in the middle of Canada, where the rural residents migrate to the ‘big city’ to shop at this time of year, the daily population and traffic in my town more than doubles throughout December. The malls are as packed as you describe, and on more than one occasion one of my children, or my husband, has muttered that siren call of the zombie, “Brains.” I love your descriptive writing in this post.


    1. That does sound a lot like New Zealand! Nobody in the western world escapes the moment (sigh). I guess the only real difference is that we;re in midsummer. That hasn’t changed the way it’s all been commercialised, alas.


  5. Due to some unforeseen major expenses this year, the Domestic CEO and I decided that Christmas would consist of a bottle of wine, a scrabble tournament, and snacks. I’m actually looking forward to it. However, I am also feeling withdrawals from not being out among the brainless shopping frenzy. It dawned on me that we have been brainwashed by commercials, print ads, and the major media providers, into thinking that Christmas is about spending huge sums of money. Then, if we can’t, we feel guilty for not supporting the economy because the retailers aren’t making double digit percentage profits. Since when does the Christmas season begin in JULY? One major retailer in the US had trees and decorations for sale in mid-July. Really!? I always thought there were 12 days of Christmas, not 175.

    Some of my favorite Christmas memories were of years that the family decided all gifts needed to be hand made. Difficult? At times, yes. But, I still have and cherish some of those presents forty years later.

    One year, my brothers and I stayed up Christmas eve and watched three different versions of A Christmas Carol. It is still one of my most favorite Christmas memories.


    1. And I thought New Zealand was bad for starting its Commercial Christmas in September! You are absolutely right…what counts is that spirit of people. I think we remember – and what most counts – are the personal experiences; the gestures, the thought, the kindness, the family moments. These memories don’t ever seem to revolve around the materiality of “stuff”. And therein, of course, is the true spirit of Christmas.


  6. I just did a blog on this very issue. My husband and I drove through town three days before Christmas, and there was not a single display on the outside any of the stores. In some windows you could see a Christmas tree or some other Christmasy display, but I felt like spirit of Christmas was gone. In two weeks time, I had one clerk wish me “Happy Holidays”, and 3 do “Merry Christmas”. None of them seemed to be feeling and “holiday cheer” either.
    This is supposed to be a holiday to celebrate Christ’s birth, not just a gift-giving-day. We can give those we love, or just like, a gift on their birthday, and be done with it. It would certainly help the budget by not having to spend $1,000 in one month.
    If the politicians, atheists, and those of a non-believing ilk want to take Christ out of Christmas, then let them have the day and we’ll come up with another one. How about something in August? The shepherds were more likely to be in the fields at that time of the year, plus kids would still be out of school for summer vacation. We could make a weekend of it–enjoying social get-togethers and church services on both days. No gifts required, unless you want to give of yourself by helping friends, family, or even strangers. Probably a generous gift should be given to God.
    Honestly, I think if all of us who believed in Christ refused to buy gifts for Christmas, the merchants might get the picture that we want Christ in Christmas.


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