Growing up, Kayla Choi ’22 celebrated Christmas by revisiting the story of the birth of Jesus Christ and the gifts the Wisemen bestowed to him. Yet, as she sat in church for Midnight Mass, she wondered when the Christmas spirit departed from the religious teachings of her youth and transformed into a culture of extreme gift-giving.
“Nowadays, people are just buying [presents] and no longer learning the origins of Christmas,” Choi said. “They [might] know vaguely of it, but they don’t really care because it’s being overtaken by things [such as] Santa, cookies and presents.”
Similarly, as Naomi Ogden ’20 opened Instagram on Christmas Day, she noticed that posts featured materialistic goods rather than family connections, she said.
“I think [Christmas is] fun when you focus on being with family instead of what gifts you’re getting and what gifts you’re giving,” Ogden said.
With a greater importance placed upon the monetary gift values, Alliant Credit Union states that commercial spending increases significantly around Christmastime. According to ABC News and the National Retail Federation, the average American spends approximately $700 on holiday gifts every year, totaling more than $465 billion.
Naomi Ogden speaks about the value of gifts during the holiday season.
The sentimental importance of gifts, usually used to signify love, has diminished in favor of their monetary value, Ogden said.
“[Christmas is] not fun for me when I see on social media a bunch of people making it about the most expensive gift they got,” Ogden said.
Shay Gillearn ’21 has his own Christmas traditions. He said that he is more focused on family and less on presents as he has grown. He said he worries that presents create a distraction from family for many individuals.
“I do think that the holidays have been overly commercialized because many people only care about getting gifts during those times,” Gillearn said.
Choi said that, by celebrating a more traditional form of Christmas, the gifts her family gives are less about toys and are more representative of the holiday spirit.
“My family has never really been a fan of celebrating Christmas [through] buying gifts and such,” Choi said. “We would give gifts to other people. [However] it wouldn’t be lavish gifts. [The gifts would] be something like fruit, which is a gift that doesn’t really emphasize the materialistic value of gifts.”
Mohona Ganguli describes how her Christmas traditions don’t involve religion.
Because she is Hindu, Mohona Ganguli ’21 said she celebrates Christmas without the Christian values traditionally associated with the holiday.
“We don’t really celebrate the more religious aspects of Christmas,” Ganguli said. “We celebrate the more commercial aspects. We have a Christmas tree, open presents and all get together as a family.”
In addition, other religious holidays have taken on a similar meaning, Hayley Rothbart ’21 said. For example, though not as religiously significant as holidays such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah has become the most well-known Jewish celebration because it falls very close to the gift-giving season, Rothbart said.
“I feel like Hanukkah is a great winter holiday, and it’s definitely the most culturally recognized,” Rothbart said.
Rothbart does not see a problem with the way gifts are exchanged, as the intention still represents the idea of generosity, she said.
“If [the gift’s] a new car, maybe I would notice it, but every family can afford different things,” Rothbart said. “It doesn’t get to me if I don’t get as many gifts or as expensive gifts. That’s just the way of life.”
Maddie Boudov speaks of her celebration of Hannukkah and Christmas.
Maddie Boudov ’21, who is Jewish, approaches Hanukkah and Christmas in a different way. Rather than focusing on the religious aspects of these two holidays, she celebrates the interpersonal relationship aspects of both, she said.
“I associate winter holidays with a time to celebrate friends and family more than a specific religion,” Boudov said. “[It’s] just a time to value those around you and be thankful for what you have and celebrate the joy of life.”
Boudov said that she celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas very differently, especially because her parents don’t observe Christmas.
“[On] one of the eight nights [of Hanukkah], I’ll go over to my grandparents house, and celebrate with family,” Boudov said. “Every year on Christmas Eve, I go to my best friend’s house for an annual party.”
Though many spend the holidays at home surrounded by those meaningful to them, retail workers often do not enjoy the same luxuries, Ogden said. During the holidays, especially during Black Friday sales, retail workers are often verbally abused or are forced to work with demanding customers, she said.
“I just feel so bad for the retail workers,” Ogden said. “[Their working environment is] literally hell. The worst people with the worst attitudes show up on that day because they think they’re entitled to a deal or certain products, when they’re not.”
Nevertheless, Choi said she admits that though she often feels left out from the gift-giving culture, she understands what the season represents.
“Now I realize [my upbringing] was just teaching me not to be materialistic,” Choi said. “[My parents taught me] not to take things for granted and actually realize what the true value of the holiday is [and what it is] signifying rather than what it has now become due to people just trying to make money off of it.”