The Giving of Ourselves
I hope this week finds you well as we’re moving merrily along, into the second full week of December and the Christmas planning & prep are in high gear. The house is decorated – check. Tree is up, decorated & lights on – check. And the Christmas cookies are in the oven, and by now you’re well on your way working through your favorite Christmas movie watch-list.
I’m a child of the 1960s, so one of my favorite movies is the 1964 classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. A Claymation Classic! Rudolph first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964, on the NBC television network and was sponsored by General Electric. Rudolph has been telecast every year since 1964, making it the longest continuously running Christmas TV special¹.
Interestingly enough, along with my earliest memories of watching Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable and the gang, is my crystal-clear memory of the commercial featuring Santa riding the new Norelco electric shaver over the snow and into town. Is this where my nerdy love and fascination with commercials began?
I’ve always loved commercials, Yes, I’m that guy who says, “Don’t change the station, I want to watch the commercials”. I guess I should have been an Ad Man. Well, speaking of the Christmas commercials – over the years, they have been some of the very best. Remember the ice-skating Ronald McDonald; the talking, and avoiding being eaten, M&M’s candies; the Coca-Cola Arctic Polar Bears; the ringing & jingling Hershey’s Kisses; and who could forget the majestic Budweiser Clydesdales are all a part of the Christmas commercial Hall of fame².
But wait a second, when did Christmas get so commercial? When did advertising, buying & selling become as important to the Christmas season as giving the gifts?
Last week, we took a look at Christmas’ history and story. And as any student of history knows, our modern era Christmas traditions date back to the 1800s. Today's Christmas imagery is loaded with nods to the Victorian Era where many of the traditions that we hold dear – from Santa Claus to wrapping paper and even gift-giving were born. Let’s review.
Victorian Christmas, as it turns out, was very much a manufactured product and it had a capitalist bent from the get-go. In particular, the rise of the concept of the Christmas present – "the kind of gift that could be most conveniently procured through a purchase" – was there from the very beginning. By the 1840s merchants were using the image of Santa Claus in advertising as a way to entice spending. In fact, Christmas became a crucial means of legitimizing the penetration of consumerist behavior into American society³.
Well, what does all this consumerist behavior look like in today’s dollars and cents?
The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. Yes…$755-766 billion! Wowsers!
Overall, holiday sales in November and December have averaged about 19 percent of annual retail sales over the last five years, but the figure can be higher for some retailers. In addition, holiday sales can be more profitable because the increased volume of purchases comes without significantly increasing retailers’ fixed costs of doing business.
In terms of retail spending, the winter holidays include the months of November and December and cover events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. This year, given the extended shopping time period, holiday sales are expected to extend to the full fourth quarter of 2020⁴.
But the Christmas season isn’t just a season of retail sales – the buying and selling of goods – according to the Giving USA 2019 Report, Americans gave $427.71 billion to charity in 2018 amid a complex year for charitable giving. 28% of nonprofits raise between 26 – 50% of their annual funds from their year-end ask.
The practice of year-end giving can be a huge boost for your annual fund, with many nonprofits reporting that nearly half of their annual funds comes from their year-end ask⁵.
So – with just a little research – we can clearly see the long & fruitful relationship between Christmas & giving – all that goes into retail, advertising, merchandising, and even philanthropy. I’d love to think that giving is at the heart of the matter. Let’s look closer at some historic givers:
Most countries have legendary gift givers, such as Italy’s La Befana, an old woman who rides a broom to deliver gifts in shoes placed outside front doors on the eve of the Feast of Epiphany (the night of January 5th). And there’s St. Nicholas delivers gifts on St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (and on December 5 in the Netherlands), while Santa Claus and Father Christmas are known for delivering gifts around the world on Christmas Eve (December 24th).
The pleasure of giving gifts isn’t just from the magical, legendary characters. Gift giving really does have an effect on both the giver and the receiver of that gift. In a 2014 Pew survey, the data proves very interesting:
The holiday season brings both joy and stress for many Americans. When asked about their feelings on buying and receiving holiday gifts, many people express mixed emotions. More than eight-in-ten Americans say the thought of exchanging gifts makes them feel joyful (83%), and nearly as many say it makes them feel generous (78%).
Feeling financially burdened by the holidays is closely linked with household income; nearly six-in-ten people with family incomes of less than $30,000 say they feel stretched for money when they think about buying gifts, compared with just a third of those with family incomes of $75,000 or more.
A majority of Americans (53%) express mixed emotions – both positive and negative – about buying and receiving gifts. More than a third have only positive feelings about gift-giving, saying it makes them feel joyful or generous (or both) but not stretched thin, stressed out or wasteful. And 7% express only negative feelings (financial strain, stress, wastefulness) about exchanging gifts⁶.
Could it be that at the heart of all of this giving – at the heart of the Christmas season could be – the giving-of-one’s self? I ran across an interesting take-on-the-season on the webpage for The Old farmer’s Almanac (I’m a weather nerd as well). This 12-Day journey may be just the break you’ve been looking for from the usual holiday chaos, expectations, and shopping-lists. Join me in the 12-Days of Kindness:
Day 1: Call a friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a while. Even just a quick connection can brighten someone’s day.
Day 2: Do a chore for someone. Do the dishes when it isn’t your “night,” offer to pick up groceries for your neighbor, or perform any random act of kindness that shows you care.
Day 3: Leave a thank-you note for your postal worker. They’ve worked hard this year and deserve our gratitude.
Day 4: Make a gift for someone. What are you good at? Use that talent to handcraft a keepsake.
Day 5: Feed the birds. It’s getting colder and food is getting more scarce (not all birds fly south!). Sprinkle seed outside or, better yet, fill a feeder!
Day 6: Give to an animal shelter. Many can use cash donations or basic supplies to make sure our furry friends have a healthy holiday.
Day 7: Thank a veteran. Pearl Harbor Day is December 7th. It’s a good time to remember and acknowledge the sacrifices made by all our veterans.
Day 8: Make dinner for a neighbor, family member, or someone in need.
Day 9: Give someone a compliment. Sometimes just a little unexpected praise can make all the difference.
Day 10: Shop local. Buy from your local bookstores (hint: many carry the Almanac!), artisans, and retail stores. Many have online stores that make it as easy to shop as from certain big name sites!
Day 11: Donate to a food bank. It’s no secret that food banks are stretched thin this time of year—even more so in 2020.
Day 12: Do something nice for yourself. A part of being there for others is taking care of yourself⁷.
Do one of these simple acts every day or several all at once. Get the kids in your life involved to teach about the true spirit of the season, which shouldn’t be all about grand gestures or extravagant gifts, but the simple kindnesses that connect us all.
At Conizo, we believe that wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever season we find ourselves. During this Christmas season, let’s reconnect with the real essence of the season – the giving of ourselves; to our families; to our friends; to our neighbors and the things’ that draw out the very best in all of us.
Thanks for stopping by – and Merry Christmas!
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (Movie), by Romeo Muller, directed by Larry Roemer & Kizo Nagashima, Composer Johnnie Marks aired Sunday, December 6, 1964 on NBC.
Country Living, www.countryliving.com/life/g2834/best-christmas-commercials-of-all-time/
Skeptoid Blog, https://skeptoid.com/blog/2013/12/19/when-did-christmas-become-so-commercial/#:~:text=By%20the%201840s%20merchants%20were,consumerist%20behavior%20into%20American%20society.%22
National Retail Federation, https://nrf.com/insights/holiday-and-seasonal-trends/winter-holidays/winter-holiday-faqs#:~:text=The%20National%20Retail%20Federation%20forecasts,%24755.3%20billion%20and%20%24766.7%20billion. October 25, 2017.
Pew Research Center, https://www.pewforum.org/2014/12/15/most-americans-say-holiday-displays-on-public-property-are-ok/
The Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Sunday Edition: The 12 Days of Kindness, www.almanac.com