December the 8th is a holy day and was once the biggest Shopping Day of the year. It was traditional for the people living in the country to visit Dublin to do their Christmas shopping. Indeed, for many, it was a big day out that they looked forward to with anticipation. To the present generation, this must sound very strange. Nowadays thanks to the ‘miracle’ of online shopping you do not even have to leave your house if you would rather not!
However, us older ones can remember a time when it was not always like that. Many rural villages only had one shop and the shopping centres we see everywhere now were still a thing of the future. For lots of people from outside Dublin the traditional meeting place was under Cleary’s clock and one of the most popular ‘sights’ was the special Christmas display in the windows of Switzers’ Department store on Grafton Street.
Sadly, things and times change. Cleary’s clock is gone and so is Switzers which was replaced by Brown Thomas. Dublin is no longer the shopping Mecca it was. Many of the big Shopping Centres in other parts of the country offer just as wide a choice of goods. Some like Dundrum and the Kildare Village Outlet open from November onwards.
The boom in online shopping and the adoption of the American tradition of Black Friday means special December 8th deals are very much a thing of the past. While most stores used to offer discounts on that day, now Black Friday and Cyber Monday have taken over. Sunday trading too has had its part to play.
It is also true of course that fewer schools close for the feast day so the date is no longer the ‘free’ day that it once was.
It is perhaps ironic that a feast day, in this case, the fact of Mary being born without original sin should be connected with a shopping spree.
But then again I suppose there is an even greater irony in how Christmas has become a time to over-spend, over-indulge and even for some unfortunate people, get into debt. This is a long way removed from the celebration of the birth of a baby, who would spend his life on earth encouraging people to live simply, look after others and keep their focus on the life to come, rather than the trappings of this world.
Last year at around this time an Irish priest suggested that Christians should let the Media and the money-makers take over Christmas and for the true believers to find another way of celebrating the real meaning of the event. In his opinion that has been completely swamped by commercial interests. There was a lot of reaction to this outlook, both positive and negative. Whatever your opinion, it is quite a radical approach and must stem from frustration and even anger.
Certainly there are no religious messages in the barrage of advertisements which are fired at us from all directions at this time of year. The focus is on fashion, food, glamour, and glitz. People plan what to wear, what to eat and how to decorate their home. For many, a crib will not be included in their display.
One English actor, who is a self-confessed atheist, does the voice-over for a big chain store advertisement. Obviously, for him, Christmas is not about the birth of Jesus but just another opportunity to make more money. There are many who would probably regard Santa Claus as the central figure of Christmas and not Jesus!
Certainly, for Christians, the little baby born in Bethlehem is what it is all about. Many people prefer to send cards which show a Nativity scene, in an effort to keep the recipients’ focus on what we are actually supposed to be celebrating. Of course, the Christmas card industry is huge and there are all sorts of themes to choose from.Nostalgia
People often lament the Christmases of their youth and look back with nostalgia at those times. Perhaps they believe things were less commercialised then. However, that is not necessarily true.
What we forget is that when we were children we were not aware of the pressure our parents were under or the cost of everything. The innocence inherent in childhood includes being unaware of materialism, greed, and cynicism, which is probably good while it lasts. When we are young snow is beautiful and transforms the world outside our window; when we are older we become aware that it is something which only makes life more difficult for the homeless and the elderly.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons behind the thinking that Christmas is really for children.
An enormous amount of money is spent in the weeks before Christmas; in truth, a lot of that money is wasted. We are encouraged to buy copious amounts of presents but how many people really want or even need the gifts they are given? Very often it is only adding to the clutter in your house.
Thankfully unwanted items can go to a good cause if left in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral after Christmas. The Marlborough Place church has set up an on-site drop off point where you can donate gifts to Crosscare the special care agency of the Archdiocese of Dublin. The charity then distributes them throughout the year to people in their homeless services and family hubs.
Once when on holiday in London I saw a t-shirt which initially shocked me. It showed Jesus on the cross and dangling from both arms were an array of boxes in Christmas wrapping. Of course viewed in another way it is actually depicting a truth, albeit not in a manner which everyone would feel was respectful.
Written by Marie – Therese