Americans are too wrapped up in consumerism during the holiday season


Illustration by Whitney Johnson

Emma Ingledew

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season: the time of year to appreciate the things we have and show this appreciation through our actions. Some indulge in the experience by consuming absurd amounts of stuffing and socializing with distant relatives, while others are simply awaiting Black Friday shopping deals. A sea of people will trample through crowds to purchase the “necessary” products to satisfy the holiday craze, which according to The Hustle causes an average of one death and nine injuries every year. These excessive purchasing habits exhibited during the holiday season defeat the thoughtfulness of gift-giving. A solution to this, however, is for people to redirect their payments to more necessary causes. 

According to ABC News, The National Retail Federation estimates that the average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts. This increase in spending is primarily due to the numerous holiday-related flash sales, that, according to The Medium, take advantage of people’s satisfaction gained by purchasing discounted gifts. 

Many gifts are symbolic of people’s appreciation for one another. Studies by Nature Communications have shown that not only does gift giving increase happiness levels, but even the thought of being generous causes a boost as well. This stems from the satisfaction people feel knowing they have improved someone’s day. It can give people a sense of purpose knowing that they have created a stronger bond with the recipient. While buying and receiving presents is nice, donating to charities is a generous way to feel the same sense of gratitude and happiness from giving presents to others. 

Despite the happiness that gift giving provides for both the giver and the receiver, people naturally feel pressure to purchase a special gift, according to Psychology Today. Trying to find the best gift for someone you love is a tough process, and this stress contributes to the chaos in almost every retail store at this time of year. 

Students such as senior Tucker Swanson, who has admitted to splurging during this time of year, often find themselves spending more money on gifts than they expected to for this exact reason.

“The feeling I get when I buy a gift is a feeling that, in some cases, is a greater gift than when I receive a gift… In Marin everyone wants nicer things, so what do you get for the person that has it all? Another bag?” Swanson said. 

Swanson is one of the many people in our community that feel the pressure to purchase an expensive gift for someone else. It’s this compulsion that distracts people from the idea of charity and diminishes the meaningful purpose behind the holiday season; this is especially misleading after Thanksgiving, a time when we are supposed to be grateful for what one already has. Granted, purchasing a nice gift for someone you care about isn’t out of the ordinary. If that’s how one wishes to spend their money, they have every right to do so. 

However, it is when the motivation to buy a gift transforms from sentimentality to competition that the true meaning of gift giving is lost. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans have been spending more on holiday gifts every year since 2008, and that trend will continue to go upward. Yet, if individuals donated some of the money they would be spending on gifts to charitable causes instead, it would help better society while still providing a meaningful sense of satisfaction.

At Redwood, people have begun to realize that the options are endless when it comes to how, as a community, people can show appreciation. Each year, Redwood chooses a non-profit organization to support in a school-wide fundraiser. This year’s donations are going towards Family House, an organization that provides housing and emotional support for families who are forced to relocate to San Francisco while their children are undergoing treatment for terminal conditions at UCSF Benioff’s Children’s hospital. As the Family House website states, this “home away from home” allows children with life-threatening illnesses to be in a comfortable and supportive environment as they undergo treatment. Redwoods effort to put money towards an important cause should inspire the greater community around us to do the same thing.   

As Americans continue to consume more and more every year, it’s imperative to remember the whole reason for purchasing and receiving gifts in the first place: to show appreciation for other people. It seems like our money is going towards the wrong cause. According to Giving USA, the USA Giving Report revealed that Americans gave a total of $410 billion to charity. While this data was collected over an entire year, Americans are expected to spend $465 billion during the holiday season alone, according to ABC News. The money spent on holiday gifts can easily be redirected to separate, more necessary causes.      

Organizations such as Family House open our eyes as to where we should be putting our money. While a new pair of Nike shoes or AirPods may fulfill a desire, that same amount of money could go towards something that could acquire even more gratitude and satisfaction than a tangible item ever will.