Changing Christmas traditionsWritten by Andy Kirk 05 December 2019
Spare some change for Christmas.
With a seemingly growing environmentally and philanthropically driven sensibility toward the Season of Goodwill (or ‘Festival of Stuff’, depending on your viewpoint), it feels like it’s time for brands to find ways to create a better, future Christmas. Can we change - and is it only eco-gestures that need to be made to satisfy consumer attitudes?
Christmas is the ultimate representation of the Experience Economy, as we seek out new ways to celebrate it, or to break with tradition because we no longer want to be restricted by its timing, location, dishes or the company we feel obliged to keep.
There’s a hunger for change for the ‘Holidays’, whether it’s driven by anti-consumerism, anti-waste, animal revolution, or simply because everyone has at least one reason why they “hate” Christmas. This might not be driven by an ethical, moral or religious stance, it might simply be through being tired of it all; we’ve developed a Seasonal Fatigue, an ennui that can make the festivities a drag, unless you happen to be very young, or capable of blocking out any mumbles of “Humbug”.
Some will bemoan that we are just giving lip service to the background story. We’re pretty quick to twist religious traditions to accommodate our immediate secular needs, like the ‘third lobster’ taking a bigger part of the action in the Nativity play, with the old stars taking a more supporting role, actually.
But there’s absolutely nothing new about Christmas irreligion. In fact, it’s almost been totally banned in the past because of paganism, idolatry and excess. In 17th-century England, a Christmas knees-ups actively encouraged carnival behaviour, role inversion, home invasion, heavy drinking and sexual liberties. How very modern.
How can we celebrate Christmas meaningfully?
So how are we going to change our classic Christmas staples and give them a shot in the arm with some new traditions?
Firstly, perhaps there’s space for a new faith system, possibly based on personal improvement and wellbeing to help us avoid family tensions. Mindfulmas or ChillaXmas, anyone? The festivities can become a retreat, where we perform mindfulness exercises together, instead of wasting hours over divisive Monopoly and Scrabble games.
Experience Advent(ure) Calendars could replace the piles of stuff with experiences, as we sign up for an adventure every day of the build-up to the big one (choose between a 12 or 24 day package). These might be casual adventures to have on the way to work, or maybe dare you to go to Timbuktu on a shoestring. Definitely one for Insta-mas.
How about ‘borrowing’ someone else’s Christmas for a few days? You no longer have to pretend to be homeless for just one night, or feel obliged to spend time keeping older people company to make yourself feel good. Instead, we can ship a whole village from remote parts of the world to a disused warehouse near you.
Enjoy real-time interactions with the real deal (not improv actors) and fully immerse yourself in the clever ways they survive the holiday. There’s an optional big party at the end to recover from going without luxuries for a week and to roast the goat and chicken that you kindly donated. The perfect Ox-mas.
Genetically Modified X-mas. Not only will our food look and taste like turkey (but be made wholly from vegetable protein), Science is also creating ‘self lighting trees’, a genetic crossover of pine trees and glow worms which could save wasteful strings of lights that are too good to throw away when the last of the Ur-key curry is gone. And this idea is already out there, folks.
Faith Popcorn proposed a set of gifts for 2035, one of which was ‘intelligence booster chips’, a great way for us to overcome our stupidity to trounce everyone at Trivial Pursuit. Obviously, we’ll all be operating in self-contained virtual worlds in our own heads, so we can play or watch anything we want without making Grandad sulk. Just to point out that television won’t exist in the future, so that’s going to mess up a lot of Christmases. Trivial Pursuit may already be extinct, too.
The trend is for us to get away, or to have somebody else do all the hard work, but now we can take our family with us wherever we go in a very cost effective and interactive way.
Taking its lead from the virtual performances from stars who are no longer with us (Michael Jackson, Roy Orbison, Whitney Houston, Elvis et al), The Perfect Party Guest means that we can take whoever we want along to entertain us or to share our experience without actually having to cater for them. This comes with a few warnings; holographic guests could mean that there is no longer an effective way to totally escape from our families – they’ll expect to be there every time.
Finally, why not try a Retro-mas? We all still need to belong and be where friends are the new family, so how post-ironic to gather round one of those old television sets and try the foodstuffs that the 'Old Ones' used to eat. It’ll even be still possible to buy dead animals and stuff them with nuts and pulses, puddings will never go out of fashion, and there are plenty of celebrity robot chefs to show us how to get someone else to cook it for us.
We can watch those old movies where someone has a miserable life and can’t see the meaning of it all until something terrible/amazing happens, which is just like a social media life-hack, pointing out what makes life - and therefore Christmas - so special. And that’s what we all really want when it comes down to it, isn’t it, someone to tell us how to get it right?
All very good, I hear you cry, but how do brands really tap into ‘Futuremas’? Is it even possible to establish new traditions, when our current ones seem so deeply rooted?
So, how do people celebrate Christmas?
If nothing else, these flippant examples prove that there’s enormous scope for new ideas. We regularly change our fundamental view of Christmas; Dickens and Prince Albert changed Victorian attitudes and reframed our Christmas-card perfect image; Coca Cola hijacked Santa and rebranded him from green to red (a fantastic marketing story, even if there are pictures of Saint Nick dressed in red that pre-date Coke’s founding in 1892). Retailers are already taking the plastic out of crackers.
All it takes is a tipping point, a new experience to change a few families’ way of doing things. It might be as simple as repackaging and reframing existing traditions (as Coke did). Thanksgiving (that amazing extension to the Season) means we’re putting American-influenced ingredients into our Christmassy food, like marshmallows (unbelievable but true). Could the trend for unpackaged fruit and veg reinstate the excitement of a satsuma and a walnut at the bottom of every kid’s Christmas stocking? Could the growth in alcohol free ‘gin’ and a myriad of flavoured tonic waters influence new twists on the Christmas morning Snowball or Buck’s Fizz? New spins on old ways.
Rethink. Reframe. Regift. Anything is possible, that’s the magic of Christmas. Peace. And please remember that, if you don’t believe in something, it fades away altogether and you get someone else’s version of Christmas, which might be the one you (or your brand) deserve.