Saturday 15 December 2018

Katie Byrne: 'For all our talk about cutting back and making do, the trappings of Christmas have become more extravagant'

Modern Life

Grafton Street (Stock)
Grafton Street (Stock)
Katie Byrne
Aquazurra heels
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Winter sun escapes... Family trips to Lapland.... Shopping breaks in New York... There were plenty of clues that this Christmas was going to become a consumerist orgy, which is why the latest forecast from Retail Ireland shouldn't come as that much of a surprise.

According to the industry group's Christmas Retail Monitor, the average family will spend somewhere in the region of €2,690 this festive season. That's a three per cent uptick on seasonal spending compared to last year, and proof - if any was needed - that boom-time spending is back with a bang.

Of course, we don't really need a retail report to tell us we've fallen down the spending rabbit hole once again. Walk around your local shopping centre and you'll soon spot the hordes splashing the proceeds of their five-minute personal loan approval. Join a meandering department store queue and you'll quickly see the dead-eyed obeisance to mindless credit card spending.

I've always tried to avoid the thriftless side of Christmas myself. Why panic-buy gifts if they're less than perfect? Why splash out on a new 'party dress' when you've barely worn the one you bought last year, or the year before that? In fact, why rush to buy anything at all when it usually gets marked down on the 23rd and then again in the January sales?

This year is different, though. The brainwashing of blockbuster Christmas ads - coupled with the loss aversion of Black Friday and the fiscal abandon of Celtic Tiger 2.0 - has turned this formerly cautious seasonal shopper into a greedy, covetous monster. I want a life-size light-up reindeer, a floorscape of sheepskin rugs and an art deco drinks trolley piled high with Baccarat crystal.

I want a silk slip, a Chantilly lace bodysuit and a cashmere dressing gown. I want new clobber: a tailored suit and leather boots and a coat so big it needs a permit.

I want shiny things, goddamit! Show-stopping satin Aquazzura heels, dazzling diamond jewellery and a face-full of botox. I would also quite like one of those alarm clock coffee machines.

The fact that I can't afford any of this stuff isn't the point. The point, rather, is that this spending rush is overpowering my better judgement. Avarice is in the air and I just really want - NEED! - the Bang & Olufsen Luxury Home Theatre speakers.

How did this happen? It seems like only yesterday that we were all proud 'frugalistas', gifting each other charity goats for Christmas and philosophising about that time we "lost the run of ourselves".

We replaced Superquinn with Lidl, we swapped overpriced cocktails for €7 bottles of wine at home and - on the face of it at least - we seemed to be coming to terms with a rather more frugal existence.

Out went the status-signalling and conspicuous consumption, and with it the SUVs, Swarovski chandeliers and Graham Knuttel paintings. And in came a new guard of entrepreneurs: makers, bakers and pop-up shop owners who had learned their lessons and didn't take one cent for granted. What we failed to realise, however, is that the tiger didn't go into extinction. No, it was prowling in the hinterlands, waiting to feast on the first spending binge after a 10-year-long purge.

We like to think that Celtic Tiger 2.0 came out of nowhere to pounce on unsuspecting consumers, but the truth is that it has been slowly and stealthily creeping back into our lives.

The first clue was our unquestioning adoption of Black Friday, and its cousins, Cyber Monday and Travel Tuesday. For all our talk about slow fashion, mindful spending and buying less but better, we readily signed up for what will soon become a season-long festival of sales shopping. And for all our talk about cutting back and making do, the trimmings and trappings of Christmas have become more and more extravagant these last few years.

We now need novelty jumpers, beauty advent calendars, two or three types of poultry, matching pyjamas for the whole family, treat-laden 'Christmas Eve Boxes' to get children in the mood for receiving even more treats the next day and enough money left over for a luxurious Twixmas break in a four-star hotel.

The boom is back alright, but it isn't sudden or unexpected. Austerity has an avaricious shadow side, and it was only a matter of time before it came to light.

Irish Independent

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