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Sarah Carey: 'Why we shouldn't feel guilty about our traditional over-spending at Christmas'


Christmas shopping.

Christmas shopping.

Christmas shopping.

The nicest and most oppressive thing about Christmas is tradition. I'm one of those people who has to do the same thing every year. Any changes at Christmas make it feel like the ground has shifted and I flounder.

One of the great traditions is to spend piles of money we don't have and then spend lots of time complaining about how people spend piles of money they don't have. Both acts are compulsory.

Thanks to PricewaterhouseCoopers the complaining has kicked off in plenty of time this year. Rather than wait to find out how much we spent in 2014, PwC had a look at last year's splurge so we can get the collective judgement in early.

The results are just as we would expect. Irish people spent more than any other Western nation in November and December in 2013, much of which can be attributed to Christmas.


Finally we top a league table! And what fun we'll have beating ourselves up about it.

Stop beating I say. There are entirely logical reasons for the gluttony. First, we actually celebrate Christmas so of course we get in ahead of the UK and US, not to mention most of Europe.

We're still an overwhelmingly Christian country. It's easy to forget that in countries like America there are dozens of religions who don't recognise Christmas at all.

We've Jewish relations in America and I still fret every time I put a Christmas card in the post to them. I get round it by making sure there are no overt religious symbols in the picture.

Then you have to take into account our location. It's always fascinating to look at Ireland, not on a map, but on a globe. It's only then you realise how far north we are. We're almost Iceland for heaven's sake.

On the Winter Solstice this Sunday, we'll be lucky to get six or seven hours of daylight. The only logical response is to hole up for a few weeks eating, drinking and making merry. What else would you do? What else can you do?

The frenetic effort to brighten up our lives at the darkest period of the year is really just a natural coping mechanism. Bright lights, bright smiles, bright presents in bright paper.

It's a pity it all costs, but that's the price we pay to fight the darkness.

Finally, the financial investment in Christmas simply reflects our emotional investment in the season. Until well into the 1990s this was a poor country.

The Church's legacy may, in some people's eyes, be a mixed one, but there's no doubt that it surrendered quite efficiently to the pagan tradition of mid-winter ritual.

No matter what misery went on during the year, Christmas was the one time when the self-denial and martyrdom could pause and people had permission to treat themselves.

This idea that, no matter what, you're entitled to something at Christmas is in our national psyche. Festive splurging is the mindset of the poor, even if you've stacks of money.

Of course, we're still richer now than we were throughout the 20th century, but rightly or wrongly the mentality is still with us.

So spend away, but try not to go too mad.

But we do go mad and not just in a financial sense. The idea that Christmas Must Be Great creates a backlash far more damaging than the January bills.


Christmas Must Be Great means the Christmas drinks must be hilarious, the Christmas dinner packed with loved ones, Christmas presents adored and Christmas Cheer available on tap.

If something doesn't work out at Christmas, it feels like a total disaster.

What? Not even at Christmas can they be nice? Not even at Christmas do I feel like laughing? It's why people have nervous breakdowns at this time of year. This huge emotional investment creates a dreadful psychological hangover.

A lot of the consumer spending is just a manic effort to buy the emotional gratification so desperately needed at Christmas.

So all that money PwC say we spend? We're not buying stuff. We're buying Christmas spirit.

And you know what? I'm not going to judge anyone who can buy their way out of the problem of being happy at Christmas. If it gets you through, do it.

And for those who haven't the money, or can't fill the void with money, just remember, it'll be over soon enough.

After Winter, there's Spring.