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Friday, November 7, 2008

If it’s November it must be Christmas

Last week I called by my local Dunnes Stores to see that the Halloween masks and pumpkins had disappeared. It was as if a magic wand had been waved and off they were gone only to be replaced by the Christmas line before Halloween. This week after Halloween I popped into my local Tesco to find that the Christmas trees have arrived. Well I accept that some parts of the country were covered with snow last week and it makes good sense from the point of a dispersed or large family to be thrifty and squirrel away items well in time before Christmas but the crass commercialistion of Christmas is already beginning to grate.

When you think about it the Christmas TV ads must be made in the Summer. Booking studio time puts the preparation back to early Summer and the planning and conceptualisation back to Spring. Booking Christmas parties into hotels, lining up the entertainments although this year it may be more frugal than previous years follows a similar timetable. Christmas comes but once a year but the reality seems to be that you need the other 364 days to prepare for it! What concerns me more is that Dublin’s Lord Mayor this week turns on the lights on Dublin’s Christmas tree! The reason given is that Dublin city needs to attract in shoppers from the suburbs and even Newry. If Dublin does this in ’08 what’s the bet Wexford will do this next year?

It’s not a new phenomena. Many years ago I passed through Liege in October. On a bright Autumn day under the Belgian sunlight Santa Claus was arriving at the city’s main department store. Needless to say I made my excuses and left! My best friend once worked in Golden Discs and each December you could never meet for a pint until Christmas Eve because he’d be worn out working behind the counter 2 days in a row for the month of December. What genuinely concerns me is that commercial interests are taking over a time that should be set aside for families. Fair play to RTE who do not allow Christmas songs to be played before December 1st. howeve in the past few years Christmas is arriving earlier and earlier into our shops, it’s here long before Halloween.

I think that if commercial interests move forward the calendar should we not look at perhaps closing shops on Christmas Eve or at least for a half day. Think about shop workers. By the time you close up, square the cash and bank it, you’re lucky to be home on Christmas Eve by 8 pm. Not much time left there for the mince pies and Christmas cake before you tuck excited kids into bed. For many Polish and East European families, Christmas Eve is actually a more important day than Christmas Day so should we consider making Christmas Eve a bank holiday or at least a half day ordering shops and commercial activity to shut by 1 pm?

I believe there’s a clear and unanswerable case for the state to look closely at the retail trade and regulate opening times. Supporting the retail trade has been patriotic to paraphrase Brian Lenihan. As they retail brands made by children and poorly paid workers in a third world sweat shop, sold by a 6th year student paid a pittance on a Saturday afternoon to a customer who is over charged in comparison to the UK high street, is it any wonder this customer is starting to get cynical? The new cathedrals of Irish consumerism, Dundrum town Centre, Liffey Valley have become the religion for a new market era. The faithful respond by devoting every waking hour to the pursuit of acquisition. To challenge St Bernard and his BOGOF is a heresy in modern Ireland. Just as early Christian saints must have seemed exotic with names like Killian, Columba or Brigid, the modern generation fall for their post modern equivalent of Prada, Karen Millen & Principles as the spread a new message as equally attractive as any gospel. Just as Moses was found in a basket on the banks of the Nile, you can now fill your basket at River Island.

Should we not look at how in Germany the retail trade closes on Saturday afternoon? Should we go back to allowing Sunday opening in the 4 Sunday’s before Christmas? Should we not look at finding a way to allowing family life exist on one day a week away from the pressure of consumerism? There’s a strong case for regulation but given the current climate where Dundrum Town Centre switched on their lights last night I don’t think this government will move on the matter.

In the meantime, may I take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Christmas!!

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