A Dane Abroad: Has Christmas become grotesque?

Here we go again! Christmas time – with its markets, presents, ‘julekalender’, lights, cold hands and sniffly noses, decorated streets and shops, dreams of snow but realities of sleet, alcoholic tendencies, and drama about where to spend the big evening on December 24 – is upon us again. As well as some increasingly absurd spending.

Spending like Rockefeller
With increased prosperity comes increased consumption. According to a 2019 report from Dansk Erhverv, Danes now spend a dizzying 9.2 billion kroner on Christmas presents and food annually – a number that has been steadily rising since 2007. It’s a far cry from the earliest Christmas traditions from the 1800s, when presents were generally inexpensive things – so small that they could be hung on the tree.

I recently spoke to a lady from Funen about her family’s Christmas spending habits, and she was pretty forthright with her opinion.

“It’s grotesque,”  she exclaimed flatly. “Miles of gift wrapping and ribbon, enough food to make you vomit, and millions of trees felled – just for this one night. It’s sad.” 

Surprisingly, she went on to reveal a secret desire to break free of the anticipation-filled traditions: “I would love Christmas to be about inviting strangers, who don’t have anywhere to go, into my home, and to just give them a lovely evening together and listen to their stories.”

Dreamin’ of a lite Xmas
This conversation blew my mind. How many more people share her views and secretly dream of a less traditional and expensive Christmas, more grounded in community spirit and being together, rather than wishlists for the latest iPhone? 

Apparently, quite a few. According to a TV2 survey, a whopping third of participants wish for a different Christmas. But we keep doing it and, seemingly, spending more money on it too.

Santa’s unsustainable!
It seems we are experiencing a clash of values. On the one hand, consumerism and the Coca Cola Santa Claus are still going full steam ahead, enthralling us with irresistible fairy-tales and the continuous reminder that Christmas is all about shopping – presents that we keep feeling obliged to buy and reciprocate, partly due to age-old social mechanisms. 

On the other hand, we have this growing awareness of the environment, finite resources, sustainability and pandemics that have the power to knock the bottom out of our economy and threaten livelihoods. Seen in this light, the typical ‘smorgasbord-style Christmas’ seems almost obscene.

A total recalibration
Is it not time to bring back some of the older values of kindness and spending time together whilst retaining the joy of Christmas? 

We need to face it: Christmas is long overdue a sustainability overhaul. Together we can bring back genuine (and cheaper) values based more on our animation, rather than inanimate objects, while still enjoying a good time that isn’t necessarily steeped in excess. 

It would certainly mean a recalibration of our expectations. But we need brave souls to pave the way and insist on trying out a different Christmas. 

Casting aside consumerism
When I was living in New Zealand, I eventually found out how completely liberating it was to let go of all the, in my view, somewhat hardcore and ingrained Danish traditions. 

I let go of the heavy food and truckloads of presents and expectations, instead opting for a barbie of sausages and drinking champagne. It needs to be experienced to be believed!

So, if you are dreaming of a different Christmas, then let’s go! You may find kindred spirits who are just waiting for someone else to make the first move.