"What Does Christmas Even Mean?" An Alex Schady Christmas

The Christmas frenzy is nearly over - it's been Christmas since after Halloween and we have all been probably caught in between two opposing feelings. Every year, we look forward to Christmas, but we also get there quite exhausted before celebrations even start.

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Yes, it's family time. Yes, our childhood memories are still alive. But also, there’s the stress of, “Gosh-the-presents”, “Finally some vacation!”, “What was my partner's auntie's name again?” - That feeling that we are all going to pretend we are lovely people that will care about each other for one day... and the drama of consumerism.

Over the last couple of weeks, we decided to pause and ask a frank question to peeps here at Central Saint Martins - what does Christmas even mean today?

Here is a round-up of our findings.

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AS: Alex Schady, Programme Director for Fine Arts
AM: Andrew Mallinson, from BA Fine Arts 3D
HR: Hollie Ralphson, from BA Fine Arts 3D
SG: Sally Gorham, from BA Fine Arts 2D
HJC: Hailey Jane Chapman, from BA Fine Arts 2D
VY: Victoria Young, from BA Fine Arts 3D
GC: Georgia Clayton, from BA Fine Arts XD

GC: I see Christmas from the other side. Both my parents have a shop, so the entire year is based on how Christmas is. Christmas Eve is the best day of the year and the whole purpose is to be there and sell. And then all the talk is about how the shop is reflective of the economy - so we just talk about how bad the economy is! 

AM: As I child I was really excited about presents. We didn't get much so that was that one day of the year when we would get something and that was it for many months to come. But that's like the best, most genuine part, the sweet one when you are with your family. 

HR: I want to raise the bad part then, which is - the adverts! I am very, very against this John Lewis, Marks & Spencer’s advertising that seems to occur. The Coca Cola trunk seems to say when we can celebrate Christmas. So, the holidays are coming only when the Coca Cola truck comes through town. The John Lewis advert is so hyped up every year. There was controversy this year, because someone posed pretending to be the John Lewis advert and everyone thought it was amazing. But I think Christmas should not be so controlled by these businesses. 

AS: My problem with the adverts is that a sort of sentimentality and a very normative model is presented, that is the model that 'sells Christmas' and that is what bothers me. They are trying to sell me loads of crap, I want to buy loads of crap and I get it. 

GC: But it's one of the last tries to sell Christmas. I mean, if the vast majority of the population are no longer religious, then why we are having it?

AS: Because we believe in the myth that is told about Christmas. It's not about religion anymore, it's about the family coming together. Yet, what we mean by 'family' in that model is very prescriptive. Husband and wife, 2.5 children, and if you don't fit that model you are not doing it right. Oh, and a dog - a Labrador preferably. 

MS: Yes - we feel like we have to be nice but we all deep inside have those moments of, “Oh my god my sister-in-law” and that particular relative you don't really enjoy spending time with...

SG: My husband absolutely hates Christmas and doesn't really like my family either! So, we spent so many Christmases where we travelled all over the World, trying get away from Christmas. And sometimes you are in countries where you feel, “Yes, this is where we totally get away from it.” So, we were in Vietnam, in Saigon. And on Christmas Eve it went completely mad: everyone was on scooters, dressed up as Santa, Snow White, Halloween outfits - literally, any fancy-dress outfit will do. And they just go around and around on scooters in the city centres. And there is no Christian tradition at all in Vietnam, but they still do Christmas. 

AS: Christmas has become a global brand.

HJC: Yeah but - come on - consumerism is all-year-around anyway. People get told what to do all the time anyway. And it's almost like this time of the year you are told that you are entitled to have a holiday and take those days off.

AM: Although companies like John Lewis are those that work their staff to the wall over those exact days - so they advertise the family but in reality...

VY: Also, are you really entitled to those Christmas days? I don't think that anyone is technically entitled, unless they are using it as a religious holiday. It's another working day, it is Christmas but you are not entitled to it. 

SG: A lot of these people want to work on Christmas days because they get a lot better paid.

AS: I am very interested in this notion of entitlement, especially in relation to advertising. For me the world has become the L'Orèal advert – “Because I'm worth it!” - which seems to have become such an important statement for the way in which a sort of individualistic, capitalist model exists.

VY: You have these series of adverts in between your programs and they all show a type of perfection. And then you have one charity advert that says, “This is the Christmas that people don't get.”

AM: But also, how many people do actually consume those adverts? There was a time when you had to watch those five minutes of adverts because you had no other option. But now who watches TV like that? That's why the John Lewis advert and others need to become viral campaigns so that everyone sees them anyway.

AS: Interesting. Maybe because I am from an older generation, I tend to prefer telly when it's real TV and not playback. So, I swallow aaaaall the adverts…


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from everyone at The Cross+ng!
See you in 2017!