Christmas doesn’t have to cost a fortune and a simple handmade or pre-used gift can mean as much, if not more, than the present that broke the bank.
Professor Louise Crewe, an Economic Geographer at The University of Nottingham, specialises not just in the economic effects but in the much broader cultural and social issues of retailing, consumption and fashion. She says although Christmas does have an economic value it also incorporates all sorts of potent political, social and familial relationships that really do matter.
Professor Crewe said: “Christmas should not be about buying ever more expensive things — value can lie in what giving a gift can bestow. Christmas is about selflessness, being with friends and family, love, gift giving and the thought and care that have gone into that gift. Small gifts and tokens can actually build our relationships with people — it isn’t about selfish, hedonistic greed. It is about giving and sharing in beyond market terms.”
At a time when budgets are tight Professor Crewe, from the School of Geography, says consumers have more power and knowledge than ever before to find gifts at the right price and of appropriate value. With the internet and discount stores as well as charity and vintage shops, where goods might come with a history and a provenance, consumers have become more able to search and navigate their way to find something special. Good value doesn’t always mean cheap. There are also ways to be less extravagant at Christmas by making something instead of buying something; simply inviting someone round; going to see someone; getting children to bake something for special for relatives — creating meaningful things out of something that does not cost very much.
Professor Crewe said: “Consumption has often been held up as the evil of contemporary economy. It isn’t. What much of the world actually needs is more consumption in many senses and we can do this in many ways. We need to reframe our theorisation of economy and realise it is not just about supply and demand and pricing — it is freighted with all sorts of other dimensions such as generosity, the gift, care, spending time finding or the absolutely right thing for someone which may have a very tiny price in terms of its monetary value but have an enormous value in terms of its emotional meaning, its connection, its attachment.”
With ‘Sale’ signs already appearing Professor Crewe says we can still support our high street by going out and soaking up the Christmas atmosphere and enjoying some of the magic that it brings.
Professor Crewe believes the high street is not struggling as much as recent reports suggest. She says there has been a polarisation on the high street with the design led top end shops and discount stores doing well. But the availability of cheap goods raises broader, more complex and difficult issues about the geographies behind those products.
She says the economic climate is difficult and as more and more people struggle to make Christmas special perhaps this Christmas might be a moment when we can all, collectively, put our very real anxieties and worries aside and think about the magic of Christmas — get back to a more traditional sense of what Christmas means and what it is about. She suggests we stop and think and really reflect on what matters and where our real values of Christmas might lie — beyond the monetary.
As for the future Professor Crewe says: “I suspect that what this Christmas will mean is depressed retail sales but it will also make consumers wiser, much more savvy and able to seek out appropriate ways of negotiating different kinds of markets whether that is on high street or the internet. The value of something doesn’t always lie in its logo or brand — things have value for all sorts of different reasons and I think retailers are beginning to realise that a brand or a logo and an inflated price tag simply isn’t enough now to convince.”
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