Yesterday, as my kids opened the first door on their advent calendar, one of them remarked how it has felt like advent for ages. “Why?” I asked. “Because the Christmas ads came out ages ago.”
Two weeks isn’t exactly my definition of ‘ages’ but he had a fair point: the launch of the big retailers’ Christmas ads has become synonymous with the start of the Christmas season.
Heart-warming, humorous, and nearly always containing a moral message, these much anticipated micro-films have become the de facto Christmas sermon by the High Priests of Retail.
At first glance, or to the cynical eye, they’re little more than a shameless consumerist exploitation of the concept of giving at Christmas. But in a society where people trust retailers more than clergy or politicians, we’d do well to take a closer look at their message and meaning.
This year we have an over-stretched father who longs to be with his family, a girl (and her pet dog) who want to bounce, a sister with an annoying younger brother, and a highly efficient wife making Christmas that bit extra special. Sound familiar? That’s the idea: they all reflect back to us what it’s like to be an ordinary Brit in 2016 faced with yet another Christmas.
What is fascinating is that their underlying message affirms family values and selflessness – spending time with our loved ones, having fun, feeling part of a family, making amends and, of course, eating and drinking aplenty. Clearly, these are all things that people want Christmas to be about.
You could be forgiven for wondering what they are really advertising as very few products are actually shown. But retailers are using these highly sophisticated marketing tools to meet people where they’re at, to say “Hey, we know what it’s like, and we can help.” Unsurprisingly, those whose very existence depends on the commercialisation of Christmas are telling us that the answer is to buy more stuff!
Whatever we make of the adverts, it’s encouraging that people’s desire for a more meaningful, relationship-centred Christmas has been recognised and that life’s struggles are acknowledged for what they are. They’re a great talking point about how belonging to Christ, and his church family, bring these gifts all year round – and all without the need for a single credit card.
Siobhan O’Reilly Calthrop
Siobhan is a freelance writer, author and blogger, with a background in international development, who now writes about parenting, faith and mid-life issues. Her personal blog is www.everyoneelseisnormal.com.