Why are holidays so commercialized?

As we approach Valentine’s Day, it is important for us to reflect how, largely, holidays have become a staple of commercial American culture. Leading up to any major holiday, you can expect stores to be stocked full with all sorts of holiday-themed merchandise, sometimes even months in advance. In fact, American culture puts such a strong emphasis on buying things that we literally have holidays dedicated to the act, most notably Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These days are commonly known to officially start the retail shopping frenzy that takes place from late November to early January, the most profitable time span by a large margin for many companies in America. In a report by the NRF (National Retail Federation), Americans were estimated to have spent more than 750 billion dollars this past holiday season, the most ever in history and 350 billion more than was spent in the year 2000. According to the data, holiday spending has increased every year since 2008, a year in which the economy fell into a recession. But people aren’t spending more on gifts this year because the economy is doing well; with the pandemic still at large, millions of Americans are struggling financially. The problem is that as a society, too many people put pressure on themselves to spend as much as possible for their friends and family during the holidays.

Personally, I think this view of holiday spending is detrimental to the holiday spirit. It can cause people to feel depressed or anxious at a time when they should be enjoying themselves. According to a study done by the American Psychological Association in 2006, holiday stress most directly affects lower middle class individuals. The reason given for this was that they feel a pressure to spend a lot of money that they don’t have. On top of this, their worries are further heightened by the constant stream of commercialism that is practically inescapable during the season. Gift-giving can be a large burden for people who aren’t financially stable and it is unfortunate that our culture is so strongly focused on that one aspect of the holiday tradition.


Valentine’s Day has a similar effect on people. Since it is only one day a year, there is a societal pressure to spend lots of money on gifts for people. According to the NRF, the average estimated spending per person on Valentine’s Day in 2020 was more than  $190. I should make it clear that I don’t think there is anything wrong with spending money on those you love; however, people should not be motivated by a holiday to do something nice. Instead, they should act out of the kindness of their heart. Many Americans are worried about being seen as cheap if they don’t spend an extravagant amount on Valentine’s Day, but the truth is that it is just another day on the calendar.

One of the biggest negatives of the overcommercialization of the holidays is the waste that it creates. Christmas, specifically, is a major culprit of this. With people buying Christmas clothes, wrapping paper, plastic toys, cards, packaging and batteries, millions of tons of garbage are being created globally during the holiday. By buying less into these consumerist trends, you are showing that you care about the planet.

I am not against getting people expensive gifts during the holidays or the holidays in general. Instead, I am rather stating that the most important thing you can do for someone during the holidays is be there for them. Corporations and retail businesses would like you to think otherwise — that the latest piece of technology or new fashion item is what you need to get someone in order to show your love for them — but I think that most people would rather have a gift with sentimental value. The sooner we as a society separate American holidays from spending money, the better we will be because of it.