The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Tyranny Of Christmas

Anthony McIntyre

Despite what efforts go into community building throughout the year, by the time we have reached the fifty second week capital has ensured that consumerism rather than communalism reigns supreme. All the money we have rightfully managed to force out of the bosses over the year is handed back to them in desperation induced, more than fatuous, obeisance to the thing called Christmas. Ever penny of it and more to boot is drained out of us - part of next year's work, in both the normal economy and its parallel black one, will be performed merely to pay off the bills that have accrued through the rabid festive spending orgy. Interpellated by capital as 'consumers' we have, like Lot’s wife, turned around, unable to resist, and have fallen uniformly into line; defeated slaves kneeling down to kiss our chains. Our very children are the pressure point - such ‘sweet cute little things’ that we are made to feel criminal if we do not treat them to the best regardless of the expense.

Seemingly, to capital, Western children are so valuable that Chinese children can be coerced into slave labour to satisfy their needs. To provide for our young, those of Chinese parents work for thirty cents an hour in the crammed sweatshops along the Pearl River Delta - '1.5 million peasant girls sweating through a sub-tropical summer in 12- or even 14-hour shifts inhaling toxic fumes', in the words of one report. Now why a heavenly character like sweet pious St Nicholas would favour children with white faces over those with yellow ones is mystifying. Operating the Janus principle - the face of St Nick here and that of Old Nick in China.

But the hungry reindeers of old Satanic Claws are oblivious to all of this. Fed on that most nutritious of substances - profit - they make their way to our homes to let us know that they really do love our kids. And why wouldn’t they - the endless source of those financial nutrients?

The Money Advice and Budgetary Service (MABS) which was set up in the Republic in 1992 has observed that 'we buy according to whim with little thought for the long-term consequences.' It works primarily to help the better off who get themselves into debt problems. Helen Brady of the group explains that 'the poor know the value of money all too well. It is the middle-class people, who have never really had to worry about their incomes, that are now seeking the advice of MABS in greater numbers than ever before.'

But this is to overlook the problems faced by poor people. They may well know the value of money, but they also know the social stigma that goes with children equipped less well than their playmates. And it is not that they are out of touch with the long term consequences, but they are forced to confront them rather than have their kids scorned for their poverty.

Unfortunately, despite living in impoverished communities, the social cement that would normally provide some community cohesiveness is all too easily liquified by the call of capital. Atomisation grips the community fever-like. It is as if capital has thrown a primed device in amongst us and the only salvation lies in stampeding wildly - each for themselves and let the devil of guilt claim the hindmost - in the direction of the big department stores. The kids next door can't be allowed to put our own to shame so the bar is raised higher every time. Some new product is devised, marketed superbly and presented as indispensable in order to ensure that we - programmed to feel guilt and avoid it - will all go chasing after it. All the while capital makes us feel that, as consumers, we have failed our children if we do not buy even on HP what it has to offer.

In houses I have visited Christmas is a time of the year to be dreaded. The regime of Merry Christmases and its accompanying false bonhomie is pure superficiality, the gloss concealing people that are anything but merry. It is a pseudo-smile to mask the teeth-clenched grimace of poverty. Some people have spoken of the debt they have fallen into with money lending agencies. Borrow one thousand and pay back twice as much. It seems at least there is one aspect of all Ireland economic harmonisation that is grinding ahead unperturbed by the political nonsenses that are supposed to consume everybody else. The Irish Times reported that in the Republic ‘moneylenders are still setting rates of 200%’ . Only for the history of resistance in these communities loan sharks would be beating in people's doors and menacing them and using violence for payment. Although how long such security shall remain is a moot point. Ominous clouds already billow on the horizon as a result of the Rachmans of the West Belfast building industry having for the first time been on the guest list of a inaugural mayoral banquet.

Breda O'Brien has described Christmas as a ‘pitiless magnifying mirror to what we are’. Yet it is worse than that. It has become the systematic onslaught on the poorest in society. Surely in communities like our own it is not beyond the ability of those who live here, with their accumulated sense of collective action, to work against the precision targeting of the poor. We can surely do with fewer salaried community workers in exchange for more anti-poverty community services.

Poverty is not the crime of parents but is that of society. Parents should never feel like criminals for not doing as well as they might otherwise have done were it not for their destitution. The real criminal culpability is society’s. And in our society, characterised by great disparities in wealth and power, those at the top, not those at the bottom should carry the mark of Cain for the crime of poverty they have visited on their brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, they alone go to bed on Christmas night secure in the knowledge that a happy new year will be just that.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
- Hamilton Wright Mabie

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Index: Current Articles

2 January 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


From Pig to Man and Man to Pig
Tommy Gorman


Up the IRB, Down the Amazon

Seaghán Ó Murchú Gem of Exploitation
Liam O Ruairc


The Tyranny of Christmas
Anthony McIntyre


Eat, Drink, Be Merry
Brendan O'Neill


The Silence of the Left
Henry McDonald


When the Falls & Shankill Marched As One
Davy Carlin


19 December 2002


Take It With A Pinch Of Salt
Tom Luby


Victory 2016 plus 40 - Remember to Read the Small Print

Anthony McIntyre


The Men of No Property
Liam O Ruairc


Relatives of Republican Prisoners
Orlaith Dillion


Dirty Politics
Carrie Twomey


Henry McDonald, “Irish Anti-Semitism” and the Zionist Roadshow
Brian Kelly


Arrests in London of Turkish Hunger Strike supporters




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