The IKEA Christmas tree is what helps define this global cult brand that rakes in US$17.7billion in sales for itself this year.
In Japan, the same tree goes for 1,990 yen, or six times more, but once the Christmas season is over, the customer can return the tree to the store and exchange it for an IKEA gift card of the same value. Since a similar offer is not available in Malaysia, I suppose we’ll have to use our tree as firewood in our imaginary fire place in one corner of our freezing office once Christmas is over.
The IKEA tree is what helps shape the coming "Shopocalypse," a term coined by producers of What Would Jesus Buy? a documentary about America's orgy of consumerism and commercialisation of Christmas.
Yes, there were gifts offered at the first Christmas but for a different reason. According to the Bible narrative in chapter 2 and verse 1 of Matthew’s Gospel, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi (wise men) from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’"
As the story goes, they brought Jesus Christ very expensive gifts – gold, frank incense and myrrh, which is a fragrant oil used as a spice, cosmetic and medicine from the Arabian peninsula.
But the gifts upset Herod, who was not even a Jew but had spent a lifetime persuading the Roman Emperor to install him as the puppet King of the Jews.
The first Christmas, though a joyful occasion for the many who had long awaited the birth of Jesus, the Christ or Messiah, troubled Herod very much. He would finally be exposed as a pretender to the throne for the real sovereign of the Kingdom of Heaven has been born on Christmas day. So he decided to kill the baby Jesus. Herod had relied on the wise men to tell him where to find the baby but they were wiser than to do that. By the time we reach verse 16 of the narrative, Herod went berserk on finding out the wise men had tricked him and "he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under." Jesus survived the first Christmas but Herod died a few months later of old age.
In our post-modern economy, like King Herod, Santa Claus reigns over Christmas as a pretender. But Ho!Ho!Ho! has long since dethroned Jesus, the Christ, as the reason for the season.
Santa is serious business so we can’t afford to have Jesus spoiling the fun. Each incoming year’s industrial production begins as soon as Christmas is over, the hangover notwithstanding. The Christmas industrial production process that spews out synthetic snow flakes and plastic mistletoes also emits tonnes upon tonnes of greenhouse gas that worsens global warming.
The City of London Chamber of Commerce which has over 10,000 business enterprises as its members, terms the year-end splurge as the "Christmas Economy. " "A bad Christmas can undo in six weeks the hard work and good management of the previous twelve months," is said in a recent study. "Christmas is a make or break period for retailers, with many relying on the festive period for a significant part of their annual turnover."
The National Retail Federation has predicted that Christmas sales will rise four percent this season to $474.5 billion in the U.S. This is close to the total combined output of all goods and services produced by Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand for one whole year.
The world’s appetite for impulsive shopping during the Christmas season has turned into the alarming tradition to overspend.
That brings us back to What Would Jesus Buy?
The film, from director Rob VanAlkemade and producer Morgan Spurlock, is a comic documentary about out-of-control consumerism.
In an interview, Spurlock who says the film it's a wake-up call for all of us who bow at the altar of consumption: "We've become blind to what's important in our lives. We've lost sight of the true message of Christmas."
It features a charismatic preacher called Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. Reverend Billy is, however, not an ordained minister and doesn't even call himself a Christian. It is a stage name for Bill Talen, an actor-turned-activist. He adopted the "Reverend" title in 1997 as a way to creatively protest America's increasingly excessive consumerism. What began as his solitary street "preaching" in Times Square, New York, soon became the Church of Stop Shopping, which is really more of a performance art/activist group—a volunteer nonprofit community.
As I come to the end of writing my story, there’s a tinge of deja vu when I glance at the twinkling lights on our IKEA Christmas tree.