Religions have evolved over time and been influenced by economic and political changes in societies. However, almost all economic and political institutions and systems have recognized and attempted to exploit the power of religious belief and blind faith. Communism for example, though rejects traditional religions, is founded on political hierarchies that resemble and function like religious institutions and theocracies with an invincible ruler and party elite governing over people. Consumerism or capitalism; however, has strongly embraced traditional religions and especially religious holidays as enablers of more consumption and shopping. The commercialization of religious holidays has over time changed the meaning of these holidays which traditionally have served as a time of reflection, appreciation and unity among the believers of the faith.
Santa Claus stole Christmas when the holiday became a symbol of consumerism and shopping, thereby diluting the deeper spiritual message of Christmas. Traditionally, Christmas has been about families getting together, socializing and celebrating. The value was invaluable, it was time spent together. But then consumerism came along and made Santa Claus the champion and symbol of shopping and consumption. Christmas evolved from a religious and spiritual holiday to the modern day “shopping season”, “shopping holiday season” with some estimates putting the total amount spent by consumers close to 50 billion dollars in the United States alone. Now instead of looking forward to seeing our families and friends, we are anxious trying to buy the right gifts for everyone and fantasize about the gifts we might receive. What used to be a beautiful story about an old man giving gifts to poor children during Christmas has become a social pressure symbol of shopping and consuming.
Another example of how consumerism is impacting religions is the opening of lingerie shops in the ultraconservative Saudi Arabia. This phenomenon is most fascinating not because of the irony but the power, reach and viral nature of consumerism and its influence on religious belief. A power that even the most conservative religious communities can not resist even though most religions emphasis charity and vilify money and consumption.
In conclusion, it must be noted that this global gravitation toward universal consumerism is beyond anything humanity has experienced. No other viral and cultural meme has reached so many people as consumerism. Of course consumerism has been around for many decades, but its reach and exposure thanks to the internet and age of social media has made it a much more powerful viral meme.
Obviously, no holiday is immune to the contagion of consumerism as every holiday now has become its own mini shopping season or excuse: Mother’s day, Father’s day, Valentine’s day, Thanksgiving. All of these holidays have slowly evolved into nudging agents and influencers for people to shop, consume and spend money.