By Karen Sternheimer
Sociology teaches us to think critically about how we ascribe meaning to all aspects of social life, particularly how reality is socially constructed. The holiday season is a great example of how we ascribe meaning to events, and how our actions reinforce and reproduce these meanings.
Take the idea that the end of the year is a season of giving. In reality, this has come to mean a season of shopping and consumption. True, much of what we buy is presumably to give to others, but whether we give away what we buy is secondary to the act of buying itself. (Are you really going to buy that special someone on your list a new refrigerator or washing machine? Probably not, but all sorts of goods are marketed as holiday specials.) Retailers begin holiday-themed advertising in late October, hoping to create excitement for year-end shopping, which has become tied into the meaning of the holiday season.
The practice tells us more about our current economic and social context, where consumer spending accounts for a large proportion of economic growth, than it does about a shared past. Retailers look to “Black Friday” spending as important economic indicators, which the public regularly hears about as a barometer on our national economic health.