Last week in the UK a video on YouTube went viral, titled “Alternative John Lewis Advert | The GoKart.” For those who don’t know, John Lewis is a British retailer who are famous for festive ads that are real tear-jerkers. And oh boy, do I recommend having a hanky at the ready for this one. The short video by filmmaker Sam Teale depicts a recently bereaved father struggling to provide a happy Christmas for his son, both mentally and financially. Cheery. Unfortunately, this year especially, it’s going to be very difficult for a lot of people to have their ideal Christmas. Or even keep the lights on. The pain only gets worse when we’re bombarded on social media by businesses, influencers and our friends having the brightest, shiniest, most luxurious, and most expensive Christmas ever.

For those struggling to afford basic necessities, Christmas can be rough.

The UK is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis with rising inflation, energy and food prices (brought on by a variety of situations, such as the war in Ukraine and Brexit). This has thrown a lot more people into poverty, and worsened the situation for those already struggling. As an example, a survey by the Salvation Army suggests that 67% of people are worried about being able to afford Christmas dinner this year. And that’s just the meal! What about all the other festive obligations?

Unfortunately, they’re not alone in their financial concerns, with energy prices and inflation remaining high across Europe as we come into winter and the festive season. Intrum’s annual European Consumer Payment Report surveyed 24,000 people across Europe about their financial situations and found that 8-in-10 are concerned about their financial wellbeing because of the rising cost of living.

These people’s Christmases will lie in stark contrast to what we are told is the “ideal” Christmas on social media. Businesses advertise the festive “must-haves” for months, flogging you all the things you need to have a “proper” Christmas. Is it even Christmas if you don’t have a tree? A luxurious meal? The perfect gift for every person you’ve come into contact with this year? They tell you your family deserves all these things. Can’t provide them? Wow, what a loser you are. The guilt creeps in because your Christmas isn’t perfect (that is, perfect in the way we’re told it should be).

Even those with fewer financial struggles are pressured to spend outside our means.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have a Christmas this year that more resembles the ones we are used to and enjoy, are still vulnerable to overspending. Every year, I feel like the obligatory ‘features’ of Christmas multiply. For example, the advent calendar industry has gone absolutely mad. What was once a pretty card with windows to open, or, at most, a little chocolate a day, has become an opportunity to sell “ultra-luxury” items that people probably didn’t want that much anyway. Influencers make unboxing content and use them as status symbols, as their followers gush over the extravagance. These days you can get an advent calendar for anything, all with a juicy mark-up.

The fairly recent phenomenon of the ‘Christmas Eve Box’ is another “absolute necessity” putting pressure on young families. Filled with toys, sweets, games, pajamas, etc., they’re designed to give to children on Christmas Eve. Consumer expert Prof Vince Mitchell suggests this trend of giving children a bunch of gifts, before giving them a bunch more gifts, is just a “clever retail invention”. So called “mummy bloggers” post popular guides to making them, and “kidfluencers” rack up views with unboxing videos. The obvious result is, children want what they see other children enjoying, and parents want to provide all they can for them. But this is an endless pattern. In a few years they’ll be a new “tradition” to add to the list, heavily endorsed by social media.

You can have the influencer Christmas of your dreams, if you pay for it.

Can detaching ourselves from social media be a Christmas gift to ourselves?

Overwhelming financial pressures can be extremely difficult to overcome, especially over Christmas. However, detaching oneself from the festive frenzy on social media will at least reduce the comparisons and unrealistic expectations. It’s too easy to forget that the perfect Christmases we see online and in ads aren’t real. Away from social media our exposure to marketing material will also vastly decrease. Of course we can’t escape advertising entirely, but this will at least reduce its impact, and also hopefully our overconsumption. When the internet isn’t ordering us to aspire for more, it’s easier to fully appreciate and value what we have, even if it’s little.

Polly Cumming

Polly Cumming is a British literary graduate keen on writing about human existence in this moment in time. She's thrilled to see some positive change in the world of social media.