Don’t let soppy adverts ruin your Advent

A scene from John Lewis's 'Monty the Penguin' advert Below: Sainsburys' First World War effort

Many moons ago some silly council tried to rebrand Christmas as Winterval, to reflect the multicultural pluralism of its diverse patchwork of rainbow coloured communities, etc. We all laughed at that. But now, I think they might have a point. Christmas has become so debased in Britain that I’m all for renaming it to avoid confusion with the real thing.

It’s mid-November, so the advertising has already begun. And if a child’s understanding of Christmas was based on what they see on the telly, they’d be forgiven for thinking that Jesus was a lonely penguin who fought in the First World War and that we remember him every year by buying four turkeys for a pound at Asda. Of all the saccharine dross currently being inflicted upon us, the worst is the Sainsbury’s ad that uses the 1914 Christmas peace in the trenches as a chance to push its wares. Oh, it’s true that it’s endorsed by the British Legion and that proceeds of the sale of a chocolate bar will go to a good cause. But make no mistake: the goal of this ad
is to shift stock of pies and puddings. It’s all about branding, giving us the false sense that shopping at one particular store is a little more noble than going next door.

Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 12.16.44

It’s depressing that our commercially literate modern consumer can’t see straight through this, but emotional manipulation is both easy to pull off and difficult to resist. The filmmaker Paul Schrader once said that the simplest way to engage an audience is to shoot a puppy. I wouldn’t mind the retailers teasing with our heartstrings if they weren’t using a religious holiday as the occasion and helping to add to the misunderstanding over what it’s really about. In the West today, Christmas veers on becoming a pagan festival of wine, turkey and song.

Even the family element of it is exploited in order to sell stuff to the masses – and when one criticises this, it is pointed out that buying vast amounts of superfluous trash is good for the economy. So Christmas has become Keynesianism with tinsel.

For those at risk of forgetting, it’s actually about the birth of Jesus Christ. The birth of a king who was notable for his poverty (although, yes, there were gifts – although none that a baby would actually want). And as this religious element to the holiday feels increasingly separate from the rest of the hoo-ha, perhaps it’s time that we made the distinction official. We’ll have value-for-money Christmas and the pagans can have their overpriced Winterval.

This article is taken from Tim Stanley’s Notebook in the print edition of the Catholic Herald, dated November 21 2014