Image from author.
With St Patrick’s Day behind us, and Easter on the way, there seems to be an endless supply of products specifically branded for what feels to be more and more holidays, both large and small. Whether it be a heart-shaped box of chocolates, an advent calendar for dogs, or a green latte, it starts feeling like holidays only exist to sell stuff. Even movies that talk about the “true meaning of Christmas” fall into this pattern. The Grinch, released by Universal Pictures, made over 500 million dollars at the box office, and the live action version from 2000, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, made well over 300 million. Movies such as these give their message about the true meaning of Christmas: family, being together, being thankful for what you have, etc. Yet, they seem to be examples of exactly what they discourage: Greed. With a seemingly infinite amount of movies, snacks, and other products all branded for whatever is coming up next, the actual origins and meaning of a holiday is forgotten.
Take Christmas. The holiday can be traced to Saturnalia, and other celebrations during the dark and cold winter. What could be considered interesting is how Christmas was treated throughout American history. Students may remember learning about the American Revolution, and how Christmas was used as a distraction in 1776 by George Washington. Or, when individual colonies would ban and actively fine anyone celebrating the holiday. However, many people only remember the movies, the mistletoe, and the endless loops of the 1994 song by Mariah Carey, “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
The same is true with one of the most noticed holidays of the month, St Patrick’s Day. The origin of the holiday starts with the fifth century Saint Patrick, who was taken into slavery and later brought Christianity to Ireland, with the symbol of the shamrock being used to explain the Holy Trinity. Even with its heavily religious origins, the holiday has moved to a more secular affair. The Irish Government started using the day for a boost in tourism in 1995. The modern view of Saint Patrick’s Day has changed beyond recognition. While the holiday does not have the same flood of movies and songs, there are still quite a few products being sold. People are quick to buy green accessories with glitter for the day, and the previously mentioned “green latte” is a drink at Starbucks.
Why did society choose to take holidays in this direction? This seems like an issue that a journalist in high school would not be qualified to answer, but I want to propose a theory. Japan is a country where less than 1% of the population call themselves Christian. However, there seems to be quite the following of Christmas in Japan, with a CNN article claiming that KFC, through its holiday marketing, made 6.9 billion yen, about 63 million US Dollars, between December 20 and 25 in 2018. This is about 9% of their annual sales for the year. This didn’t start until the 1980s, where an incredibly successful ad campaign run by KFC led to a tradition of eating food from KFC on Christmas. However, it cannot only have been the ads. A potential factor is the willingness of people to change, to leave tradition and find something new. The celebration of Christmas in Japan may have had another thing helping its success: it was fun. Statues of the mascot of KFC, Colonel Sanders, happen to share a resemblance to Santa. Christmas was adopted simply because it was seen as fun. However, this willingness to abandon the past leaves many people unaware of the actual history of the holiday, what it celebrates, and what it means. Whether this trend leads to a further dissociation between holidays and their message is yet to be seen.
Richard Pang is a senior at Washington who was born and raised in Fremont. He is a reporter in his first year with The Hatchet. You might find him looking at aspects of student culture that get overlooked. On his off hours, you can find him organizing events on online platforms or doing some research on whatever topic caught his interest this week. He’s not sure where life will take him or how college will go, but there’s no fun in knowing what will happen.