Monday, 8 December 2014

Trumping marketing at Christmas

I was speaking to a former Council official who said me that Christmas events were easier in the past, “before one department in the Council had to pay another department to use jointly owned facilities”. Nowadays, Councils have to ‘procure’ everything rather than officials pulling together, doing unpaid overtime. Everyone is the 'customer' and the result in his view is “much higher bills and lower output”.  Basically, he was saying that a financial approach was supposed to save money, but in fact, it ended up costing more with lower quality results.

Today, we see profit and marketing increasingly invading the traditional space of women and the net result is loss of the very reason for doing these things. Baking cakes used to be a woman’s retreat on a quiet afternoon, possibly even into the challenges of icing. It is now a multi-million pound business, with male and female gurus insisting that before you offer anyone a cake, you must be an “A" class cook, your icing perfect, your decoration fit for a Royal wedding. No wonder many, having lost all confidence, buy their offerings from M&S, or Fortnum and Masons. I don’t mind learning a few tips (one or two) about baking, but competing over the quality of a cake? Crazy! The delight of baking is that someone made a cake, had a party and shared it. They had something to offer the family and friends on a Sunday afternoon, that brought a sense of hospitality. Hospitable cakes which took precious time to make are all good, in my view. The best Christmas cake is not one made by M&S or Aldi, but made at home, and iced with love.

Another area in which marketing has taken over is Christmas decorations. When I was a child, we cut some holly and stuck it on the mantelpiece and around door frames. Mother may have dried some oranges and lemons. We tied red ribbons on a real, spiky tree. Today, magazines are filled with factory-made baubles and trees - Christmas decorations made in China, two years ago, by underpaid people.   

Then there is factory-made brandy butter. How can you eat a whole tub of it? Brandy is used for the Christmas cake, so it is a leftover from a bottle of brandy, not a dish in itself.  It was a once-a- year mini treat, not something permanently on the supermarket shelves. No one had ever thought about "the brandy butter industry”. The same goes for mulled wine, which is an homemade Christmas drink not something that should come in supermarket bottles.

Marketing and commercialisation seeks to:

  • impose the notion of professional quality upon amateur hospitality (blot it out)
  • make people buy professional tools, ingredients and materials
  • mock amateurism with ideas about perfection led by gurus who (once has to confess) have a vested, financial interest in doing so.

We need to fight back! Life and Christmas is not a competition on professional quality, but about hospitality and love.  The first Christmas was not an orchestrated marketing affair. It involved amateurs, marginalised people taken unawares, responding spontaneously with the heart, with a sense of love, awe - and worship.  No food was involved, trees, turkeys, cakes or self-indulgence. There was the heavenly music, expensive gifts and smelly farm animals. Three wise men were not competing over which of them gave Jesus the "best" gift. Each gift was meaningful and loving: it had its role to play.  The wise men and shepherds were demonstrating hospitality to the newborn King. So should we, even if our cooking is unfit to win “The Great Bake Off”. 

Does it cost less to buy Christmas rather than make it - or does it cost more? Are the results, lower - or higher quality?

Whatever the answer, let's retrieve Christmas back from the professional marketing fraternity and do it all ourselves, exposing our loved ones and neighbours to our personal best - with love.

1 comment:

  1. I like this and agree. This Christmas we will pick our own holly from our back garden and get out the decorations we have had for several years. I may add some eucalyptus from our prunings. Then on to home baking. Hope to get to know our neighbours well enough to invite them round for tea. I have been given my Great Uncle Henry's tea-set which was his retirement present from the bank just after WW2. A PS. I am very unhappy in large superstores. We have been round two so far in Preston, I find them disorientating and impersonal. Now sticking to the two local (smaller) stores within walking distance.