12/11/2014 05:50 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 05:59 EST

Have a Holly, Jolly and Budget-Friendly Holiday

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Christmas brings out the capitalist in me.

Every holiday season the tinsel comes out, lights sparkle through the night and Starbucks starts serving seasonal over-priced drinks.The ravenous consumer in me springs out. Part of me is so turned off by the consumer culture overload that looms its expensive head come mid-November. I feel queasy at the massive displays of capitalism on steroids.

But another part of me loves it. I want the ornaments that are way too expensive even though I could probably make them in a few arts and crafts sessions. I want a peppermint mocha latte with lots of whipped cream please! I want ugly Christmas sweaters,sparkly decorations, the blinking lights to adorn my bedroom with holiday cheer.

That's the thing about Christmas. It brings about this hypnotic advertising that makes people develop a sudden amnesia as to the state of their bank accounts and the economic climate. As someone who has worked in retail through the holiday seasons, I've seen my fair share of declined credit cards. Everyone would give me some kind of excuse. But the truth was plain to see: people spend way too much money on Christmas. The flocks of hungry shoppers would herd in splurging on $7.99 Papyrus cards, $40 blankets, $20 mugs and other utterly absurd things. For goodness sake, you won't be betraying your family and friends if you just pick up a few things from the sale racks.

I would roll my eyes, scoff at their mediocre budgeting and their sheep-like obedience to "buy this, buy that, there's a promotion!" And even feel a sense of sadness as I saw people scraping their cash together, waiting in lines with this strange look of desperation in their eyes.

But I realize that, in many ways, I fall for it as well. I don't spend the money that so many others do but that's probably because my family is Muslim. Though we do plan a big family get together for Christmas, we don't really splurge on each other. Still, I find myself inexplicably drawn in by the gaudy displays and giant candy canes. I photograph the Christmas trees at all my friend's houses. Despite being a leftist, advertising-hating feminist, have holiday fever that I cannot shake off.

I have a love-hate relationship with the consumer culture of Christmas. I walk into Indigo and fawn at their Christmas display, while simultaneously hating that they can price everything ridiculously high and people will still buy their products. It's a time when advertisers can exploit people tenfold, with this weird hypnosis happening as the stores play Kelly Clarkson Christmas songs over their speakers. Christmas is, no doubt, the most capitalist holiday of them all. Santa is probably an investment banker and the elves are outsourced workers toiling for measly wages.

Every part of me knows that splurging on family and friends is not the right way to show them your love, and yet I feel compelled to do so regardless. As cheesy as it may sound, with our fast-paced lives and ever-packed schedules, isn't giving someone your time and therefore happy memories a better way of showing them you care? I feel like after school Christmas special saying that, but I can't help but feel that it's true.

The stress of holiday shopping makes your average consumer less like Santa and more like the abominable snowman. People become ruthless, over-worked, frustrated, and inevitably broke as a result of that Christmas hypnosis that we just can't resist. I'm reminding myself this year that I don't need custom Christmas lollipops or elaborate snow globes, but what I do need is to spend quality time with those I care about.

The Christmas fervour of shopping malls and Dundas Square is partly a good thing. It creates a sense of community and happiness. And it's a way to brighten up the cold, overcast dullness of winter. But people really do need to control their spending and remember that they are not the Great Gatsby. Christmas is a happy time of year that really shouldn't be followed by debt and almost-mental-breakdowns when your Visa bill haunts you like the ghost of Christmas past.

'Tis the season to be jolly, and also responsible with budgeting, as un-catchy as that sounds. So Happy Holidays, and remember: don't fall for the candy cane doughnut at Tim Hortons -- it taste likes a cooked Christmas elf.


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