Christmas and Materiality: A Meditation on the Holidays and Capitalism
told my partner that I was looking forward to Christmas, and he looked at me with confusion scripted all over his face.
He said: “I'm surprised that you’re into capitalism, considering what you do for a living.” This was not the first time that a white person from a well-to-do family has attempted to check me on my capitalism.
You see I look forward to Christmas. I am the girl who didn’t grow up with Christmas, so none of the traditional trappings of Christmas are customary to my context. Instead, I grew up in a working poor neighborhood, with a family that pinched pennies and saved for an entire year to be able to buy those special gifts that they usually would not be able to buy, but that was usually reserved for birthdays. I am that girl who got to wish the entire year for that special day when I would get those things. Now Christmas for me is just another special day, breaks up my year into two days when I get to dream of those things I normally would not get for myself and loved ones BUT do because it’s Christmas!
When you grow up poor the materiality of this world is social capital. Nobody from the hood wants to look like they come from the hood, so we adorn ourselves to forget, aspire, and/or claim our identity within the hood. People from the hood can dress, and we see that now more than ever when all the IG models are appropriating black and brown hood aesthetics into their white upper-crust lives. People of color from the hood have always made a $2 pair of earrings look like $50. We work hard to sharpen and clean our looks because I repeat: materiality in our world is social capital. What I mean by social capital is that the means in which we move through the world is just as valuable as literal monetary gain, so social capital is lived and experiential and thus valuable. Social capital is currency. Identity is important and figuring out where you belong in this vast matrix of the barrio life is important to us, and it always has been. If you are from the hood, you GET that and nobody has to explain that to you.
When you grow up poor the materiality of this world is social capital.
When people start throwing around these anti-capitalism/anti-black Friday/anti-consumption ideas, the majority of those people have other means of gaining social capital. The majority of those people have degrees, money, and/or enough power to not need to rely on material things to gain that coveted social capital. People respect those people when they drop their fancy degrees, titles, or money for their alternative hippy lifestyle. People who grew up like me, they grew up with ONLY the material to gain respect, because nobody thinks about people from the barrios I grew up in as respectable or worthy but they might create spaces for us based on our swag and we know it.
People who reject holidays that have been ruined by capitalism usually get what they need AND what they want throughout the year, or at least can get it but opt not to. People from my hood only get that special shit once a year, or twice, and we cherish and look forward to it. Yet the blanketed vilification of capitalism is something that points the finger at poor black and brown folks instead of creating spaces and conversations where these realities are upheld.
So as we start prepping for this year’s Christmas, I am going to get Christmas-y on bae because Christmas is so much more than a holiday that has been co-opted by corporations to bleed America dry. Christmas is that day the working poor black and brown folks have often saved up for to look forward to opening those presents because those moments are rare and special. Christmas is oftentimes the ONLY day that everyone might have OFF, and shaming those of us who look forward to that day and all that comes with it is actually oppressive and imposing on others the privilege to transcend materialism.