Christmas commercialism will continue, says Schulich ad expert

Christmas is the most popular time of year when many people go on a gift-giving frenzy, wrote Dec. 10. But how did Christmas become so commercial? "The Three Wise Men brought gifts, doesn’t that mean gifts are about Christmas?" jokes Alan Middleton, professor of marketing in the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Today, the meaning of Christmas depends on the individual, Middleton said. In terms of Christmas being too commercial, Middleton said there are two things that drive that criticism: the length of time Christmas is marketed and the sheer number of products available to buy.

"A hundred years ago it was food and maybe alcohol and maybe a few other things, that was it. Now it’s not just the toys or cosmetics, virtually every category of products has gift orientation," Middleton said. "There are societal pressures of giving gifts because you feel obligated to," he said. "People think ‘If I don’t (buy gifts) they aren’t going to think I’m very nice’ or ‘Unless I give a really big gift, I’m going to be thought of as cheap.’"

Commercialism at Christmas won’t be going away anytime soon, but eventually people will say ‘enough’ and find ways to manage it, Middleton said. "The more long-term trend is ever-more commercialization –  that’s the reality," he said. "Starting even earlier, more and more gift ideas and special packages…that will continue."

  • While the pressures to spend a lot of money at Christmas can cause resentment, not to mention huge debt, there are ways to make your holiday less commercial and more meaningful, wrote Dec. 10. Here are some tips, courtesy of Alan Middleton, on how you and your family can make Christmas less commercial this year while creating values and encouraging compassion.
    • Remember charities. Give to your church or favourite charity to make sure people who are less fortunate get something. This is the meaning of Christmas.
    • Make a few gifts. It’s a great opportunity to get the kids involved and it’s more thoughtful. And write a thoughtful card; it’s often more appreciated than the gift.
    • Set a budget for friends and family and don’t go over it. This curbs later resentment, not to mention debt.
    • Schedule family time. We use money and gifts to replace quality time spent. Do an activity. Spend time with rather than give to.
    • Don’t ever buy on impulse. Stop yourself because the worst kind of overspending happens with uncertainty.
    • Sit down and think before you go out shopping. Make a list and stick to it. This also curbs overspending and helps to resist temptation to overspend.
    • Don’t over-celebrate with gifts. Decide what time of year is the most important gift-giving time for you. If it’s Christmas, spend your money on your important people then, but don’t do it over and over again at Easter and Valentine’s Day.

Osgoode graduate/student team responds to columnist

Margaret Wente says law students like us should be concerned about free speech (in the Dec. 6 column, So Who’s Fuelling The Prejudice?), wrote Osgoode graduates Muneeza Sheikh (BA ’03, BA ’04, LLB ’07), Naseem Mithoowani (LLB ’07) and Khurrum Awan (LLB ’07), and students Daniel Simard and Ali Ahmed in a letter to The Globe and Mail Dec. 8. She’s right! Which is why when Maclean’s published the Mark Steyn article "The Future Belongs to Islam" last year, we met its editors and asked that they publish a response to its Islamophobic content from a mutually acceptable author, from inside or outside the Muslim community. The intention was to engage Steyn about his views on Muslims.

Maclean’s said it would rather go bankrupt than publish any response – hence, our human-rights complaints. The issue is whether minority communities have the right to be part of the free speech that directly relates to them and not to be excluded. Our research indicates Maclean’s published 18 articles with similar Islamophobic content between January of 2005 and July of 2007. How many articles have been published in response by mainstream Muslim organizations? None.

The irony is, if we had responded to the Steyn article by throwing rocks at the offices of Maclean’s, we would have heard: If only Muslims would use the avenues available in a free and democratic society to engage in civilized debate. When we do, Canada’s largest newsmagazine says it would rather go bankrupt and right-wing journalists wail about law students asserting their rights as citizens of a free and democratic society.

Would Black have fared better here?

Legal experts say Conrad Black’s 61/2-year fraud sentence is harsh by Canadian standards, but more lenient than what he could have been dealt by the "draconian" US justice system, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 11. Had he been tried and convicted in the country of his birth, where judges aren’t required to follow rigid sentencing "grids", Black would have faced a considerably broader range of possible punishments, said Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. Theoretically, it would have been open to a Canadian judge to consider giving Black a conditional sentence, a form of house arrest, but a much more likely scenario would be imprisonment of up to five years, Young said.

Second World War made Toronto’s stock exchange dominant

Until the end of the Second World War, the Montreal Exchange was Canada’s pre-eminent equity market, according to Christopher Armstrong, professor emeritus of history in York’s Faculty of Arts, wrote The New York Times Dec. 11, in a story about a proposed merger between the TSX, the parent of the Toronto Stock Exchange, and the Montreal Exchange. An influx of postwar investment from the United States gradually transformed Toronto into the centre of Canada’s capital markets, wrote the Times.

Education grad student opposes training centre in Peterborough

Fears are effectively closing down the future of the Argyle Training Centre before it even gets started, wrote the Peterborough Examiner Dec. 11, in a story about a city council meeting on the adult retraining centre. York graduate student Naomi Nichols told council she’s opposed to the Argyle Centre because it is a kind of institutional environment instead of a program that’s tailor-made for each individual.

"We are not pioneers in this endeavour. We are going back in time to the kind of institutional environment we’ve moved away from," said Nichols, a PhD student who teaches in the Faculty of Education at York. "A program is not holistic just because someone says it is."

York dance alumna leads production at Trent

Developed by some of Canada’s best-known Aboriginal artists and celebrities, A Story Before Time will be presented on stage at Nozhem: First Peoples Performance Space at Trent University Dec. 12-15, wrote M2 Presswire, Dec. 11. Led by acclaimed choreographer and York alumna Santee Smith (MA ‘04), A Story Before Time is a family production of the Iroquoian creation story and features vocal narration by Gemini Award-winning actress Tantoo Cardinal and text written by renowned playwright Drew Hayden Taylor. Described as visually stunning, musically rich and theatrically compelling, this spectacular production is both entertaining and insightful for families and children.

A member of the Mohawk Nation, from Six Nations, Ontario, Smith is the artistic director of Kaha:wi (pronounced Ga-Ha-Wee) Dance Theatre. She attended the National Ballet School, and holds a master’s degree in dance from York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Her choreographic works, Kaha:wi and Here On Earth have toured nationally and internationally. Smith is a recent recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award. This year, her A Story Before Time was chosen as a highlight performance for the Council’s 50th anniversary celebration.