Let’s celebrate the birth of shopping

Just two shopping days are left before Christmas, when Britain will be celebrating the birthday of Hermes, the god of merchants and trade.

‘Happy Hermes Day’ doesn’t quite have the ring, don’t you think?

Or did I get that wrong? Is it somebody else’s birth that we’ll be celebrating? Sorry, my mistake. But an understandable one.

The other day we ran out of Christmas cards and tried to replenish our store at Sainsbury’s, one of Britain’s largest supermarket chains, that’s doing brisk trade in seasonal merchandise.

Sure enough, the supermarket had Christmas cards for sale, racks of them. Yet not one – as in not a single one – featured a Christian motif.

To be fair, none depicted Hermes either. However, it’s a good guess that, given the choice between the two images, Hermes and Jesus, Sainsbury’s would choose the former, just to be on the safe side.

After all, few among us would respond to a depiction of Hermes with spittle-sputtering fury. Few would describe it as cultural supremacism, lack of sensitivity, racism, elitism, xenophobia and other such awful things.

All such tags are routinely attached to any reference to Our Lord – even during the festival ostensibly dedicated to his birth. We can’t mention Christ lest we offend those who don’t believe in him. And God knows we must pander to even the most morbid of sensitivities.

Far be it from me to suggest that everyone should be a Christian. I am convinced, however, that anyone who is offended by any reference to Christ at Christmas should save his brittle nerves and move somewhere else. May I suggest Saudi Arabia?

If Sainsbury’s commits a visual and verbal affront to the founding tenets of our civilisation, Tesco, another chain, goes against its very spirit.  

Unlike Sainsbury’s, Tesco hasn’t quite got away with it. Several newspapers have pointed out that the supermarket’s charity Christmas cards are produced by slave labour in China’s prisons.

That some outrage has been caused pours balm on my hubris. For in my 2011 book The Crisis Behind Our Crisis, I devoted several pages to this very issue. This is what I wrote then about China in general, not just her prison inmates:

“[We] ‘outsource’ most production to countries like China, whose population is consigned to what only Protagorian sophistry would prevent one from calling slave labour. In the good, if relatively recent, tradition of materialistic amorality, we choose not to ponder the ethical implications. When paying £1 for a pair of cotton underpants made in China… we refrain from doing simple mental arithmetic.

“Yet if we were to add up the cost of the cotton, utility prices, depreciation of the factory plant, manufacturer’s mark-up, cuts taken off the top by various middlemen and retailers, cost of transportation and storage, customs duties, and many other things I’ve undoubtedly left out, we’d realise that the poor devils who stitch those underpants together probably still subsist on a small bowl of rice a day.

“We congratulate ourselves on thus greasing the palm of capitalism. More power to the elbow of the invisible hand. After all, without us those people may not even have that bowl of rice. They are better off, we are better off, what’s there to worry about?

“Our souls, ladies and gentlemen, would be one answer to that. But this isn’t the kind of answer many would understand these days. We have become desensitised to the suffering of those who oil the works of our own consumption.”

Perhaps, and I know I’m being a star-gazing romantic, the faddish concept of ethical sourcing will one day be expanded from meat, fish and veg to include men and women created in the image and likeness of God.

Is it too much to expect that those enslaved by evil regimes receive the same consideration as tuna and lamb chops? Yes, I think so. Hermes beats Christ hands down – in this world, that is.

P.S. Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish readers!

2 thoughts on “Let’s celebrate the birth of shopping”

  1. ” the poor devils who stitch those underpants together probably still subsist on a small bowl of rice a day. ”

    Actually two bowls of rice per day as provided by the manufacturer. And once a week add some pieces of fish.

    All that merchandise made with a Christmas motif in China, I have often wondered what the workers think this is all about.

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