Saturday, November 26, 2016

Defending Christmas Shopping Tradition

Mallorca, we are led to believe, resists certain temptations to undo years of tradition and so bow to the commercial imperialism of the United States and to the excesses of rampant consumerism. One manifestation of this supposed resistance is Halloween. While there may be traditionalists who eschew its trappings on the grounds that it is all an American invention, Halloween has wormed its way into the affections of many, and so in more ways than the simple consumption of Allhallowtide doughnuts.

The denial of consumerism is such that there have of course been no Mallorcans contributing to the jams to get into the FAN Mallorca Shopping complex and therefore to Trafico closing a motorway exit. Consumerism is so widely ignored that each month extensive statistics are produced which itemise how much has been spent (or not) on what particular products. The stats are produced for various reasons, one of which is to indicate the strength (or otherwise) of the local economy. Consumer spending, it might come as a shock to realise, is a vital factor in growth.

Then there is Christmas, a time when Mallorca turns its back on the various reports estimating how much every household will fork out and when municipalities (those which can afford to) drape Bon Nadal lights across roads in early November and then forget to take them down until March. No, Mallorca doesn't do Christmas. It holds up a metaphorical cross to ward off the evil spirit of the devil of commercialism in defence of religious tradition. If only it were so.

There is one good reason why there has been an appearance of avoiding the appetite for overindulgent Christmas consumerism. And that is legislation, both national and regional. Until recently, the gun to mark the start of the Christmas shopping rush was fired over the two holiday days' period of 6 and 8 December. Major stores would open their doors at seven in the morning. In they would all flock, then exit with several trolley loads. Stores were allowed to open - and still are - if one of these holiday days is a designated day when all shops (i.e. the big ones) can open, and of course they (the regional government) would have made sure that this was the case. Legislation demands that at present there are sixteen such days (Sundays and holidays) a year, soon to be reduced to ten.

Legislative reform has, however, disrupted this. Stores which were obliged to only have sales at set times of the year can now have them whenever they want to. This reform is absolutely crucial to understanding why Black Friday, a further example of gross Americana, has appeared from almost nowhere over the past two to three years. Without the reform, it couldn't happen.

Black Friday has, therefore, pushed the start of the Christmas shopping season forward a couple of weeks, and such is the lack of local Mallorca interest in this consumer bonanza that - according to surveys - at least 70% of the population will be turning its credit card hot.

However, lurking in the traditionalist background are those who insist on maintaining a tradition in defence of the smaller stores and so against the advance of big business and all the retail razzmatazz of Black Friday. Among them are elements at the town hall in Palma.

Much has been made of the decision to delay the switching-on of the Christmas lights until 3 December. The retailers wanted them to go on in order to coincide with Black Friday. The various justifications as to why there is the delay have included the fact that 25 November is considered to be too early, inviting a question as to too early for what. The answer to that is those elements within the town hall who would prefer that Black Friday had stayed firmly put on the other side of the Atlantic.

Take Antonia Martin, for example. She is the councillor for consumer affairs. She is also a member of Som Palma, the city's branch of Podemos. Last month she announced that the Christmas market would open on the same day as Black Friday in order that it could "fight" against large retailers. Martin is one of a Som Palma collective at the town hall which takes a quite different view of commercialism to others within the administration. Hence, the Christmas season has been theirs to dictate, and not the councillor for trade and tourism, Joana Adrover (PSOE).

It is politics which have determined the switching-on of the lights. Nothing else. Adrover, disposed to the lights having gone on tomorrow, knows full well that shopping is a strategic product in Spain's national tourism promotion. Consumers, both local and foreign, are key to the success of this product. But not in Palma, given the fights between the parties at the town hall. If there is one tradition being maintained, it is that of political battle.

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