Tis the season to… spend

With six weeks to go before Christmas, stores across the island have been getting into the festive spirit, stocking trees, decorations and various gifts in an effort to make consumers part with their hard-earned cash.

Traditionally, Christmas is a religious time, celebrating the birth of Jesus, but purists have become increasingly concerned over its commercial exploitation.

Debenhams have eight department stores across the island, with Marketing Manager Emilios Epaminondas saying decorations went up a week earlier than usual this year on October 23. “It’s part of our marketing strategy to get into the psychology of the consumer and to create an interest,” he said. “We all know that psychologically, Christmas is a time of spending on gifts for family and friends.”

Alpha Mega hypermarkets were no different. “Two weeks ago, we started stocking our Christmas products,” said Marketing Officer Persa Kountouri. “We have put decorations, trees, Father Christmases and other festive products up for sale in our three stores in Nicosia and Larnaca and have even started playing Christmas music in our stores,” she explained.

The President of the Consumers’ Association admitted Christmas was becoming more and more commercial with every passing year. “Stores traditionally used to put up decorations after November 15 but they are starting earlier and earlier now,” said Petros Marcou. “This year, they seem to be in a hurry to begin aggressive promotions and we urge consumers to be patient and take their time. They should look around the market and compare prices before making up their minds as to what they actually want or need.” He added the position of the Association was against over-consumption.

Nicos Karanikis, co-ordinator of Christmas events at Nicosia Municipality, said: “We have already started with the skeleton, so to speak, and are now trying to dress it up, with everything scheduled to be ready across the town by the end of the month.” On December 1, Nicosia Mayor Michalakis Zampelas and the Abbott of Kykkos will light the tree on Eleftheria Square.

“Festivities under the moat will be extra special this year with the carousel and a train for children, and we hope to attract more than the record 300,000 people who visited last year,” said Karanikis. All events are being organised by the Nicosia Citizens’ Team, under the auspices of the Municipality.

But Father Andreas Christodoulou of the St Demetrios Church in Paralimni spoke about the true meaning of Christmas becoming lost. “Most people don’t even realise what it means any more. Stores are beginning their promotions far too early these days and the whole thing has just become far too commercialised,” he explained. “Ten to 20 years ago, Christmas in Cyprus wasn’t so westernised and we gave gifts on January 1, on St Basil’s Day. The Church asks that we fast for 40 days before Christmas but most people don’t observe this and are only interested in having a good time. The Church isn’t against this, but we would like to see more people thinking about spirituality. As human beings, we have a body and a soul. If we continue to feed the body but do not have spiritual nourishment, we’ll end up with people without rounded personalities.”

What the people said >
With the Christmas spirit heavily present at Alpha Mega, we decided to visit the Engomi hypermarket and ask a few shoppers for their thoughts. Are the promotions overkill or a clever marketing strategy?
“I like the fact that I can start buying presents from now,” said Eftihia Ioannou. “I’ll buy stuff bit by bit in order to avoid the last-minute rush that everybody seems to get caught up in. I’ve even found myself humming along to the carols.”
Eleni Lytrides agreed. “Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends and I really look forward to giving and receiving presents every year,” she said.
Not everybody was so pleased though. “I’ve just popped in to buy a few groceries and was horrified to hear the music,” said Marios Constantinou. “I know you can’t escape it, but I really resent having it shoved down my throat from early November.”
We even managed to find a Christmas scrooge. “I dread the thought of Christmas every year as it means I have to spend money on other people rather than on myself,” the man, who wished to remain anonymous said. “Birthdays, name days, Easter, mother’s day; it never ends. Whoever dreamt up these ridiculous customs should be shot.”