Opinion: The ritual of consumption among the Nacirema

Brian Reimer

Brian Reimer

Brian Reimer is a senior anthropology major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

The winter ritual season begins on the fourth Thursday of the 11th month with a ceremonious feast commemorating a likely mythological meeting between the great ancestors and the indigenous peoples of the land. The ceremony begins when an obese elderly man from the community dons red sacred ritual gowns and parades down the society’s largest streets.

The feast celebrates the bounty of the recent harvest and acts as a ritual fattening before a cold winter sets in, and it may be one of the few meals shared with all members of the extended family. Soon after the ravenous feasting, a period of rest is observed by all members of the household that is brought about by an entheogen compound called L-Tryptophan consumed during the feast in conjunction with an overload of carbohydrates, fats and alcohol.

After the intoxicating effects of the feast begin to fade, some members of the society choose to make a pilgrimage to a midnight mass at one or more of the many colorfully lighted altars set up throughout the nation. People congregate regardless of sex, class or propriety in order to sacrifice small pieces of lightly painted green paper in exchange for artifacts that are ritually bestowed upon family and non-kin and as an expression of gratuity or oblation.

Sometimes, the congregations provoke avaricious violence between pilgrims over certain in-demand artifacts; however, this is exceedingly rare, as the number and abilities of the temple guards have increased in recent years.

After the midnight rush on the temples and altars, the pilgrims return home sleepy-eyed and with the sacrificial spoils of the previous religious act. Some pilgrims may continue to visit altars and temples in search of the best sacrificial rates.

The ritual of sacrifice begins a nearly month-long season when individuals are inundated with culturally attuned symbolism that guides the entire society into a complex set of ritual events that culminates on the 25th day of the 12th month. This date stands as a symbol of the miracle birth of an ancient religious figure. Ironically, the celebrated religious figure was likely not born in the 12th month, and would predictably abhor the extreme sacrifices and rituals surrounding the celebration that carries his namesake.

It is this climactic final day of the season when the artifacts acquired throughout the season are redistributed anonymously in the name of the aforementioned old man in red adornments, and much merriment is had by all.

Understanding our own cultural rituals from an etic perspective — that is, as an outsider — can give us significant insights into our actions and how we live our lives. Given the way economists on TV talk about the importance of the holiday shopping season, it leads one to believe the entire U.S. economy for the entire year depends on the impending month of hedonistic consumerism. The holiday season is a complex cultural event that engrosses us for the better part of a month and is intimately integrated with our nation’s economy and, ultimately, our cultural identity.

This Black Friday, and all season long, advertisers push an idea of happiness to you that has been culturally conditioned. This all culminates into a secular orgy of consumerism based around false historical, etymological and theological symbols. Sometimes, it just takes an outside perspective to put things into context.