In ancient societies, people gathered to ritually slaughter the fatted calf in an effort to renew the strength of the tribe for another year. After the sacrifice, which bonded them around loss, came feasting, which bonded them in fulfillment.
Today, when we arrive at the mall and hand over a portion of the money we’ve worked for all year, and then break bread at the food court, we likewise renew our optimism for the year ahead.
From Why We Shop in today's New York Times
I'm not buying it. I'm sure there are plenty of good reasons to buy stuff for the people we love -- but I suspect that grieving fatted calves has little to do with it.