Decoding the meaning of the Christmas meal
The Christmas meal is a complex symbol rich with meaning.
The Esomar publication RW Connect has published a semiotic analysis of how women are depicted in the media at Christmas in the UK and Australia co-authored by Susan Bell and Lynne Freeman. It shows that women have been depicted as the invisible architects of a feast.
The conventional narrative about Christmas in Australia and in the UK is that it is a time of family bonding and a time of stress and tension. Collaborating with the consumer behavioiur academic Lynne Freeman, we have been studying Christmas for quite a while now, and we feel that we have been able to go beyond this conventional narrative to understand what the Christmas experience can really be like, and how that matters to marketers and social policy makers.
We conducted a semiotic analysis of the Christmas meal sections in the main women's magazines in the UK and Australia. We used semiotics because the Christmas meal is more than a meal. The meal and its preparation is a complex symbol, rich with meaning. Semiotics gives us a language to use to talk about symbolism and meaning which consumers typically do not possess so they struggle to describe how - consciously or not - they use a ritual like Christmas to reinforce their self-image, as cook, mother, wife, sister, good neighbour and the rest. The tension can come not just because we are all busy and spend far too much money, but because creating the 'perfect' feast for the family can challenge this self-image.
As we say in the RW Connect article "There are clear implications for the way in which brands ‘speak’ to women about the Christmas meal. Brands must demonstrate respect for how hard she has worked – and will expect to work – on the day. Don’t suggest she cheat, but do not expect her to feel proud of or loudly celebrate her achievement at creating such a meal, because to some extent she expects to be invisible. This is about the family, not about the cook."