*I originally wrote and nearly posted this Dec. 2. I was pretty pissed but I felt this post was overly judgmental and snarky in the worst way. When I heard about the man trampled to death at a Wal-Mart, I thought for sure I’d see all sorts of backlash against them, against consumerism, against it all. But no, not so much. So this is my blog, and I get to say what I want. Skip this post if you would rather stay on the lighter side of Nim’s geekcraftery.*
Sigh. Look, I’m not a Scrooge. Really, I’m not. I just get super fed up with the expectations, pressures, and implications of this holiday as the gift-givingest, gut-bustingest, wallet-emptyingest holiday of the year.
It hurts me to think of families going into debt for gifts they think they “should” be giving. It hurts me to remember my own super-poor Christmases when my mom actually apologized for not having a “better” Christmas. I remember wondering what she meant. I was too young to care about gifts or the lack. But those expectations were set for her from years of her own childhood Christmases, and for sure our expectations as a nation are set now, in soul-siphoning stone. You must give. You must give big gifts! Big expensive gifts!! They won’t love you otherwise! They’ll wonder why you’re a loser! They’ll think you’re horrible! …It pisses me off.
How about celebrating the people in your life or the religious icon that the day actually started up for? How about anything meaningful at all?
Did you read WalMart’s new tagline for the season? “Christmas costs less at WalMart.”
Wow, really? I’m extra-glad I decided to boycott WalMart a few years ago. It’s been at least 3 year now. WalMart, you’ve quantified Christmas so egregiously that you can compare it out to other vendors. This actually made me angry as I sat at home Friday after Thanksgiving, happily watching whatever TV was on and knitting up a storm. Why was I knitting? I could buck against the expectation of gifts, but why be a jerk? Instead, I’m going way back to a few years ago, when every last gift I gave was hand-made. I’m taking lessons from that Christmas and applying them to this one.
On that Christmas, I made everything or traded for something handmade. A soap-making buddy of mine and I swapped batches: I got a few hunks of hand-made soap and she got a few loaves of homemade breads and cakes. I gave foods and other consumables like ski and movie passes or car wash tickets where I could, made hats and scarves, of course, and even embroidered floor-pillow cases for my furnitureless sister-in-law. I pressed flowers from my garden that summer and framed them for my new niece’s nursery. Sure, some gifts were totally hated (Uncle Ralph didn’t care much about his monogrammed towel wrapping a bunch of nuts [which he usually likes]), but some were kept, used, and loved. This year I had people asking me to make them things. Happily! And for the folks who don’t appreciate it quite as much, I listened to them closely this year. Dare I say I paid more attention to them when they spoke? Now, I know what they need or want. I can make sure that if I do buy something, I can pretty well guarantee they’ve been needing it and just forgetting or neglecting to get it for themselves.
What about you? I’m not saying we should all stop giving gifts, although that idea has merit too. Go read that article No Impact Man wrote. It’s good. It gets you thinking. His whole year of low-impact living is really interesting. Heck, I’m not even saying that we should give only handmade gifts (although that’s also a great idea). All I’m saying is if you’re going to buy something, DON’T buy in to the idea that bigger pricetags on bigger gifts bring bigger smiles. Don’t buy in to the idea that Christmas is the gifts. You don’t believe that, do you? You were appalled by the employee crushed to death on “Black Friday”, right? And that it’s now called “Black Friday” at all? It’s not like it’s a dark day; being “in the black” is to have positive ledgers in your account books. In the red is in debt, or a negative cashflow.
Let’s imagine the timeline: It’s the early part of this century and the Depression is over. Babies are booming and so is the economy. But folks remember the Depression and use things up forever. Let’s change that. Let’s make folks keep buying stuff so this boom will last. No really, let’s design them to break (planned obsolescence) and force them to buy more. Hm. What else? Let’s also make Christmas crazy-big and tell people it’s a huge deal and get them into stores. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer? Created for Montgomery Ward. Let’s get kids’ noses pressed against windows and make this a huge deal for them, put pressure on their parents to keep up with all the other parents and so on and so on. Let’s run toy ads during cartoons; let’s run sugar cereal ads with cartoon characters “for kids”; let’s rot their minds, hearts, and bodies with all of this. Let’s print a “wishbook” each year, filled with thousands of must-have toys for this year. Let’s make sure every kid knows that Santa grants wishes penned on special notes to him. Let’s build it all up, make it an industry, and start up the engines earlier and earlier each year. Let’s have folks wait in line starting Thanksgiving Day … or before. Forget about Thanksgiving feasts with families. Let’s get them waiting in line for the perfect gift with the “best prices” for the happiest family and the bestestest parents in the world.
I got off track a little there. Sorry. Point is, this really irks me. If you celebrate Christmas, celebrate the reason. If you observe it as a cultural thing, do the traditions, but don’t make it about THINGS. Is that really all it’s about for you? If you don’t care either way but have nieces, nephews, or children whose little minds are already warped, think outside the paper-wrapped box. Give them gifts you really put time into or that can help them learn and grow or that they can use well past the planned expiration date. Go watch the Story of Stuff. Start thinking, just think, about what all that consumerism, expectation, demand, and junk is doing to those young little minds. Ask yourself if you really want gifts, yourself, or if it’s the thought that counts for you.
I admit, I love surprise gifts. I love the feeling of being thought of, of someone seeing something and thinking of me, of somehow being present with them even if we might be miles apart. But which are you giving at Christmas? The gift or the thought?
Just think! That’s all I ask, America. Just frigging think.