Too early for Consumermas…
Those readers who don’t know me in my Other Life–I’m a musician who among other things sings with a large Chicago chorus and orchestra , and one of our annual “highlights” (okay, we’re told it’s a highlight for our audiences) is the holiday concert we do every December. (I’m not knocking it, really, but most of us would rather sing Bach or Mahler than “We wish you a merry Christmas” for the seventeenth year in a row, you know?)
There’s one song we’re doing this year that I remember from about a decade ago…at the time I thought it was sort of Cute And Amusing, and somehow now it leaves me cold and sort of creeped out. It’s a sort of running narrative of a family’s experience of Christmas Eve:
“Out of bed, check the list, is there anyone we’ve missed? Wake the kids! Grab a shower! Only got a half an hour till shopping shopping shopping…Gotta be at the door when they open up the store for shopping shopping shopping (need coffee coffee coffee). Find the keys, time to go, grab a shovel clear the snow, take a scarf, wear a hat, lock the door and watch the cat, someone check the thermostat, get the baby in her seat, get the dog out of my lap–we haven’t even started and I’m ready for a nap (more coffee, coffee, coffee)…” (words and music by Joanna Seaton and Donald Sosin)
And so on. They deal with traffic traffic traffic, battle for a parking space, mourn not having shopped in September, split up to cover everything more efficiently, deal with whining kids who want to see Santa, meet a smug acquaintance who did all her shopping in May, lose one of the children, find the child, yell at the child for wandering off, go back into traffic traffic traffic (get more coffee coffee coffee), pick up Grandma at the train, buy a tree, put on the lights, bake a pie, get the kids to bed, wrap gifts, and finally go to bed at about 2:30am.
All I can think of is, what a horrible way to spend Christmas Eve. And yet I am fairly sure there are families who do exactly that.
Now okay, from a “green” standpoint I guess it’s not all bad–at least they check their thermostat and presumably turn it down before leaving the house. And Grandma uses public transportation to get to them. Ummm….that’s about all the good I can find in it, actually.
A few years ago my parents tried to put a bit of a kibosh on the Gift Craziness in our family and suggested that instead of adult-to-adult gifts we all contribute in each other’s names to a charity–one of our family favorites is Heifer Project International, which provides livestock to people in developing countries or poverty-stricken areas of the U.S., provides education for the families involved, and then when that animal produces offspring another family in the area gets the offspring and thus the giving grows. I think they are wonderful. Anyway, some family members liked the idea, and others didn’t–they wanted the whole gift thing. So we now all pretty much do whatever we want, and my husband and I buy my folks a goat for someone in Africa every year.
Thing is, for the past several Christmasses, I don’t think I’ve set foot into a mall. I’ve bought things on ebay for family and friends, I’ve done a lot of baking and crafting, I’ve made lotions and bath salts and soaps, I’ll even frequently hit Amazon, but I almost never actually go to the mall and visit stores. My “list” of people to shop for has less to do with obligation and “OMG I need a present for this person what will it be” than trying to figure out something special to make for the people I care about, and/or something both personal and useful (and often consumable!–how many of us really need more “stuff”?) for people like teachers and neighbors whose lives I might not know really well, but to whom our family would like to show appreciation or thanks.
(There’s also that strange code of gift-giving–you can give food kinds of gifts to others and be fairly sure you’re not then making them feel like “OMG I didn’t get you something”–food is neutral and appreciate-able; somehow tangibles and Stuff make most people feel like they need to give something back. Why is that, I wonder? Does anyone else feel the same way? Honestly, there are people I’d love to give something else to, but I don’t, because if I did I know they’d feel uncomfortable–you can just see the expression on people’s faces when they realize they now have another gift to get, which sort of negates the “gift” concept of the gift, ya know?)
Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing a lot of sewing, crafting, canning, and stuff like that…and I want to try my damnedest not to get sucked into the consumerism thing. And I invite my readers to do the same. Take the “Buy Handmade” pledge and shop specifically for one-of-a-kind and specialty items. Make your own gifts for others–bake, or craft, or sew, or knit, or crochet…repurpose, buy and renew secondhand items, shop locally…give to those who lack the basic necessities of life in the name of people you care about, through Heifer or The Hunger Site or whatever charity is closest to your heart.
Opt out. Whatever holiday you celebrate, whatever the turning of the year means to you, make sure you celebrate it in a way that makes sense to you–don’t let the billboards and cheesy commercials tell you what you should be doing. Choose to make your own choices, whatever they are.
And have a merry, happy, Whatever holiday. 🙂