Monday, December 8, 2008
Well, it's December, and there's no doubt about it; Christmas is on its way. I hate the consumer frenzy of Christmas -- the running around town desperately trying to buy presents for everyone (many, many, many) on my shopping list, spending way too much money, wrapping up and mailing parcels, and negotiating with the extended family about where we are going to spend Christmas this year. Most years involve packing up and travelling to somewhere else to spend Christmas trapped in someone else's house for too many days. And all this preparation always happens at a time that is really busy for me at work, too.
It sounds like I'm a total grinch, doesn't it? But I'm not. There are some parts of Christmas that I love. I love to cook a big Christmas dinner and to sit down to it with lots of family and friends. I like trekking out into the woods to select and chop down a Christmas tree, and then bringing it home and decorating it. I love to choose special gifts for my children and partner, and a few close friends, and wrap them and deliver them. I like to go skiing at Christmas time, and to sit around drinking special hot chocolate afterwards and playing board games with the kids. I like Christmas lights, and this year I invested in the new low energy outdoor LED lights so I can be energy-conscious but still enjoy the lights. I get misty-eyed when I'm cuddled up with my partner in front of the Christmas tree listening jazzy Christmas music on a snowy night. I also like to make donations to several favourite charities at Christmas time. I'm very firm about taking time off from work for Christmas week and spending the time with family and friends.
So, I guess the part that I don't like involves the sense of being obliged to spend a lot of money buying stuff for people, knowing that even though I have tried to choose things they will like, in fact, they neither want nor will enjoy most of the stuff. As much as I spend, I still feel as though I did not spend enough to get them something "really good" -- I was too "cheap." Then afterwards, there is the worry about having become overstretched financially. The time pressure of trying to orchestrate it all, while also being so busy at work, is stressful.
Just as the media portrays the perfect body, the perfect family, and the perfect home, it holds up models of Christmas that are impossible to attain (consistently). For me (and many others, I think) Christmas is associated with feelings of guilt -- guilt about those I didn't buy for or didn't buy enough for; guilt about not showing up at, not or being invited to, or not hosting Christmas do's; guilt about substandard decorating or Christmas dinner efforts; and guilt about those who have so little while I/we have so much (and seem to endlessly want more). This sense of guilt, I believe, is manufactured quite intentionally by marketers to ensure we keep on shopping and spending so that they can keep on selling and profiting. (And the landfills keep getting more and more full, and the raw materials of the world become more and more depleted).
Spending money shopping is not a moral good. Spending time doing things with people that you love, however, is good. This year year I am simplifying Christmas.