Buy 0, Ten Tips, & the Curse of Christmas Present
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 97 16:13:00 -0800
Subject: Buy 0, Ten Tips, & the Curse of Christmas Present
Forwarded-by: Bob Stein <email@example.com>
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Susan L. Johnston)
Forwarded-by: Nancy_Gerth@pcn.sandpoint.net (Nancy Gerth)
Celebrate Buy Nothing Day!
Friday, November 28.
The day after Thankgiving is traditionally the biggest retail spending
day of the year. Canada's Media Foundation (Internet: www.adbusters.org)
is again leading an increasing number of organizations in promoting the
Sixth Annual Planetary Buy Nothing Day.
Buy Nothing Day is a time to challenge consumers to take a day off from
shopping to consider the effects of excess consumption on our environment
and communities. Activists in 10 countries last year handed out leaflets,
cut up credit cards, sang songs in the mall, aired anti-comsumption TV
commercials and refrained from purchasing anything for 24 hours.
If you or your group gets involved, let the people at the Media
Foundation know what you're up to by calling 604-736-9401 or contacting
them via E-mail at: email@example.com
Rather than a statistical polemic about overconsumption, I offer...
TEN TIPS FOR A SIMPLER, MORE MEANINGFUL HOLIDAY
Suitable for Posting on the Office Bulletin Board, on the Refrigerator,
and for Sharing with Friends and Relatives?
1. Plan ahead. Instead of going on auto-pilot the day after thanksgiving,
hold a family meeting to decide what the group really wants to do and who's
going to do what.
2. If you need a symbol for giving (in addition to the Three Wise Ones),
learn about St. Nicholas. Santa Claus has been completely taken over by
3. Avoid debt. Refuse to be pressured by advertising to overspend.
4. Avoid stress. Give to yourself. Don't assume that things have to be the
same way they've always been.
5. Draw names rather than everyone giving something to everyone else in
your giving circle. Set a ceiling for each recipient. Give children ONE
thing they really want, rather than so many gifts. If need be, pool funds.
6. Give appropriate gifts. Get to know the recipient. Give what they want
to receive, not what you want to buy.
7. Give alternative gifts. Give 25% of what you spent last year to the
truly needy individuals or groups locally, nationally or internationally.
Buy crafts and clothing from developing countries at alternative gift
markets, not from commercial importers, so that the artisans receive a fair
price for their work. Give of yourself, not just "stuff" -- a coupon book
for future services (such as baby-sitting or an "enchanted evening") or
something baked, sewn, handmade, composed, etc.
8. Celebrate Advent for four weeks before Christmas.
9. Put the gifts under the tree shortly before opening them. Then take
turns opening them around the tree, not all at once, so that each gift can
be admired and each giver thanked.
10. Make changes slowly but persistently. Don't try to change everything
and everybody all at once. The resistance will make you feel defeated and
For more help and a free catalog of ideas, contact Alternatives for Simple
Living at (800) 821-6153.
Celebrating responsibly is part of a life of voluntary simplicity and
is based on the Five Life Principles (Doris Janzen Longacre in "Living
More with Less"): 1. Do Justice, 2. Nurture People (not things), 3. Learn
from the World Community, 4. Cherish the Nature Order (Care for Creation),
5. Non-conform Freely.
Your thoughts, responses, even polemics, are welcome. -Gerald Iversen
The following article by Betsy Taylor appeared in the Washington Post on
November 21, 1996.
The Curse of Christmas Present
by Betsy Taylor
Now that the season of political advertising has passed, the real
commercials begin. The "Christmas season", with its blaring countdown to
the retail event of the year, is well underway. Holiday catalogs have been
clogging our mailboxes since late August. Christmas ads surfaced in
magazines and newspapers in September. In early October, America On-line
exhorted its millions of members to "Beat the rush! Create Christmas cards
on-line today!" Some of us seem to genuinely enjoy the hype and intensity
of Christmas preparations. Yet for many others, the holidays evoke more
dread than anticipation. In our race to meet the demands of the holiday, we
spend far too much money - $80 billion every year - on things we don't
really need. Many families end up racked with debt. Every January, credit
card debt skyrockets. With individual bankruptcy filings already at an
all-time high, this year's holiday will surely cast thousands more into
financial crisis. The emotional toll may be even greater. Christmas is
supposed to uplift us; instead, it exhausts us. We waste so many hours in
cars and shopping malls that we have little time left to experience the joy
of the season. Indeed, Christmas is the annual peak for depression, domestic
quarrels, drug overdoses, and hotline calls. By the time we collapse on
December 26, we are usually fatigued, overfed, in debt, stressed out, and
restless about why we don't feel better.
It wasn't always this way. Christmas only became a legal holiday in 1890
and its conversion to a full blown commercial spectacle came much later.
Although Macy's and other department stores began promoting Christmas gifts
and lavish holiday parties in the 1870s, home-made gift giving and simple
family gatherings prevailed until the turn of the century. European
immigrants maintained their traditions of sharing gifts such as fruit, nuts,
and simple hand-crafted toys. In Victorian America, charitable bazaars and
fairs encouraged generosity to the poor. But by the 1930s, Santa Claus was
promoting Coca Cola, and department stores had emerged as the new cathedrals
for a culture of mass consumption.
The Christmas season is arguably our greatest cultural paradox. At once a
great holy day and a commercial extravaganza, Christmas epitomizes the
tension over fundamental values in our society. Steeped in images of
family, sharing, and fun, the reality for many is just the opposite. Good
will toward men has been supplanted by a consumerist binge. Peace on earth
translates into an environmental assault on the planet. (If garbage is a
solid-waste stream, Christmas is a tidal wave. It is undoubtedly the single
largest discard event of the year.) Santa Claus has long since displaced
Jesus as the central figure of the season. While few would demonize such a
jolly fellow, his primary holiday message is: "What can Christmas do for
you?" Jesus, on the other hand, stressed the opposite: "Love thy neighbor
Of course, the commercialization of Christmas is an old story. Like the
corruption of our politicians, everyone complains about it, but few try to
change it. Yet a transformation may be underway. Weary of the season's
excesses and unwilling to equate shopping with happiness, many Americans
are searching to put meaning back into Christmas. In Charlottesville,
Virginia, a group calling itself the Society to Curtail Ridiculous,
Outrageous, and Ostentatious Gift Exchanges (SCROOGE), offers parents
concrete suggestions on how to inoculate children against peer pressure and
the barrage of Christmas advertising. Alternatives, a church-based
organization in Iowa, distributes a video and newsletter with suggestions
on celebrating the holiday in a non-materialistic way, including gift-giving
of volunteer time and donations to charity. The Use Less Stuff report from
Ann Arbor, Michigan, promotes twelve ways to cut clutter and reduce the
heaps of trash generated by gift boxes, Christmas cards, and wrapping paper.
One solution is to wrap gifts for grandparents in their grandchildren's art
There are many creative ways to experience the joy of generosity without
spending yourself into bankruptcy. Spend your time making a special gift
rather than shopping for one. If you aren't good at needlework, try
something else. Chronicle your family history by assembling photographs,
letters, and important documents and make this your one gift for all family
members. When I did this for my family a few years ago, I included a
homemade family oral history on audio tape with commentary from a great
uncle, my grandparents and parents. Since then, several of these family
members have died, but the tape and family album are a lasting treasure.
What's more, while producing the tape, I was able to relate to older family
members in a rare way. We talked about what was most important to them and
in doing this, we connected deeply.
A home-made gift usually costs less and means more to the person
receiving the gift. Build a birdhouse. Frame one of your best
photographs. Make a tape of your favorite dance music. If you are one of
those people who claims to have no talents, give a gift of time. Design an
attractive gift certificate offering 24 hours of baby-sitting to a close
friend, an afternoon at an art gallery with a grandparent, or a massage by
candlelight for your spouse.
You can also reduce the stress of the season by simplifying things.
Consider hosting a Christmas pot luck dinner. The work gets shared and
nobody gets burned out. Only send Christmas cards to people you really wish
to communicate with. Downsize the cost of the gifts you do buy. It is more
blessed to give than to receive. But more is not necessarily better.
To really put meaning back into Christmas may require us to reexamine
not only how we give but to whom. Even when our family gift-giving is
motivated by love instead of obligation, we often forget to reach beyond
the family fold and "love" our nameless neighbors, especially those in parts
of the city or world where life is torn by deprivation. Work with a social
services agency and identify a family in need, then purchase appropriate
gifts for them in lieu of unneeded gifts for yourselves. Some people will
prefer to simply write a check to a relief agency. Others will want more
personal contact. If you are troubled by the paradox between a Christmas ad
displayed next to the faces of Rwandan refugees in the newspaper, respond
first to those faces. Give cash. Give time. By doing something to help an
individual or family in need, we can rekindle the true spirit of Christmas
and nourish our own souls.
Christmas is for children above all, but they need not suffer under this
alternative approach to the holiday. Instead of asking that seasonal
question, "What do you want from Santa Claus?", take them caroling, help
them make gifts for grandparents and cousins, and involve them in some form
of giving to those on the margins of our society. We have an annual holiday
ritual in our neighborhood. In a few weeks, several families will gather to
assemble gift boxes for the homeless. Each family has contributed funds for
bulk purchasing of soap, toothpaste, tissues, gloves, and other necessities,
in addition to fresh fruit, books, and a few special treats. We will spend
an afternoon together with our children, decorating shoeboxes and filling
them with goods for residents of a local homeless shelter. This gathering
transcends religious affiliation and unites neighborhood children in
experiencing the unexpected joy of giving.
There is still time to join those who are choosing other ways to
celebrate Christmas. Talk with friends and family members and consider
some of the alternatives. Few people want to opt out of giving altogether,
and there's no need to do so. Regardless of one's theological perspective,
the clear message of Jesus is one of selfless love. If enough of us try to
celebrate in this way, we may wake up on December 26 feeling renewed,
connected to our global family, and joyous about the prospects for peace on
(Betsy Taylor is the Chair of the Center for a New American Dream's Board
of Directors and the Executive Director of the Merck Family Fund.)
© 1997 Peter Langston