Christmas Cultural Dissonance …

Christmas Cultural Dissonance …

Ray asks: Christmas consumerism? What's a body to do?

For some reason, the annual consumerist frenzy of “Christmas” seems even more dissonant to me than usual. It’s clear there’s a class thing with the Christmas frenzy — there are people for whom the once-a-year pile of stuff under the tree is really really important, and there are people for whom it’s not. I have to admit, I grew up in a family who mostly believed in keeping it simple at Christmas. And although as a kid I was bummed by my parents’ knee-jerk rejection of anything like the “toy of the year” as consumerist claptrap (well, there was also an element of snobbery involved), in the long run, I’m glad to have been raised by people who almost always questioned the validity of marketing and taught us to be suspicious of its claims.

At any rate, the Christmas thing. If I was the kind of person who understood lining up all night outside some big-box store to buy cheap electronics or the “must have” toy of the year, I wouldn’t be the kind of person who moved to Montana where there isn’t really any shopping. By temperament, I’m not much of a shopper, but this year, the media-driven frenzy seems even more weird than usual. Like there’s some huge cultural disconnect between the media/powers-that-be who want to insist that everything is fine! that we’re all going shopping! that it’s Christmas! and the rest of us who have been growing gardens and canning and learning to bike commute because who can afford gas and car insurance anymore? Between the television advertisers and the Occupy movement folks — really? lining up for the entirely manufactured non-event that is “Black Thursday” when our young people are camping in city parks demonstrating against the stacked deck that is our current financial system? To whom do they think they’re advertising? There’s 10% official unemployment out there — which means unofficial unemployment is at least double that — especially in minority communities.

My beloved sometimes accuses the entire sustainability/urban homesteading thing of being a “lifestyle” issue — that is, not something one does to really save money or change the way you live but because chicken coops are hip, and canning and DIY are cool. I think he’s right to a certain extent, but on the other hand, there are a lot of people learning to get by with less. While I’d like to see people have jobs again, I don’t think we need to return to the rampant consumer excess that drove the housing bubble. We all bought a lot of junk, and went into debt to do it (I’m not innocent of this). On the one hand, we’re being bombarded with consumerist Christmas junk on tv and in the newspaper and in the “straight” media, and on the other hand I’m reading things like this  terrific article over at Yes! Magazine about a couple who discovered that life on the “wrong side” of town opened their family up to community in a way that enriched their lives, and the inimitable Harriet Fastenfest’s piece over at Culinate on “the University of Grandmothers” who worry because “people don’t know how to be poor” anymore.

As aways, my peeps will be receiving food boxes of stuff I’ve made, perhaps some lovely items of clothing re-purposed from thrift stores, and if you’re a kid, art supplies. So readers — what are you doing about the Christmas issue? Shopping? Not shopping? Making things? What about those of you with little kids — how are you doing the “magic of Christmas” without getting sucked into the consumerist frenzy?

7 thoughts on “Christmas Cultural Dissonance …

  1. One year I had a firm motto of “homemade, handmade, fair-trade.” I would repeat it under my breath as I entered a store and it did help me direct my choices. I should do it again.

    We tend to give the kids a large pile of stuff from “Santa” but much of the pile is made up of things they would get anyway–new nightclothes, warm socks, books, art supplies, etc. There’s usually one or two “fun” things, sometimes something that they can share or we will all enjoy. So we definitely participate in the consumer side of things, but it’s more making a celebration out of items I would have purchased anyway, and purchasing them during the holidays means I can take advantage of sales.

    My husband and I have really drifted away from giving each other gifts unless, again, it’s something homemade or something we’d decided to do anyway.

  2. The sight of people staggering under the weight of bags and bags of stuff that they didn’t need, probably didn’t want and certainly couldn’t afford always made me feel sick. I hate consumerism. It fuels our economy and empties our souls. And all so that large corporations can get richer and more powerful.

    Our Christmas will be modest, and restrained, and good old fun.
    Which is how it should be, I think

  3. I was going to make things. That’s pretty much out the window now. I have no idea what I’m going to do. Happily I have more time, because much less of it needs to be shipped. Simple is good.

  4. For me, for us, Christmas is the miracle and the magic. The miracle lives in the idea that something extraordinary can be born in a moment in the least-likely place; the magic vibrates in all the stories and symbols, and especially in that precious space between night and day when love and possibilities are endless. Consumerism is an easy pin to pick up and brandish about, but, honestly, for most people that celebrate the Holiday I believe joy goes well beyond such banality and conjures moments that are transcendent, that go with us as long as we tramp around this big old ball, and that most of us want to share with others. Merry Christmas!

  5. This really hits home for me as I’m starting to think about Christmas for my kids. My best memories of Christmas from my childhood are the feelings – the anticipation, the being with my parents and sister, the lovely breakfast we always had, going to a candle-lit service at church on Christmas Eve, parties with friends. I am sure I was as materilistic as the next kid, but there aren’t a lot of the gifts that I remember. One of my issues is that we already have SO MUCH STUFF. It’s ridiculous – we can’t fit all the stuff we have into our home, let alone bring in MORE. I think we need to have a family conversation about the meaning of Christmas and make a decision about how we want to celebrate it.

  6. Where exactly are you finding this dissonance? I read only my local paper & listen to NPR podcasts & I live in a small-ish town that doesn’t even have a real mall (!), so my exposure to frenzy has been minimal!

    I dislike shopping generally, which means my children never get new toys – never, except at Christmas. And since I only ever visit toy stores at this time of year, I do enjoy it. It’s special because it’s rare … I buy about 90% of their Christmas presents and make the rest. My daughter, who’s seven, loves kits — you know, like jewelry-making kits or candy-making kits; so I’m going to put some together for her. Most of those kits are low-quality so I’ll buy higher-quality parts and package them like a kit, with a booklet of ideas & everything. I’ve actually been saving all the feathers I find so that she can make jewelry and hair clips from them – something like this: http://www.shopthetrendboutique.com/spcrheintan.html?source=pjn&subid=2845 Cool, eh?

  7. My grandmother was the Queen of Kits — especially school/art supply kits — those tiny staplers. We always got tiny staplers and paper punches in our Christmas from her. And the kits you buy — ones to make drinking glasses from old wine bottles, etc …

    We get the Billings paper, so there’s a fair amount of the “Black Friday” crap, plus we get hit with it watching sports. I guess what surprises me the most is that the forces of marketing/industry/business seem not to have noticed that there’s a sea change happening. With any luck, we won’t be returning to the way things were … but the forces that want us to are so desperate that they’re making the workers come in at midnight on Thanksgiving?! Just wrong …

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