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?