Tuesday, October 28, 2014

FA La La La La - or not!

It's that time of year again. Time for the Holiday shopping madness. Time for increased pressure from the retail establishment to spend money, spend it faster, spend it earlier, and don't forget those last minute stocking stuffers!

I don't have a problem with Christmas. I LOVE Christmas. I love Thanksgiving. I love the day after Thanksgiving - as the day when Christmas decorations went up at our house. I love Christmas traditions. As a family with all sorts of holiday performances, we never really had a "set" way to do the Christmas thing. Generally a Christmas Eve service was involved. Sometimes a present the night before. Sometimes stockings in our pjs. If we were strategic, everyone would go and shower and look pretty for all pictures after that. My husband's family gives gifts to the children, but draws names for the adults. Backstage for the past two years we've done massive Secret Santas to bring the holidays to those of us who were providing entertainment for the rest of Seattle. My family isn't close enough geographically for a large extended family Christmas in one location, but I send out Christmas cards to everyone in my address book, and we each give presents to everyone in the immediate family. They've always been mostly second hand (we're all thrifters), but this year we've decided to go with handmade OR second hand.

I've begun my yearly facebook "don't shop on Thanksgiving" plea. It may sound preachy. I don't mean it to. Certainly the issue raises passionate arguments and gut level responses on both sides of the argument. The comment sections of each article quickly degenerate into increasingly hostile personal remarks. These are some of my reasons:

1. We are a grossly consumer culture. It's difficult to notice while we're all used to being inundated with constant commercial bombardment, but if you get the chance to leave for a while and come back into our culture, it's mind numbing how loudly we are screamed at to shop, day in and day out.

2. Our shopping is problematic on a daily basis. It's worse in the holidays. While we're all out mindlessly shopping trying to fill emotional holes (Like this article from Psychology Today), or worse impulse buying the "latest must-have toy or gadget," we've largely lost sight of what we are buying, where it's coming from, what it's taking to get it to us, who was paid to make it, and the loss of quality from our insistence for ever cheaper and more convenient products/foods/luxuries. Shopping mindfully is important. Isn't it better on a global scale to think more of the meaningfulness of our gifts, rather than some Bridget Jones "psychic failure torment" where each year becomes a huge headache trying to guess the value of gifts received.

3. There's even more evidence that making things yourself is hugely beneficial to your well-being (This article is about knitting, and This article is about the DIY movement.) If you're able, perhaps a simple handmade gift would be something to consider. If you aren't crafty yourself, perhaps a one-of-a-kind craft fair or Etsy gift would be a possibility. These won't be "cheap" but they will be special AND you've supported a local artist or crafter or small business. (If you're environmentally minded, you also know you're contributing less to pollution by buying an item that doesn't require shipping from across the planet, and if you're humanitarian, it wasn't made by a child or sweat shop worker.)

4. In the past 50 years or so, we've seen a trend towards instant gratification everywhere. Shops must be open 7 days a week, some 24 hours a day, and with shops opening on Thanksgiving, 364 days a year. It's a sad comment on our "NEED" to shop. It's a comment on inability to deny ourselves anything, for any length of time. We see the trickle down in a generation of adults who are incapable of waiting and are constantly attached to gadgets (I'm guilty). Where Christmas is concerned, we've lost site of what really is "NEED." We don't NEED to buy gifts 6 hours earlier than last year. Gifts are a fun and lovely thing, but our survival isn't at stake. Let's stop buying into this ingrained compulsion to GET MORE STUFF!

5. We can't shop in a void (well, online we can). There's a lot of "it's a free country, I should be able to shop when I want." But we can't shop at a store without bringing in employees. It's fine that you're tired of your family by 5pm, but your shopping means many many other people will be taken away from their holidays, too, to give you the opportunity. Some are paid overtime. Some are volunteers. Many have no choice in the matter, or their "choice" is accompanied by significant corporate pressure.

6. There's so much stuff in the world. Stuff we don't use. Stuff we don't need. Stuff that we donate, and give away and throw out - and then we feel we have to run out and buy new stuff. It's a weird little hamster wheel, that is actually detrimental to our health and emotional well being. Let's get off the wheel! I really want to try and use up the old, the perfectly functional, the lovely and better made, and the slightly distressed, but with a history. Not every family will go for it, but what's the difference between that N.I.B. Cuisinart that you got for $15 at Value Village, rather than for $200. After it's wrapped in pretty paper, what they don't know won't hurt them!

I know that my refusal to shop on Thanksgiving doesn't make a change in the way things are done - but I don't have to be an accessory. I know my refusal to spend any holiday money at stores that have accepted this policy is kind of a minor gesture - I've already completed most of my holiday gifts, and almost all are handmade and 2nd hand. But some of those stores are places I buy those regular household staples, and I will be taking my business elsewhere for the holiday season for those items as well.

I'm trying to live my life and do my buying more consciously. I don't think it's about extremes. I'm trying to be more handmade, homemade, local and organic - but there's room for Ben and Jerry's and a Pier One Imports splurge from time to time. Even a small gesture makes a big difference.

I'm noticing in myself that, as I get better at making things myself, I'm less susceptible to impulse purchases and the general atmosphere in stores. I'm more excited about learning new skills, and less excited about shopping. It's easier to head straight to the items I need to purchase, and not get distracted by every display and shiny wrapper. Where the holidays are concerned, I want quality instead of quantity. I want to make a Thanksgiving dinner (I'm hosting this year) that is delicious and beautiful, but also local and healthier (um...well, somewhat. It's still Thanksgiving. I want pie.). I want a day to spend hanging out with my family. I want memories and photos. Honestly, I rarely remember most of my gifts after a while, but I remember the moments spent together, and the time preparing, and the time relaxing. I want more of this for my Holiday.