Dec 22, 2007

Christmas in Consumption Country

A few years ago I tried to find a way to pull out of the over-consumptive clusterfuck that has become the holiday season. I was tired of mindless consumption, of long lines, anxiety, a deadline for gift giving, and a feeling of financial inadequacy. I was tired of trucking home those feelings and plastic crap on a bike in the rain.

I wanted to hold on to the things that make Christmas special, like showing my love to my friends and family. I like sharing meals and conversation, thinking about the new year with the people that I love. If Christmas is truly an opportunity for that, then so be it.

But this year I feel like I'm on a different planet from some of the folks around me, family included to a small extent. I usually provide a small list of needed items if family folks really want to buy me something. The list usually sounds something like: bungee cords, laptop battery, ipod battery, you get the point. My parents are supportive of my detachment from gifting because they despise the transition of Christmas from religious holiday to excuse for shopping.

I'd love to say that my sister's entirely supportive, but when I attempted to confirm with her that there would be no gifts exchanged, she said "Everyone's getting something from Mexico". She's touring Oaxaca next month so she wants to bring me a trinket. I asked her not to do that since I'm moving to London next year and I don't need anymore "treasures" in my life, noting that I still have many of the trinkets from her time in Ireland, like a bookmark displayed in its plastic packaging . She said that I can "leave it at Mom and Dad's". Not the fuckin' point. It does mean something if the ornamental thing comes from her: it means I can't throw it away without feeling guilty. Or even that I won't want to throw it away, giving me yet another possession that actually owns me.

So what's the force that pressures us into thinking we have to buy something to express our affections for one another? The market, the advertisers, the corporations, credit card companies, some crazy notion that we could/should all be cash rich?

Listen to the radio, if you dare. The ads offer a way to "take the stress out of the holidays". Or "don't go broke this holiday season, shop at...". DJ's urge workers to play hookey to go shopping as a way to avoid the "madness". Pre-recorded hooks count down the "shopping days until Christmas". One DJ remarked that he had "3 no 7 people left on his list". His caller said, "I'm giving watches". Ok, Mr. DJ, what section of people made your list jump from 3 to 7? Co-workers who you're pressured into shopping for? And Mr. Caller, what's up with choosing a single item and dispersing it among your friends? Weird, formulaic, wasteful. Not thoughtful or genuine.

So if we're all realistic about the financial problems associated with Christmas, why do we run up credit card bills? If we all know that the holidays are tooooooo stressful, why do we race around buying shit? If it's common knowledge that the gifts aren't the important part of the holiday, why do we compete with each other in gifting?

We have this desperate desire to relate to each other. We want to express the gratitude, love, and affection that we feel for one another, but we're wrapped up in this consumer society. A nation of producers, no more. We watch TV. TV tells us to shop. We shop to tell each other that we love each other. Can we just turn off the TV, turn to each other and actually say, "I love you"?

I'm ready to give the holiday back. I don't want it anymore. It's a buy nothing Christmas. It's been so degraded and defiled that I'm ready to pretend that Christmas doesn't exist.

On a lighter note, we did a printmaking workshop at Dirty Dove this Wednesday. We made some cards to send to political prisoners. My friend, Matt, made a rad print of Jesus Claus. It really captured the dissociative identity of the holiday for me.


Nim said...

Hear, hear. It sucks that somewhere along the line we have gotten guilted/convinced that this is the only way, and that uncle so-and-so will feel slighted if he doesn't have a token something to open. Lol, I even fell for the "buy a green gift" thing. Like buying a useless green gift is any less wasteful because its production or use doesn't pollute. It's still a waste of those resources.

Thanks for being a voice to help me realize how crazy this is.

ckdex said...

Yeah, good post. We've had some better reaction to asking for food gifts only on the grounds that our house is already stuffed to the jibby-jabs with clothes, decorations, etc. And I think the food gifts allow the giver some measure of pleasure and fun in cooking or shopping for us. That said, I wish I could figure out the argument to just enjoy the day or holiday season being together, and skip the gifts altogether.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for articulating my feelings.

Ilix said...

Gifts are such an ingrained part of this holiday for so many..... and really what holiday is safe? How much Halloween stuff was out this year?
My family are the happy and often very appreciative recipients of my handmade gifts. Scarves, socks, personalized notepads, recycled paper for scrapbookers...... It means more when your heart is in it. A shame that our families don't always see that aspect of it!

Ryan C. said...

I've managed to switch my family over to not giving gifts ... instead, we make a donation to a charity that we think the recipient would appreciate, or one we know they support. It is so much more fulfilling, plus your gift is tax-deductible. :-)

Now if I could only convince my in-laws to do the same...