It’s that time of year again. You know, time to consume and buy all of the things for the holiday season. But why do we feel the need to buy so many things? What part of any traditional holiday celebration includes bottoming out our bank accounts to frantically purchase over-manufactured goods? (Goods that our friends and family probably don’t need and may not even want.)
Would we buy those same things for the same people if it weren’t ingrained in our society’s “designated present season”?
Modern-day holiday celebrations are framed by conspicuous consumption—buy the biggest and best next thing to prove adoration or your purchasing prowess. We race to sales of electronics and toys and jewelry, many of which are mass-manufactured in places far away.
Black Friday is considered its own holiday. However, now it starts on Thursday. Instead of vegging on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner, we run out the door to get to the mall. We are pleased with ourselves for finding the best deals as if it’s a personal achievement akin to getting good grades.
For cash-poor students this can be an especially difficult conundrum. Many of us go home for the holidays and our families shower us with gifts. We want to reciprocate. Buying presents can be difficult when we barely have enough money to get through the term.
Ugh, the guilt!
Blatant consumerism can be dangerous. The cycle of mindlessly purchasing gifts to fill an expected quota is promoted by huge, invasive advertising campaigns often targeted at children, creating a destructive cycle of desire and defeat. Buying for buying’s sake is a habit, which serves only to put money in the hands of big companies, leaving many of us in debt and depleted come the new year; it teaches the next generation that showing love equates to what someone buys them.
I’m really not trying to be a Scrooge. I appreciate the spirit of giving as much as the next person. Nothing can replace the look on a loved one’s face when they open a gift they are truly delighted to receive.
But the holidays can be a source of eternal angst for all of us would-be gift givers: How do we celebrate the spirit of giving without being part of the hyper-consumption?
What happened to good old-fashioned holiday celebrations? The kind you see in movies with carolers and ice skating on frozen ponds and snow-dusted city streets. Though the picturesque merriments depicted on screen aren’t real, there are more authentic ways to celebrate the joy of the season.
My family has struggled with applying authenticity to our festivities, dismissing the modern celebrations to make up our own holiday, Family Mooka, that encompasses celebrating the season whenever and however we feel like doing so at the time. Over the years we have figured out how to promote giving and community without falling into the trap of materialism.
Hand-made gifts are a perfect way to show that you are thinking about someone, and they would probably cherish a scarf made by you more than one from Macy’s. Don’t know how to knit a scarf? Are you an artist, or do you write poems? Maybe you make a mean banana bread. You could always put together a photo album of all those Instagram pics from last summer. How about a coupon book offering gifts of time: “Good for one lunch with me,” “Good for two hours of board games,” “Good for a night of babysitting,” etc. I’m betting there is something you can put together that would delight your loved ones.
If you don’t have time for crafting personal gifts but still want to do something for the special people in your life, charitable donations or locally-produced services like music or art lessons are great ways to get out of that mass-consumer mentality. Putting your money towards purchases that are friendly to both the environment and the local economy can shift the focus of the holidays from material consumption to community support.
Finally, you can take the attention off the gifts by stressing the togetherness part of the holiday spirit. Make new traditions like a Board Game Day, Sing-Along Evening, theater dates or volunteer excursions.
As cheesy as it sounds, the biggest gift you can give is time.