Monday, December 11, 2006

Holiday craze

Every year it seems to get worse. The holiday advertisements come earlier and earlier, the number of catalogs piling our mailbox grow, and the number of sales and advertisements increase. Average American households carry about $8000 in credit card debt. Yet Americans plan to spend an average of $1,096 on holiday gifts this season. Most people go over budget. They will go further into debt.

Our holiday season no longer seems to be about the holiday. It is now about accumulating presents. People fight in lines over the last x-item, they stress about giving and getting the perfect presents.
A local radio station recently offered an x-box 360 for anyone who would be willing to part with their child for 24 hours. It was shocking to hear of how many people responded with offers for this radio personality to take their child. One mother even called offering up her 1 week old infant. Why do we care more about these things -- this stuff than we do about our own lives and families?

The crazed stress of the holiday starts with the first drop of autumn leaves. I saw a commercial the other day (K Mart - I think) where two women were singing faster and faster about all of the things they needed to get done and in the end stated that they would sleep next year (as they collapsed into the snow). Is this how this season is supposed to make us feel?

The desire for accumulation grows every year. After the months of crazy consumer spending, presents are opened in about five minutes of unwrapping frenzy. Five minutes and it is over. No wonder there is so much post holiday depression.

This year we have decided to participate in a Buy Nothing Christmas. I can imagine people reading that and responding "Oh no! What about those poor children? You are depriving your children of the toys and merriment of Christmas."

I think that instead of feeding into the consumer frenzy we are teaching them the meaning of the holiday season. We want to focus on the joys of giving. That toys and gifts are not what is important in the holidays. This season can be about more than purchasing and accumulating items. What do I really love about this season? The hope for goodwill and peace. The songs, the community activities, snowmen, and of course cookies. :)

The children will not be going without, however we will focus more on experiences than gifts of things (which usually break within a month anyway).

For example, Elyse (age 8) is a swimmer. She swims almost everyday with J. J swims 2 miles a day and Elyse will swim over 1/2 a mile. We will give her a gift of swim lessons (I will design a page and put it into a box.) I am also sewing her a small bag to keep her swim gear in. This is a gift that she will use every day. A gift that will continue to give. We are hoping to refocus our gifts rather than spend oodles of dollars on needless things.

Check out Buy Nothing Christmas
and Adbusters Buy Nothing Christmas


Evan said...

People are shccked that we, too, will not be buying any gifts for our daughter this Christmas. She's two and a half and people think she's going to be deprived. We didn't buy her any gifts last Christmas either. She is never without anything. She has plenty of toys, clothes, books and deposits in her savings account. We strongly feel that gifts should be chosen and given when the gifter feels like giving and not on a day predetermined by the retail industry. For anyone that we end up giving a gift to this season, they will be receiving a copy of "An Inconvenient Truth". So good for you, I fully support you and your efforts. Your children will understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Wendy said...

Awesome idea! I feel the same way, and just the whole idea of having to whip out that plastic to buy some useless something, when we've been working so hard to get rid of the debt, is just silly and makes my stomach hurt.

We've also decided to make gifts and give the gift of "giving." Even if my family members are disappointed with the rabbits they gifted to a Third World family, those families will be incredibly appreciative :), and no one will have to brave the mall on December 26, to return the sweater that doesn't fit :) ... and I won't have to brave the mall at all :).

Sara said...

Thinking back to Christmas seasons past, I am horrified at how much I used to spend on gifts that I can't even remember right now! I am having so much fun this Christmas making gifts for friends and family, thrifting, etc. It takes so much more thought, and that's why I like it. The gifts are more special, even if they are used! Whenever I go out of the house, I am amazed at all the spending going on around me. My perspective has changed so much in the last few's hard to believe I used to be like "them" ... *GASP*! :)

Anonymous said...

yes, unfortunately, capitalism is the root of the problem. buy, buy, buy.

Chelee said...

Great post!
This year will be the first Christmas that we won't be going in debt. It is such an empowering feeling to "wake-up!" and realize that the way we've been living is so outta wack.

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

I sent baked goods as gifts to several people this year and have more to make now that Dan's condition is more stable. People looooove getting homemade baked goods, and I think that's partly because they know the effort that went into the gift. Similarly, a well-picked gift that shows thought and consideration (such as your swimming gift to your daughter) is wonderful . . . whereas many gifts we get (and sometimes give) are empty. It's true.

Instead of giving each other a gift, Dan and I are going out to dinner at a restaurant that is usually a little out of our price range. I think it will be lovely, and certainly it will be more memorable than another something to find room for in our small apartment.

You know, it's true, though, that I find myself getting pulled into the gift frenzy even when I try to remove myself from it. But it is, for me, mostly out of love for my friends and family and not any sense of obligation. I love making people happy by giving them something they wanted and will love. I have always loved giving gifts when they are good gifts from the heart. I think there's a balance to be had. Getting there is the hard part. Being willing to adjust your life to find that place of happiness (not duty, not exhaustion) is important.

I read a post recently where someone suggested that we should feel free to give gifts and money when the people in our lives need or want something that we are able to give--whatever the time of year. Wouldn't that be lovely? Random gifts for friends and family--not garbage, but help with some work, or financial assistance, or nice scissors for the life-long seamstress, or whatever, just because they need it and we can.

RAS said...

I am *mostly* not buying anything this Christmas as well. I say mostly because I did buy the ingredients for the baked goods I'm giving most of my friends, and I will be buying some things to put in the quilting basket I'm making up for another. This last gift is a very special: I have a dear friend who comes from a long, long line of proud quilters. Many of them have won awards. My friend desperately wants to learn, but there is one problem: my friend is a guy, and comes from a very traditional family. He's not that way, but his grandmother -the last living quilter in the family -is and refuses to teach him. He's young (only 19) and has been trying to teach himself. And failing miserably. So, I'm putting together a little gift basekt with the basic supplies for quilting in it and am trying to find a place where he can take lessons. This will be neither a fancy nor an expensive gift -but it will be one that comes from the heart!