Another Plastic Christmas

Before we know it, many of us will be sitting around the Christmas tree opening countless gifts from friends and family.  If we’re lucky, someone will have read our wish list and whatever it is that we’ve lusted over for the past couple of months will be among the pile of presents.  We’ll tear through the carefully wrapped paper in anticipation and squeal with glee when we finally find that piece of plastic we’ve been waiting for.  And when the chaos of opening presents has finally subsided, the floor littered with the dead remains of wrapping paper, we’ll feel like we’ve just had a great orgasm; both exhausted and satisfied.

Is the meaning of Christmas to just buy a bunch of shit for each other?

Over the years I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the holiday season.  Mindless consumption.  Thoughtless gifts.  Excessive spending.  A complete lack of gratitude.  Have you ever asked yourself why you’re even buying gifts in first place?  Is it out of obligation?  Social pressure?  A desire to conform?  A need to create an image?  Do you feel that Christmas wouldn’t be the same without gifts under the tree?

Can you even remember what gifts you received last year for Christmas?  And from whom you got them?

This year I’d like to try something different.  Instead of the usual orgy of presents under the tree, I’d like to convince everyone within my circle of influence (that means you!) to celebrate the holiday season in an unorthodox way, without presents for each other.  My hope for this Christmas is that I can dismantle the “circle of giving” and instead convince my family to pool our money together to buy a cow for a family in Africa.

Tonight was the first time word of my plan reached ears other than our own as Erin shared the idea with her family.  I was disappointed to hear that the suggestion of buying a cow was somehow so absurd that the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t stop laughing and had to pass the phone on to someone else.

I have to be honest and say that I’m not sure how buying a cow for a family in need is anymore ridiculous than buying scented candles or any other thoughtless gift for someone who probably isn’t going to appreciate it anyway.  It’s only ridiculous because we haven’t stopped to question our traditions.

Wouldn’t joining together as a family to make a difference in the lives of total strangers be more in line with the true spirit of Christmas than buying each other cheap gifts from the mall?

11 thoughts on “Another Plastic Christmas

  1. I’m sorry that was the response you got about donating as a family. I hope you’ll still go through with it and mention it to them again, and to your family as well. I’m also a fan of Heifer Int’l, though I’ve not yet donated to it. I’m sure you and Erin could donate somethng to them even if your family doesn’t hop on board.

    I find that every year Jon and I buy less and less gifts for people. This year I don’t think we are buying any. As it is just the 2 of us, we generally just get things as we need/want them. Black Friday has never affected my sleeping habits and I don’t make a list. No one seems to mind that we send nothing but cards. We do still go out of our way to send care packages to our young nieces & nephews. I feel like Christmas is mostly for children anyway. One charity I have always donated to at Christmas is Toys for Tots because when I was young a few of our Christmases were possible entirely through them. I know it can seem material but I somehow remember the Christmases of my childhood better than more recent ones. Anyway that charitable act has stayed with me and is a lot of the reason I donate things at Christmas.

    We also donate cat food & litter to our local humane society. I encourage everyone to do the same! If you can’t adopt a pet then please help them support the animals they already have at the shelter.

    This year we are planning to try a few new international charities with the money we are saving from gifts. I have actually been getting excited about deciding which ones we will be donating to this year. I know we are going to get some use out of the account we have with Kiva, a microfinancing organization. You get to read a story about each person, what they are investing in, and how they will be paying you back so you can re-invest in someone else. I think it is a good Christmas-time charity because it feels a lot like giving a gift to someone in person, rather than just dumping $ into a faceless account.

  2. My family has been hit by cancer more times than I’d like to count and so I’ve gotten into the habit of donating to the American Cancer Society in honor/memory of family members and giving them a card letting them a donation had been made in their name. I think at first some were surprised that they didn’t get a present but know they’ve come to expect it and they don’t have an issue with it.

  3. This is a wonderful gift to give. Most of us get so much junk gifts and things we’ll never use. I’ve been looking into charity giving and I found its a great site and has a wide variety of charity gift ideas. The one I’m concidering is “Providing Safety and Promoting Rights for Women Iraq & Peru” you can help for as little as $35. That small amount provides transportation, shelter and 3 meals for a woman in need. I think everyone should really think about what the Holidays are for and help someone outside of your little circle of friends and family. You really can make a difference.

    • Thanks for providing the link to the website! I agree (obviously) that the holidays are about more than just giving gifts to friends and family. It really is about giving, and the best type of giving is to do so for those who need it the most. Thanks for your comment!

  4. While I am not really a materialistic person, most of the time the presents that Ike and I by are gift cards for family members. When asked what we wanted this year, we asked for gift cards to places where we would be able to buy the necessities that we need, such as groceries, since we are currently living with one income (and not a big one at that). Sometimes people will get us gift cards to a nice restaurant or something like that so that we get to have an experience as opposed to something material.

    As for scented candles, I love them :). Being able to have a quiet night when I am feeling down and just sit in a dark room with a couple of candles lit really makes me contemplate and relax and kind of just stop stressing about life for a little while. But I think what you are going to do this year is incredible. It truly is better to give than to receive.

  5. I love this idea…. and have thought about it myself. But… I am think my family would find it laughable too. They are use to huge Christmas’s with lots of gifts that when you think about it, aren’t worth crap. Going to talk about this idea with my spouse….. and when he stops laughing…. well… I will let you know when he stops laughing.

  6. I am totally on board with your idea, and wish my family would agree to something similar, other than the part of giving a cow. Even if I wasn’t a vegan, there are other reasons that Heifer International and similar are a bad idea in my opinion. I’d go for Sustainable Harvest, or something like that instead. However, as in your situation, family and friends would not agree. :-(

  7. Last year, instead of buying gifts for the adults in my family, my parents, brothers, and I (and our respective families) all each chose our own charity to donate to the amount we would otherwise have spent on gifts to each other. (We had the kids draw names to limit the amount of gifts bough for them.) On Christmas day, we took turns describing the charity we had chosen and why. I think we all felt like we already had everything we needed, so it was much more satisfying to spend the money on causes we each felt were worthy, than to spend it on gifts the recipient didn’t really need.

    I hope your family gets on board with the idea — it’s really much more satisfying. The other benefit is, it made the Christmas season much more enjoyable as we were able to limit the amount of shopping we did, and to just enjoy the season instead of stressing over all the gifts we still needed to buy!

  8. I thought Heather’s first linked article was interesting. I do like the idea of Heifer Int’l but can see the downsides of it too. I was also questioning the idea of donating to Kiva. Sure, helping these people to become independent via small businesses seems like a good thing but …do people really need another person to sell souvenirs in Costa Rica? What’s the point of funding loans to help someone buy pigs that they’re going to sell? That doesn’t seem like much of a net gain. I guess I don’t see enough innovation on Kiva, and with microloans in general.

    In the interest of being more “nature friendly” I am linking you to the Donation page for the Nature Conservany. If you scroll down to “More Ways to Give” there are some cool options, like Adopting a Coral Reef. From a quick tour of the site it seems they do a lot of good, even if they are trying to give you incentive gifts…I guess that’s what it takes for some people.

    I hope that on your upcoming trip you feel like you are making a difference (and that you don’t just get a bunch of tension headaches).

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