‘Tis the Season

You may have noticed that we’re balls deep in the holiday season, that wonderful time of year when mindless consumerism becomes even more socially acceptable than normal. Traditionally, I’ve opted out of the holiday season, asking that people don’t buy me any gifts. I’m fortunate to have everything I could ever need, and most of what I want.

I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them. ~ John Stuart Mill

But it’s not because I have everything I need that I opt out of the Christmas gift exchange. It’s because I feel like the meaning of the season has been lost. And every year it just seems to get worse. Since I’m not a religious person, it might be ironic or even hypocritical that I complain about the meaning of Christmas being lost. I don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s Jesus’ birthday, the true meaning of the holiday. Like many people, I celebrate because Christmas has become a part of the American culture, whether you’re Christian or not. I can only imagine how Christians feel about the current status of their holiday as an excuse for hordes of shoppers to pepper spray each other over an Xbox 360.

Christmas is about people, though you’d never know from all of the commercials where it’s all about the HDTVs, iPads, Victoria’s Secret lingerie, diamond necklaces…the implication being that to show your love, you must do so with material possessions. Have we really lost all capacity to express our love and affection for one another without the exchange of gifts?

Can you even remember what you got for Christmas last year?

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t exchange gifts. Rather, it’s a plea that we lessen the importance of the gifts by refocusing our energy on the people. Besides, it’s a little too late to thrust it upon your family that there won’t be any presents under the tree this year. It’s hard to change tradition. I know, I’ve tried.

Here are a few ways to lessen the importance of the gifts by refocusing our energy on people:

  • Open gifts Christmas night instead of in the morning. Instead of opening presents in the morning, and then having everyone absorbed with their new toys for the rest of the day, open them after you’ve eaten dinner.
  • Spend the day together doing something as a family. If you’re fortunate enough to have a white Christmas, you could have a snowball fight, go ice skating, or you could spend the day sledding, skiing or snowboarding.
  • Volunteer. What better way to focus your energy on people than to volunteer to help those less fortunate?
  • Go caroling. Your neighbors will love it!
  • Watch Christmas movies. Snuggle up on the couch with your family with cups of hot chocolate and candy canes. Some of my favorite movies are National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Changing tradition can be difficult, but it’s worth it. There’s nothing more important than family, not even that new iPad under the tree.

What Christmas traditions do you and your family celebrate?

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?