This will be the most subdued Christmas in our family’s history. Yesterday, my wife and I spent two hours in a toy store only to walk out with about $60 worth of stuff. And if you’ve ever been in a toy store, you know that this doesn’t amount to anything big. Sure, you can buy a lot of trinkets and silly bands for $60, but you’re not getting two WOW gifts with that paltry amount. It’s not that we didn’t try. At one point our baskets were brimming with cool gifts. But then I happened to notice that everything (no really, everything) we had picked out was made in China. And then I thought, what the hell are we doing? Our kids want for nothing. We’re just feeding the machine.
I think most Christian(esque) parents want to make Christmas morning special. Some of because of Jesus, most because of Santa. We remember the magic in knowing that there was this dude who flew around every December 25th delivering presents. Really cool presents. Things that only he knew you wanted, and that your parents would never get for you. So we pass this concept down to our own children and play along for a decade or so. Always pushing the outside edges of the envelope. Each year trying to top the last.
Mind you, we’re not wealthy people. None of us have ever given or received automobiles, diamonds or trips to tropical islands for Christmas. We’re just average, middle-class Americans trying to hang in there like everyone else. And if there’s one thing that all Americans ought to learn from the current global recession, it’s that we must consider our excesses. Even at Christmas. Even if it feels un-American.
Our daughters are seven and nine. Agatha, our oldest, is a logical kid teetering on the other side of Santa. I’ll even bet that around her friends at school she readily admits that of course there couldn’t be this dude who flew around the world delivering presents in one night because the world is so big and all. Duh. But around us, she only hints at the deception. Yes, deception. It’s a harsh word, but that’s exactly what it is. Not that the idea of Santa is a bad thing. It’s just what we’ve done to his image here in the largest consumer nation on the planet that taints it. Rather than shove Santa down their throats, my wife and I simply tell our daughters that you must believe, to believe. They’ll figure it out soon enough, and when they do, hopefully they’ll understand. Maybe they’ll even pull the wool over their own kids’ eyes with Santa one day. Responsibly. And that’s why it’s up to us to help set an example. Now.
So, as the result of a mild to serious financial global crisis, constant reminders that simplicity is more valuable than gluttony, and my own swelling enlightenment of how American consumerism drives the Chinese government – we put the brakes on the excesses of Christmas past.
Don’t get me wrong – assuming we’re all not struck down before Saturday, there will be presents under the tree on Christmas morning at our house. And the kids will still dance in magic dust. But there will be no life-sized stuffed Cheetah peeking out from behind the tree, and no hovercraft circling it. We got the family a Wii game. One. And two donations to the World Wildlife Fund that come with a stuffed animal of the adopted species, of course (please God, don’t let them be made in China.) The grandmothers? They won’t pay attention to our rules. They will spoil. And that’s spoiling plenty.
Only now comes the part about explaining why.
What do you tell kids who have fond, recent memories of grander Christmas mornings? I reckon you just gently explain the reciprocal effect of consumption and how it affects, well, everything on the planet. Thankfully, we have good kids – they will likely say nothing even if they were to notice less stuff this year. And this whole thing may well be cause for Agatha to put it all together. But Cozette is still only seven. She believes in Santa Claus. Hard. If she asks, I guess I’ll just tell her in my softest daddy voice that Santa is pissed at the inequities of the trade between China and the US and how both sides are manipulating the most powerful consumers on earth to believe that stuff really is as cheap as they say it is when the average Chinese worker earns $50 a week and the average American worker can’t afford to shop anyplace other than at the megabrands that pay nothing for the manufactured goods they sell at huge profit margins while turning consumers into hamsters on a wheel – which is why mommy and daddy must scratch and claw to make our lives as full as possible because really, there is no way off of this thing. Except, maybe, to write.
Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan and a Happy New Year.