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.
6 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Dec 21, 2010
Granted, my daughters are much older, and they’ve witnessed me as a single mom providing creative gifting opportunities over the years… BUT that said, somewhere over the past three years, we just shifted from getting to giving. Heifer.org is a popular choice – the girls got representative stuffed animals for the bunnies/chicks we bought villagers. TOMS shoes are also a popular gift, with the concept that shoes are given to a kid who doesn’t have any for each pair we buy for the girls…I really feel as though my daughters are my greatest gift, and I try to be the same for them. Experiences have become our gifts to each other. Making cookies; laughing at/with each other… The life we are building with each other is a gift. We’ve also moved twice within the past two years, and with each move have purged thousands of dollars of crap. Goodwill’s gain and our gain too. I think it’s easier to make a philosophical shift when your kids are older. Good luck!
Dec 21, 2010
This is a really refreshing post Jim. Christmas was hijacked by Capitalism long ago. Capitalism and Corporate Consumption are soulless and heartless. It takes people to put heart and soul into things. And not being Christian (born Jewish, currently Taoist) but someone who loves and loathes the holiday season because there are great sides (friends, family, togetherness) and bad sides of it (traffic, angry people swarming for deals), I do have a more removed view of things. In Islam these people fast during the day for a whole month during their holy time. And then they see Americans on Black Friday almost rioting to get cheap goods or over cabbage patch kids and tickle me elmos. I really wouldn’t care but the nation as a whole thumps the bible with the talk, but sadly doesn’t with the walk. I never come down on people who have more than they need in life. Most people had to work for it. But when so many people go without. I volunteered in Los Angeles for 3 years doing street outreach with Stand Up For Kids helping homeless street kids (over 1 million homeless kids in the US) the conspicuous consumption seems a lot less of a good thing for us as a people. Nevermind how it affects the world.Something tells me Jesus would be seriously offended at how we celebrate his birth.My finance degree says we might be in for worse times than we just had very soon (though I really hope not). As painful as it may be the humbling effect it should have might be good for us as a people. Keeping my fingers crossed.Your children have a great dad!Happy Holidays!
Dec 21, 2010
Our kids are 13 and 11 (close to 14 and 12). My dreamy-yet-pragmatic daughter put two and two together before her fantasy-loving older brother did (either that, or he kept his mouth shut). But I digress.During their younger years, our children received tons of *stuff* (from Santa, us, grandparents, even aunts and uncles). Much of it ended up a) in the trash because it was junk or b) at Goodwill, barely touched. The latter was often the case because they had so much they were overwhelmed by it all. They also ended up with their favorites, just as we did when we were kids.This year, we pulled back. As such, I finished early and the gifts are wrapped and under the tree, awaiting Saturday morning. It’s been a much more relaxed season, more focused on spending time and doing things together, from watching A Christmas Story on video to cruising around town laughing at overambitious light displays to baking cookies (even the eighth grader got into the baking act).I believe it’s been one of our best holiday seasons as a family.I hope you, Tina, and the girls have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Dec 21, 2010
Thanks for your thoughts. To see someone take a step back and really think about our consumer-driven culture, at Christmas time nonetheless, is really refreshing. You’re right too, when you reference the vicious circle that the average American worker-consumer is caught up in. To write though, and to keep your head above the din of excess isn’t just the only thing you can do, it might be the best thing.
Dec 22, 2010
Awesome Jim! May your girls grow up to be as thoughtful as you.Merry merry!
Dec 26, 2010
Great post! We had to do the same thing with our extended family. We had to explain to the rest of the family why we didn’t want our small kids getting more stuff. They could not understand why we wanted them to instead donate “in honor of” our kids to their favorite charity. It didn’t work. Our family did get less presents, but charities didn’t get more. Well, hopefully the money they saved from not buying our family as much presents will help them in the long run.You made a good choice in having a subdued Christmas!Keep up the good work,Eric
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