[Happy first night of Hanukka, people!]
Okay, maybe Ebeneezer Scrooge was a bit cranky. And of course I don’t condone his (pre-conversion) obsession with commerce over compassion. But the Grinch, Scrooge’s Seussian counterpart, had a point. Sure, he took it all a bit too far, making children cry and such. But here’s another way to look at it: by attempting to hi-jack X-mas by making away with all its trappings, he set up Whoville (and himself) for the refreshing realization that holidays are not about the exchange of material goods, but rather what that exchange ostensibly represents.
I would have thought that’s how all holidays began, back in the sweet long ago, before capitalism/commercialism ruled the earth (and monarchies and despots ruled instead — I know, I know: there is no utopia, past or present). But Leigh Eric Schmidt, in Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays, makes the point that many of the holidays we currently celebrate in the U.S. are only in our collective consciousnesses because of commercial interests:
…holiday celebrations were almost banished by Puritans and other religious reformers in the colonies but went on to be romanticized and reinvented in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Merchants and advertisers were crucial for the reimagining of the holidays, promoting them in a grand, carnivalesque manner, which could include gargantuan fruit cakes, masked Santa Clauses, and exploding valentines. (from the publisher’s notes about the book)
Now, of course, it’s all big business. Or if not all of it, a lot of it. Want to know how big? Look at some holiday sales figures from a few years back, collected by the U.S. Census bureau. Or keep abreast of this season’s trends via the Wall Street Journal’s Holiday Sales News Tracker. Yep, you read right, the Holiday Sales News Tracker. Here in the U.S., observers of other wintertime holidays — Hanukkah and Eid-al-Adha and the Solstice and Kwanzaa — are vastly outnumbered by those who observe Christmas. But my guess is that, were the numbers reversed, we’d find those holidays just as commercially doused as Christmas now is. Just a hunch.
To one such as myself who is both anti-commercialism and on an austere budget, the “Buy Nothing Christmas” Adbusters campaign holds great appeal. And as one who dearly wishes that her kids will have a planet to sit around on in another fifty years, celebrating whatever holidays they want, the idea of limiting consumption also holds great appeal. So in the spirit of authentic holiday cheer, I offer up some alternatives to a consumerist holiday season:
â€¢ Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Christmas, your one-stop no-shop info shop.
â€¢ New American Dream’s Holiday Tips for Parents. New American Dream promotes “conscious consumerism,” clarifying the ecological impact of over-consumption and providing ample resources for folks to forge alternative paths.
â€¢ The Green Parent’s To Spend or Not to Spend. You be the judge.
â€¢ If you must spend, The Green Parent offers a Holiday Gift List, filled with eco-friendly, low-impact holiday alternatives.
â€¢ The New York Times covered eco-gift giving in this piece last month, “Jolly and Green, With an Agenda.”
â€¢ Alternatives for Simple Living offers a catalog of ideas in a book Simplify and Celebrate (link to Powell’s page for the book), for people of Christian faith to reclaim various Christian holidays from commercialism. The organization started in 1973 as a protest against the commercialization of Christmas, and focuses on encouraging celebrations that reflect conscientious ways of living.
â€¢ Consider “Eluding Happiness: A Buddhist Problem with Christmas,” Jess Row’s reflections on Slate a few years back, on the tangled mess of gift-giving.
â€¢ In a recent blog post on the site for his Network for Spiritual Progressives, Rabbi Michael Lerner suggests we limit what we spend on gifts for children for Hanukkah and Christmas, and instead spend something more precious — time — on people in our lives:
Send your entire guest list a copy of this article and then offer them four hours of your timeâ€”to provide childcare so they can go out for an afternoon or evening, to paint their apartment or house, to shovel their snow or help them with gardening, to teach them or their children some skill of yours, to do shopping or errands for them, to help them clean their garage or arrange their papers or books, and you can think of much more.
Yeah, now we’re talkin’. You want a gauntlet, now that’s a gauntlet.
I leave us now with the deathless words of the big G himself, from Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas:
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!”