It is this season’s energy and excitement that makes Christmas my favourite holiday. Birthdays are special for an individual, but Christmas is a celebration of and for everyone, in my mind. In North America especially, Christmas has made a departure from religious control. Even *gasp* the corporate sector accommodates family time at Christmas, so non-Christians are forced to adopt this holiday as an opportunity to be at home with their nearest and dearest.
I am not religious, but the story of peace and goodwill was taught to me in a Christian context. It is a story universal to all religions though, peace and goodwill, and in that sense, I believe this makes “Christmas” adaptable for non-Christians.
At the same time, sadly it has become a holiday more about consumption than generosity and kindness. Every year it is the same at our house: Dad wants to lavish, while Mom holds back.
The incredible pressure to SHOP!, BUY!, CONSUME! threatens my constitution (and my marriage).
My husband and I pour/poor over the Christmas spreadsheet (yes, I do know how dorky that sounds, but we’re not the only ones!), figuring out who should give what to whom. We live at a distance from most of our family, so it is our job to account for the entire matrix of gifters and receivers. “The snorkling set should come from your Dad because he loves swimming.” “The concert tickets should come from your mom because she loves music.” “Who should give our family the circus tickets?”
It is a mixed blessing, this total control over our household gift quota. It’s a lot of work to make it feel personal, despite the process, BUT it also means we can be selective. We can be thoughtful about which gifts will be valued and remembered for a long time, and which gifts teach the skills our children will need to succeed. More than anything though, it means we can choose the quality and number of toys and gadgets that enter our house.
Gift giving is a long-standing tradition that crosses all cultures. Even ancient societies understood the importance of gift-giving for building and sustaining relationships. In the simplest of community structures, exchange is integral to pull the group together.
With due respect to tradition, many of my enviro-peers call for a “Buy Nothing Christmas,” but I don’t believe this is the answer. It isn’t realistic. Such a drastic shift creates a divide, even among environmentalists.
We give so we can bond, but we are not all beaders, farmers, bakers, crafters, and flintknappers any more, and I am suspicious such an approach just shifts the purchasing to other times of year. When my kids beg for something I suggest they, “Put it on the list!” I think restricting gift-giving to two times per year helps me monitor our consumption. Not only that, their interest often wanes by the time Christmas or the next birthday rolls around, making me thankful that I held out.
Gwen Leron of the YummyMummyClub.ca presents a balanced look at Christmas with her article Collect Memories, not Things, which draws on Annie Leonard’s iconic 2007 video:
Perhaps my personal struggle to balance the importance of relationship-building through gift-giving, the universal message of peace and goodwill, and determination to resist over-consumption and waste is itself valuable. Perhaps this is my time to reflect on priorities, on privilege, and most importantly on my responsibilities as a citizen of the world.
This year we made gifts for teachers, bought tickets to shows, and put some money in the bank, but we will also be wrapping a few things to help us build memories. And, as always,we made our annual donations to Kiva, so that those in need might be able to bring their own dreams to life.
Live within limits without limiting life
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