Did Christmas Come Early? A Non-Rhetorical Question.
And the answer is an unsurprising, yet equally flooring, "yes." I have been aware of the rising debate over when to officially air Christmas music on the radio. However, it seems that this tiny public issue is more representative of a larger move to extend holiday seasons. First, there was the extension of Black Friday into Thanksgiving evening. Then, the extension of Halloween into the entire month of October. Every day of July is the 4th as far as we're concerned and New Years resolutions ripple to a smooth stillness throughout the entire month of spring. Don't get me wrong, I am no grinch of American holidays. However, I find the rise in celebration synonymous with the rise in extreme consumerism.
During my usual commute from the library to the gym, I was switching through satellite radio stations and was utterly floored to find at least three channels completely devoted to Christmas music. The day after Halloween, our local Kroger seasonal aisle was suddenly red and green. On a semi-drunk Target run the other evening, I was stopped in my stumbling tracks by entire sections of Christmas trees. And, of course, every business on the globe is advertising Christmas shopping deals or free shipping. None of this information is breaking news, but it does make raise my eyebrows. Is it just me or are stores and business commercializing Christmas even earlier than in the past?
Allow me to share why I think this question matters. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers plan to spend about $1,047.83 this holiday season alone, which is 4 percent more than the average spending costs of last year. Understandably, the average person saves up around this time of year so that gifts and festivities can be exchanged. However, at what price (quite literally)?
From this study, 39 percent of shoppers reported that they would start buying before November and 43 percent said they would wait until November, leaving a cold 18 percent who wait until December. With the holiday deals and specials being pushed by global companies, it is no wonder that people feel compelled to start their shopping early.
But this is the capitalist catch: the shopping is never really over. The product placement is never over. The non-recycled paper plates, the endless food waste, the tearing of wrapping paper is never over. According to the CDC, we will waste up to 25% more in this holiday season. Looking at just wrapping paper alone, they report that "if every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields." The extension of this "holiday" season is an extension of consumerism traps and, in turn, a major contribution to the rapidly growing waste problem here on our lovely planet Earth.
I don't think we need a grinch to come and take all of the gifts and food and festivities away from us, but I do think we need to seriously reconsider how we are consuming. How do we balance the season of gift giving against this outrageous cultural shift towards robotic consumption and thoughtless production of waste?
In thinking through how to be a better ethical consumer, my first suggestion is to allow yourself to carry the awareness that American "holiday" capitalism is completely Christian-centric. Within the next four months there are many other religious and cultural holidays taking place, yet we don't see any of these in stores or on TV. With this awareness, I suggest moving into this season with a sincere intention of what this holiday means to you. I challenge you to remember the origins of the holiday, or why you value celebrating it. Once these two navigational stakes are in place, my other suggestions include:
-making a list of things you need BEFORE shopping any sales
(and then only getting those items once the sale hits)
-committing to being frugal as a way to counteract your spending
-give intentional gifts with the rule that one element of the present must be sentimental
-make space for new (or old) traditions of self care that give you joy and get rid of the
ones that don't
-spend your positive energy like you spending money (or maybe even in place of it)
and practice emotional gift giving
-remember that donating can be just as harmful as waste--giving junk items to people in need
does not make the act any better (sometimes one person's trash is not another person's treasure)
Please, I am begging you to move into the winter with an awareness of how your environment is affecting you and how you, in turn, are affecting the environment. The sudden east coast hurricanes, the devastating California wildfires, and the rapidly changing weather in our backyards are all screams from mother Earth herself. If not for the Earth, then maybe even for yourself. I urge you to consider what kind of consumer and producer you want to be as we move into a season of intense influence and persuasion.
As a person who grew up Christian, I find it hard to dismiss the cultural resemblances of our commercial consumption to the story of Jesus turning tables in the temple. What would a modern interpretation of that look like? Probably radical un-participation from sales, events, and exchanges, and a deep dive into intentional time with chosen or given family and friends. This model of proactive peacemaking helps me reconsider what it means to live with intentions of peace and kindness. Let's allow ourselves to move towards radical un-participation with all of the love and joy of an honest holiday season, whatever holiday you are celebrating.