Monday, December 13, 2010

And now I'm mad.

When did it become unacceptable to spend money at Christmas? What the hell happened? Yes, I get that plenty of people do not have jobs or money to spend. Really, believe me, I get that--if you don't believe me, just look back about one year's worth of posts here. And I get that Debt Is Bad. Yes it is. But if you do have the money? If you've been saving it up just for Christmas? If you *gasp* want to spend money on your friends and family? Why is it that I now have to defend myself because I do plan to spend money--more than average, too, the horror--on my family for Christmas?

When did it become a badge of honor to spend as absolutely little as possible on the people you care about, as if reducing your final spending is the only goal. I see people preening themselves all over the eco-blogosphere right now over how tiny their Christmas bill will be. Or congratulating themselves that they don't really get anything that they wouldn't otherwise, like PJs or a rainbarrel. Or that all of their gifts are handmade, and never purchased from anyone (who, you know, might've done a nice job and could've used the paycheck).

You know what I don't see in all of these self-congratulatory posts? I don't see any discussion of fun, or of happiness, or of joy. I see self-satisfaction oozing, no doubt. And I'm sure these people get a wonderful, healthy eco-smug glow on Christmas morning as their family opens their gifts, carefully selected to ensure that they are all in line with anti-consumerist zeitgeist.

Well you know what? F*ck that. I do have a job, and we saved specifically for this, and I'm gonna spend money that I never would on stuff that I never would and I'm gonna have a blast doing it. I'm gonna get things that we ordinarily never would--often things we need, sure, but also things we want. And I'm gonna get my kids some Hex Bugs. Why? Cause they're completely stupid and AWESOME! And a blanket fort kit! Why a kit, of all things? Cause it's AWESOME! And some roving for spinning yarn. Why? Cause I love it and I can't usually afford it and I'm gonna sooooo love spinning it into some yummy yarn! And maybe some shelving for various things, cause it'll make our lives a bit easier. And super-keeno things for my husband that I can't put here because he is NOT to be trusted when it comes to discretion. And I'll make some gifts too, not because I want to bask in the eco-glow, but because I enjoy making things for people, and I think that the gifts I make will in fact make these people's lives better, rather than because they have some crazy stamp of approval. And we'll have cookies and family and brunch at home and too much wrapping paper everywhere and popcorn and FUN! Because Christmas is supposed to be FUN!

I get the fact that our culture goes crazy-overboard on buying stuff. And I'm as sickened as anyone by the commercialism of Christmas. And no, I do not think that going into debt-slavery for Christmas is a good plan. But I'm also trying not to throw out the baby with the bathwater here. There is a reason that Christmas got commercialized--because it's the time of year when we collectively think about what we can get for others, or do for others, that will be appreciated and enjoyed and just generally will make our lives a bit nicer. And it has gone too far, when we buy stuff unreflectingly, just to be able to say that we bought something for someone.

But taking the goal of a tiny Christmas bill is the same sin as aiming for a huge bill--it's the wrong goal. I like the goal of buying things, making things, doing things for others that will bring joy and happiness into their lives, within the means of the giver (both in terms of money, materials, skills, and time). The point is to think of others, and how one can make those other's lives better, even if just for a little while. If you lose sight of this goal, then you lose sight of the joy in the season, and that's a real shame.


  1. Here! Here! Not that I can afford it this year but if I had a little extra money I would get some of my love ones some things they really want and not just stuff they need and I could really use another week so I could get all these small knitted things completed in time...


  2. Amen, sister! Leave it to Americans to take a good idea all the way to crazytown in a quest to out-Puritan everyone else.

    I have for many years blogged at Christmas about alternative gifting: giving donations in the gifted's name, buying fair trade and/or handmade gifts... But by now I think my audience is down to the folks who will say whatever and get up at 3 am for the big box black Friday offerings, and those who are already sold on the message.

    I make as many handmade gifts as I can, because I like making them. I know which friends and relatives are just as happy getting used books or dvds (especially if it means they get more of them!). But I have always believed that gift giving is about those things that you want but can't quite justify buying for yourself. It's about something pretty, or amazing, or so curious you had no idea such a thing existed before you unwrapped it!

    I had, though, long been looking for something "virtuous" for my son. Something handmade of sustainably harvested wood. Something educational. But you have inspired me. I am going to go get hexbugs instead. Because they ARE awesome, and will be great on the hardwood floors of our new house.

    Have a fun Christmas!

  3. Uh...I guess this might have something to do with Crunchy's post, and maybe my response there contributed to your ire, since I mentioned pj's. I guess I didn't read into her post the judgmentalism you see, and I certainly didn't intend to sound judgmental, because I honestly don't feel any towards other people's spending habits.

    You say it's trendy to brag about spending less at Christmas. Maybe you're right; I don't know so I can't argue with that. But if it's trendy I would wager that's so in a rather small circle. From my viewpoint, anyone who puts out a message like Crunchy's is very much swimming against a powerful consumerist tide of messages angling for more spending, even if it requires going into debt. It's not productive to make people feel picked on for their choices, and I'm sorry you feel that way. But just as Sharon Astyk says about the need to repeat the basic concept of peak oil ad nauseum, because there really still are people out there who haven't heard about it or haven't grasped its import, alternatives to mindless consumption need to be put out there over and over again for those that might never have considered any alternative. The very idea of consuming less was once new to me, and there are still those for whom it's new. I think Crunchy has the potential to reach a few of them.

    In any case, I'm sorry if my comment contributed to your anger. It was only meant as a description of what we do, not a prescription for others. I hope you have a merry Christmas.

  4. @Kate: it was Crunchy's post that kick-started me today, though she's certainly not the only one. Honestly, I don't think your comment had much to do with it. I could've picked up the "pjs" line from anywhere at this point.

    My concern is that us few on one side are committing *exactly* the same crime as the "spend big!" side--we're emphasizing all of the wrong goals. In the 80's & 90's we were all shamed into spending more than we could afford. These days, for those of us in the group you mention, we're shamed out of spending anything at all, or if we *buy* rather than make our gifts, or whatever. So yes, I certainly agree that Crunchy's message is swimming against the current--she's going the opposite direction in exactly the same stream. I want to jump streams altogether--I want to remember why we do gift-giving at all, and let that be the guide for our actions. If it does, then we won't get into the over/underspending binds, nor will we be shamed into doing X, Y, or Z due to the preferences of others.

  5. I've been simplifying Christmas for years, but not to be "green" and certainly not to be "trendy". My kids have too much stuff, my family has too much stuff, we don't need more stuff, why should I buy more stuff we don't need just because that's how Christmas was always celebrated in my family? I can choose to take a different path, and I have, over the last five years or so.

    We're about spreading the Christmas experience over the whole of Advent (including celebrating the Solstice since we follow the seasonal festivals too), to avoid the anticipation-anticipation-LOOT-letdown cycle of my childhood. I make gifts for my family because I love making things, and because my children still have the wisdom to appreciate as an expression of love the time and effort I put into something over the dollar value (something which was trained out of me as a kid and which I'm trying to recapture). I help my kids make gifts for family members in turn. We are not religious, and celebrate it as a season of togetherness and joy. I have no idea how much I've spent, but most of what I'm giving is either from thrift stores or made from thrifted fabric and craft materials, and I put things away all year. I think we're probably coming from similar places, although I have no idea what Hexbugs are and my kids would probably lose them within a week :P

  6. Well said! I wouldn't worry too much about those who you feel you must defend your choices to...perhaps someday they will come to see that judging each other and every move we make as individuals doesn't stop the injustices of the world, it only fosters intolerance. Happy Holidays! (Shopping and all!)

  7. Well, a rant is a rant, and you're well and truly owed one since it's your blog chicky. :-P

    I come down squarely in the middle for this one. I agree the horrible over-spending is horrible. I read Crunchy's post about the overspending, cried, and got on with my life. I also find that so many of the posts of "here's some awesome green/home-made/non-consumer/helping local business grow gifts" are so damn dumb. Really? Clothespin dolls? That's a dust collector for sure.

    Also, I'm flat broke. Also, I might wind up having to pay for two apartments at once due to circumstances not worth going into, so my fiance and I are trying to reduce spending EVERYWHERE. Does that mean I'm stash busting and making scarves and giving away pickles for Christmas? Hells yeah!

    So yeah, mini-rant I guess at your rant. If you've got the money, spend it the way you want that's for damn sure. Just make sure you're not spending that nest-egg. :-P

  8. Funny! I don't, usually, read Crunchy's blog, and so I had no idea where this came from, but I couldn't seem to get past that first line "when did it become unacceptable to spend money at Christmas", and I kept thinking, "when has it been acceptable"? *grin* I hear what you're saying, but even in the midst of the spending orgy, we all knew, deep down, that what we were doing was wrong. I mean, $1500 for a Tickle Me Elmo? Seriously??

    Dang! Now I have to go and read Crunchy's post, but based on what you've said and the comments here, and my own attempts at simplifying our lives (like Liz, we've been *not* buying, simply because we have too much, and I'd like to teach my children that there's more to the season that getting stuff), I don't think her commentary will really change how I do things. The fact is that we buy a few things, things we need or want, and we make a few things (it's become a tradition for me to make PJ pants for all of my family members, and it's something I enjoy doing and something they enjoy getting ;).

    Personally, I don't want to be shamed for doing either - buying or making. As my husband always says, "Virtue is in the middle", and that's where I try to fit myself.

  9. Hehehee... You are all being very kind to me, despite my rant.

    I want to make sure it is clear that I am *not* advocating spending money at Christmas per se. I'm advocating keeping a proper goal in mind, and pursuing that goal in the best way for you and your family. For mine, right now, it's primarily achieved by spending money, but also by making some things and such. Last year and the year before, it was almost entirely made things. All of this is fine. If we have a good goal in front of us, then no one will be sad or ashamed of anything they do, and *that* makes for an awesome Christmas!

    Happy holidays, everyone!

  10. I'm with you!

    I stopped buying things for adults in the family a few years ago, and started giving homemade wine and a handwoven (by me) dishtowel to each couple. They love them, and people argue all year whether they rank high enough to get a towel, or if they only get wine this year. It's kind of fun, and I truly wish I could give all of them towels! I love making things, and I finally found something they _want_ to get from me!

    The kids, on the other hand? Totally indilgent, and not on credit. Both kids are getting ipods this year, and the nieces and nephew are getting cool gifts, too. I love to indulge them, and they're probably the only ones - neither sib is likely to have more children.

    They're only young once, and Christmas is only once a year. Pajamas are a fine gift, but so are ipods. My kids will proabably get both!

    That said, they're not getting a dozen gifts from me. My shopping has been more in line with the older traditions of one great gift and a few smaller items that make them happy. There will not be a frenzy in my living room, but two very happy children (I hope!)

  11. Robyn,

    I think we also have to take another measure of currency into account - oil, and time as well.

    Gifts that we make - or even *gasp* regift - may not show an immediate expense to the giver in money - but may well represent an equivalent degree of compassion and engagement with the giftee. If you measure the "worth" of the gift, the lifelong familiarity and knowledge of another person, of their needs and goals, and wishes, in a disciplined manner, should count for the lion's share of what a gift is worth.

    I think driving 40 miles for an expensive gift - especially if it isn't a life-changing gift - is tremendously wasteful. It wastes attention to people on the part of the giver (ie, a chance to grow as a member of the community and as a person), it wastes oil and other energy directly and indirectly, and it wastes money that could have been spent on preparations, on helping others prepare, on growing the home and community to better serve others, etc.

    Gifting, whether expensive or not, is a reflection of culture and teachings, degree of affluence, and, for those that actually gift from considered action rather than "this is what I was taught", a reflection of life status and character.

    I don't think that discipline in money, in attention, in discipline, in real values, or in character can be imposed from without. Shouting "You are an idiot!" at the village idiot doesn't do the object of wrath any good, and makes you look foolish.

    Congratulations, Robyn, on expressing your outrage and views on your own blog, where the direction of your "rant" is appropriate and welcome. We each have to examine and come to our own conclusions. Your view of money overcoming sense and values, of overcoming humanity and character, of overcoming traditional values isn't new. I can attest that the same criticism of Christmas and other holidays was made and was valid decades ago. Some heed the call, while most never hear.

    Blessed be!

  12. ::wild applause::

    I love the holidays. And I love giving gifts, because I love to bring joy and show people I love them.

    I make a lot of things--not because it's eco-friendly but because I like to make things and my loved ones like to get them. But I also buy things because, well, you can't make everything. My family likes books, and bath things, and I like to support local artists by buying their wares. Heck, I do half my shopping at grocery stores like Trader Joe's that I have in my city and my parents don't!

    I don't understand the idea that any celebration is wasteful, or that adults should be 'over' gifts. Be realistic, sure, and reasonable but why must so many movements suck the joy out of everything?