About 5 years ago I read the book Unplug the Christmas Machine (Robinson & Staeheli) which lays out the way in which profit-making companies have hijacked Christmas, turning it into a grotesque 5-month spiral into debt and empty expectation. I highly recommend the book — it will make you a little angry but a lot more aware of what’s happening around you during the Holidays. Given the ways commercialism and advertising have changed Christmas so profoundly, it’s no wonder Christmas can be disappointing and uninspiring for many.
Did you know gift giving to adults was of minor importance during the Holidays before advertising brainwashed us into believing we had to spend big bucks to make our honeys happy? Nowadays, if you believe the ads, you have to give your spouse a Lexus if you want to be really festive. Guess what? Lexus sells more cars in December than any other month. Somebody actually believes those big red bow ads!
Before the 1920s, gifts even for children were quite simple – often homemade and sentimental. Nowadays, ads give kids the impression that their parents will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on them – if they have the right parents. I’ve seen on-line links to articles encouraging me with a list of the best gifts for $100. One gift for $100? I don’t want to sound like a Scrooge, but excessive spending at Christmas is bad for the kids and stresses us out, doesn’t it? I spend less than $100 in total for each of my children, and quite frankly I think even that’s unnecessary.
If you spend so much at Christmas for gifts for your kids that it takes until the following Christmas to pay off your credit cards, then something is terribly wrong. If you feel guilted into buying your 12 year old the PlayStation you can’t really afford, then reconsider. If your kids think all their dreams will come true on Christmas morning, you’ve been hoodwinked.
This Christmas, fight against the Christmas Machine. Here are a few tips to get started.
Choose simplicity. Simplify not only your gift giving, but your plans and activities too. Make a few simple gifts with your children: framed art, baked treats, holiday ornaments. Let your kids make some of your gift wrap with butcher paper and potato stamps. Create down time in your calendar so that you can just hang out with your family, creating real memories and real meaning in these last few weeks before Christmas.
Choose tradition and connection. Children don’t really want stuff. They want you. It sounds cliché, but it’s so true. Especially if you’ve had any big life changes this year (a death, divorce, or move), children need the grounding of family traditions and the connection they provide. Let the children open the Christmas cards when the mail arrives. Let them hang the cards on the door the way you do every year. Let them stir the apple cider that you make every year, and let them drop in the cinnamon sticks, that sweet familiar aroma filling the kitchen. Put on the Christmas c.d. you’ve played year after year since she was a baby. These little traditions provide connection and comfort for kids.
Choose quiet. The Holidays can be loud. Bustling stores with loud music, loud ads screaming from the t.v., loud relatives who drink too much, loud relatives who are completely sober. That’s okay. But give your family the gift of quiet a few times a week. Turn off the electronics, even the Christmas music, and just be together. Whether at home, or on quiet walks, you will all breathe better in the quiet. You’ll notice for the first time since you brought it through the door the way the Christmas tree smells this year. Your children will delight in the way some maples in your neighborhood are clinging to their last few leaves. Your children will sleep better and so will you.
Choose holiness. The Christmas Machine has stripped from Christmas the real joy of giving – giving from the heart, not from guilt or fear. It has clouded our minds so that we have forgotten the simplicity of the Christ Child born in a stable, lying in a humble manger. There he was, the Son, willing to humble himself to save us. Can we remember the true reason for the Season? Can we give ourselves to others — just a little– in the way Christ gave to us? Each day choose some way to celebrate Advent instead of oiling the Christmas Machine.
So fight, if you can, against that loud, irritating, degrading Machine. I’ll try my best to do the same. I write all this not because I’ve mastered this approach but only because I recognize its wisdom.