f/k/a . . . the archives

November 28, 2008

let recession rekindle real holiday spirit

Filed under: viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 11:58 pm

.. Go, St. Nick! St. Nicholas v. Santa Claus ..  

Black Friday is almost at an end, and the f/k/a Gang is once again kicking off the holiday season with our annual lament over the over-commercialization of Christmas and the Holiday Season.  While many are bemoaning the signals of a reduction in consumer confidence/buying, we see a great silver lining in those black economic clouds:

Necessity does often gives birth to invention.  Our hope is that recession will be the midwife that helps America (and the rest of the Over-Commercialized Christmas World) create a re-birth in Christmas/Holiday spirit.  With a little effort and creativity, we can let financial necessity help re-invent a spirit that represents — even for the non-religious like myself — the selfless love of Jesus, and the compassion of the original St. Nicholas, rather than the consumption symbolized by Santa Claus.

Even before I read Scott’s piece this morning, “The Blackest of Fridays” at Simple Justice (Nov. 29, 2008), where he asserted:

“Consumerism, especially the crass king that makes it’s home on Long Island, is an evil.  No, not to enjoy material possessions per se, but to need them so desperately to enhance one’s self worth that one would risk the kids’ college or the house to get it.”

. . . and even before the news arrived that “Worker trampled to death at Long Island Wal-Mart during Black Friday stampede” (New York Daily News, by Joe Gould, Nov. 28, 2008), the Gang was searching our archives to recall what we said in other years about consumerism ruining Christmas.  (We’re often pleasantly surprised by our prior insight, idealism and eloquence!)

In the midst of that search, we stopped to check out a few recent articles that seemed  relevant and hopeful.  For example, the Washington Post brought good tidings that America’s economic crisis has already brought us one consumer blessing — a reduction in the amount of junk-mail from direct-mail marketeers, including fewer offers for new credit cards.  (See WaPo article, Nov.  7, 2008)  Even more encouraging, we ran across a couple of commentators who also saw the potential advantages of American belt-tightening:

  • According to Stephen S. Roach, the dive in disposable income and the bursting asset bubbles (leading to a reduction in “net asset extraction” through equity loans) may be bringing a beneficial “Dying of Consumption“  (New York Times, Nov. 28, 2008):

“[T]here is a deeper, potentially positive, meaning to all this: Consumers are now abandoning the asset-dependent spending and saving strategies they embraced during the bubbles of the past dozen years and moving back to more prudent income-based lifestyles.

“This is a painful but necessary adjustment.

“. . . The United States needs a very different set of policies to cope with its post-bubble economy. It would be a serious mistake to enact tax cuts aimed at increasing already excessive consumption. Americans need to save. They don’t need another flat-screen TV made in China.”

  • Meanwhile, the NYT‘s Ron Lieber envisions a “Leaner Holiday Gift Giving, Bountiful in Spirit” (Nov. 21, 2008).  Similar to our thoughts the past few days, Lieber hoped that “Of all years, this may be the one to stop the holiday gift madness — out of necessity for some of us or simply out of reason.”  His vision:

“[A]t a time when so many people have so much less than they did just a few months ago, there ought to be a way to ease the pressure on them and relieve the crushing social obligation that others feel to dole out to an ever-lengthening list of people

He calls for “an effort to make gift giving more meaningful than mandatory.”  For many that may mean spending less, but Lieber hopes that some of us will be able to spend more, by adding more philanthropy to our holiday giving.

Like Ron Lieber, I’m not at all sure exactly how to go about this transition-from-necessity to a saner, more “spiritual” holiday spirit.  We realize that some family members (can you say “Nana”?) may be very reluctant to spend and give less, while others are even more reluctant to receive less.  But, I am sure we should all be thinking of ways to use our worsened national financial situation to justify new buying and giving habits this holiday season — hopefully leading to new attitudes that will continue even if and when our ecomony and fortunes greatly improve.

We bet a leaner Christmas/Holiday Season for 2008 will teach all of us the lesson that fewer gifts — less giving and receiving –  doesn’t reduce holiday joy for parents or children, spouses or lovers, kith or kin, but somehow increases our satisfaction and sense of connection and well-being.

Finding new ways to express our love and affection, and making new commitment to help the less fortunate, may help us find our way back to the “true” holiday joy, cheer and peace we have tried so long to buy and consume into being.  Those of us who don’t have to cut back should do it in solidarity with those for whom it is a necessity — to take the pressure off of them.

Is this anti-consumerist scheme just the stingy ploy of an old curmudgeon — or of a Scrooge or Grinch who never liked Holiday Cheer in the first place?   Give it a try and see for yourself whether less isn’t indeed really more when it come to inspiring the true spirit of this Holiday Season.  Please share your suggestions on how to pull it off and the results of your efforts in our Comment section.

Below the fold (click “more”), we’ve excerpted some of our prior preaching on the subject of commercialization of Christmas (which we proudly call the Holiday Season, to embrace all the holidays and shades of belief that Americans celebrate every winter).

Christmas Eve –
bits of a price sticker
stuck on my finger

… by Michael Dylan Welch The Heron’s Nest (Sept. 2005)

wrapping and packing –  
she pastes on
a holiday smile

… by dagosan

Ghosts of Christmas Venting Past:

2004:  Traditional GrinchEsq Musing:  In a country where you don’t have to wait for some guy on a camel or donkey to show up at the market to have a shopping day; and where almost everybody already owns too many things; why do we have a “Holiday Shopping Season” kicked off by a ridiculous stampede, and then give so many and such expensive gifts on a day meant to celebrate a savior, or love, or one’s heritage? [from "a hearse and a grinch," Nov. 26, 2004]

2005: From “the so-called War on Christmas” (Nov. 28, 2005):

I won’t let all those who are irked by Generic Holiday Greetings keep me from wanting all Americans to celebrate this Season without feeling religiously incorrect, compromised or left out. . . . .

. . . [A]ttempts to make this Holiday Season — clearly the most important celebration for our nation — all-inclusive do not seem silly to me, regardless of the Constitutional dimensions of the debate. Indeed, shopping sprees and Santa suits have done far more to “take the Christ out of Christmas” than a slew of First Amendment law suits could ever do.

. . . Those who know the Bible better than I will have to tell me why the Jesus who “entered into the temple of God, and drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the money changers’ tables and the seats of those who sold the doves,” and who protected the Gentile pilgrims (Matthew 21-12), would want “His” people wasting their time on the naming of decorations and the wording of good wishes, rather than working to reverse the universal connection in America of His birth with the most crass commercialism and greed.


FromSt. Nicholas v. Santa Claus” (Dec. 14, 2005): 

If Saint Nicholas had had a good team of lawyers, his morphing into the Americanized-commercialized figure of Santa Clause might never have happened.   The frenzied November-through-January “season” of constant shopping, consumption and greed might have been avoided.  Perhaps, even the non-religious (like myself) might be gladly sharing in the spiritual dimension of a holiday season focused on selfless giving and sacrifice for others.  Such a season would deserve to be named for the Baby Jesus, whose followers could then be nurturing  goodwill towards all, rather than fomenting culture war and nomenclature  indignation.

. . . Santa Claus is flashy and out of shape, lets little people do his work for substandard wages, and uses credit cards extensively to buy popularity with expensive gifts. St. Nicholas is low-keyed and humble, and gives modest tokens of love and affection, paying cash.

I wish that Santa could be more like Nicholas.  We are never going to separate Christmas or the other December “holidays” from the notion of gift-giving.   We can, nevertheless, strive for the spirit of the original Nicholas and not his flashy-trashy-cashy alter ego. Our society, our children, and our sanity would all improve.

tsunami on tv —
our children awash
in christmas gifts

….. by dagosan  (2005)

2006: From our sister-weblog SHLEP: “Black Friday Agita and Holiday Season Self-Help“:

Notice:  This time each year, the Editor of this weblog suffers from HAH! [Holiday Agita & Heartburn], as well as BHS [Bah Humbug Syndrome], due to the excessive commercialization of Christmas and related holidays. See f/k/a, “St. Nicholas v. Santa Claus”, Dec. 12, 2005.  Nonetheless, in the true spirit of the Season, he offers this self-help advice to those caught up — intentionally or not — in the Christmas shopping frenzy and other schmoliday customs.

. . . Some shoppers are up early for Black Friday, or never go to bed, envigorated by the thrill of the chase for bargains. (e.g., AZCentral.com, “In Search of a Deal,” Nov. 25, 2006) Yet, Black Friday can also be a day filled with stress and confrontation (New York Times, “Attention Holiday Shoppers: We Have Fisticuffs in Aisle 2,” Nov. 25, 2006), and begin a season of true financial disaster for millions of American consumers.

shlep may not be able to keep you from busting your budget, or mistaking massive gift-giving for the manifestation of love and affection, but we hope to help you avoid getting scammed or suffering other shopping and holiday pitfalls, and to help you find solutions or legal remedies, if you’re victimized by the dishonest or unscrupulous.

1 Comment

  1. David

    On a more general consumerism theme, you might find this of interest:

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=oK_7ju0W8HA

    Matt

    Comment by mattm — November 30, 2008 @ 2:44 am

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