Friday, November 30, 2012

Thwarting the Grinch Who Sells Christmas

(A brief blog post diversion.)

I'm afraid we've been sold a bill of Christmas goods. And we seem quite jolly about the whole thing.

Television, radio, newspaper, magazines, advertisements and entertainment all tell us what Christmas should be,,,
  • Bigger, more breakable toys. 
  • Copious amounts of alcohol. 
  • New clothes and fashion accessories that we'll only wear during the holidays.
  • Excessive holiday food. 
  • Parties with people we're not so crazy about. 
  • The latest rage in games, gadgets and technology, soon to be frustratingly obsolete.
  • Spend, spend, spend.

I don't have TV. Tell me, have the commercials with a new car with a huge red bow on top started yet?
Honestly, people. Get a grip! Where did we get so far off track?

Of course, for the most part, the businesses behind the messages on TV, radio, in newspapers and magazines stand to rake in gigantic profits if we buy into their version of Christmas. Many of us grew up, just following along the Profit-Driven, Retail Party Line. The insane and mindless frenzy of the shopping season. I wonder which retailer first coined the phrase " .... shopping days left until Christmas." As if shopping was the point.

And that is, indeed, one way of doing it. Christmas commercialism.

It would be so easy to just keep writing in a snide, preachy manner about the ridiculous expectations and 'traditions' we've come to accept as acceptable in our backward holiday culture. And I've been as guilty as anyone, in the retail realm. But instead I want to point down the Christmas Road Less Traveled, where gift giving is concerned.

This is the way my holiday energy is leaning this year. Choosing a break from the overcompensation and consumerism aspect. It will take more thought and planning. And specific intention. Even a bit of work. Because it's definitely more effort than just sitting at my computer and clicking the Add To Cart button in my Amazon account. Or stepping into some huge chain store, grabbing the latest DVD, slapping paper on it and tossing into someones lap, "Ho ho ho." I think that kind of ordinary effort and investment 'rewards' itself in all parts of life, don't you?

My partial list of alternative ways to 'give,' this Christmas:
  • Give items purchased from local, small business owners. No chain stores. 
  • Give items from thrift or consignment shops. (Think of it as being spelled Shoppe, if it makes you feel better.) You can't find genuine vintage items at Target or Kohl's. 
    • Last year, I bought my son-in-law The White Album on vinyl. He recently told me it's the album he plays most on his old school turn table.
  • Shop specifically for fair trade merchandise.
  • Support local artisans. Purchase your gifts from art studios, craft fairs and festivals. (Here's just a few that turned up with quick Internet search.)
  • Buy homemade items from Etsy and similar sites.
  • Find some cool old books at a Used Book Sale. (I hear your local library has these.)
  • Buy a service for someone: 
    • A professional massage, housecleaning, yoga class, pedicure, dog grooming, personal trainer, a shared day at a spa.
  • Perform a service yourself: 
    • Babysitting, dog walking, vehicle tune-up, housecleaning, closet organizing, handyman-ing.
  • Give an experience: 
    • Northwest Trek, ice skating, ZooLights, The Nutcracker Ballet, a flight around Mt. Rainier or in a fighter jet. (*wink, wink*) 
  • Do you know someone who is great at something: baking, knitting, painting, crafting? Send your holiday 'business' their way. 
    • Last week, I had a taste of a pie that a co-worker made. It was so good, I asked if I could pay her to make one for me to serve at Thanksgiving dinner. My friend made some money, and I got to offer this amazing homemade treat at dinner. I hope she found it flattering that I'd thought so much of her talent. I know if someone said to me, "I really like your writing. Could you write me a short story to give to someone I love?" Holy smoke, right? What a high complement.
    • A few years ago, I enlarged photos that my daughter had taken for her photography class in high school and gave them to almost every one on my list. Shots of the EMP and Space Needle in the Seattle Center. Dandelion seeds blowing in the wind. The alley behind the Alibi Room in downtown Seattle. I framed and wrapped them, then paid my daughter for her talent and her work. Win Win.
  • Or use your own special talent: sewing, photography, woodworking. Give your gift.
  • Decorate your tree and home with found objects or home-made ornaments. 
    • Our family used to string popcorn and cranberries. We made paper chain garland.
    • Pay Alice to make those amazing origami paper globes in your preferred holiday color. (And pay her well, because Heaven knows I tried to learn how to make those treasures and failed miserably. They are beautiful but a bit like trying to successfully complete a Rubik's cube with both hands tied behind your back.)
  • Instead of getting your kid another video game, buy that same game and give it to the local teen center or transitional housing organization. (Okay, I know, still retail but for a good cause.)
  • Estimate the dollar amount you'd spend (and have spent for years, each year) on your family gifts this season and use that money instead, to sponsor a family who wouldn't have Christmas otherwise. 
  • Spend your time volunteering in someones name. Homeless veteran resources, homeless teens programs, recovering addicts transition shelters.

Friends of mine have used great ways of honoring the non-retail side of the holidays.
  • A couple years ago, my supervisor, gave me baby chicks for Christmas. I never got to meet the chicks as they were purchased (in my name) for a family in Africa to raise so they would have eggs to eat. I loved this gift. I went around telling everyone that my supervisor gave me chickens for Christmas. It sparked a lot of discussion and awareness of Samaritan's Purse
  • As an early Christmas gift this year, a friend of mine gave money in my name to the Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy. I am honored.

These are just some thoughts and suggestions. I'm sure you have more.

Quote from the 1966 movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
"He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more!"
What's say we consider a different Christmas mentality this year? 

Celebrating Christmas 
with a mindful spirit instead of mindless spending.

I confess to one concern....I think Sequoia will be fully supportive of this Thinking Outside the Shiny, Superficial Christmas Box. But the grand boys? They may not completely understand what BB's thinking when they open their gift to find a donation in their name. We'll see how this goes.


  1. Great ideas Barbie! But Sequioa may surprise you. My daughters birthday is Dec 28 and she has 4 other BFF's at school whose birthdays are within 4 weeks. In the past we had one big birthday party for all 5 kids, great timesaver during the holidays, but WAY too many gifts. Then for their 5th birthday we asked that guest bring 1 unwrapped gift for Toys for Tots instead of our kiddos. We had a lot of expaining to do but the kids were so excited expecially when two Marines in dress blues came to collect the gifts during the party. This year they picked the Humane Society and all the guests are asked to bring pet food or toys. If they can 'get it' at six, I think we all can.

    1. I love the idea of sharing the birthday party with other birthday friends. Plus any event that includes Marines in their dress blues is a WIN! And I want to be on that guest list. ~ B

  2. I agree as well, great ideas! The Holidays, to me, have become too commerial. We have lost the true meaning of what Holidays mean, not just this time of the year, but what most of those days mean, other than a long weekend or a weekend filled with sales.

    1. Yes. It's so discouraging, the heavy consumerism mentality of our culture. The holidays being the most glaring example. But you're right, it's all year. And I confess, I have so little hope of it changing. Individually, we can make different choices but one decision feels so small against the overwhelming mainstream. Makes me weary thinking about it.

  3. This is a nice post.

    I love the idea of giving a sustainable gift like the Samaritan's Purse. Good suggestions and these are good for year round giving too.

  4. WAIT - WHAT? You are going to organize my closet? WOW, man I love you