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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Changing course on consumerism

It came without ribbons!... it came
without tags!... it came without
packages, boxes, or bags!
This year, with concerns about the rampant consumerism of our culture, my wife and I have decided to begin changing our tradition regarding gift giving. In doing so, we've sent the following letter to our friends and family. If you would like to join us in the first steps of changing our nation's habits, please feel free to use whatever portions of this letter you find useful in letting your friends and family know...

Dear family and friends,

Starting this year, Julie and I would like to do something different for the holidays. We have been thinking about this for several years now, and we have come to think that the ‘buying frenzy’ that goes on around Christmas time is not a good thing for any of us.

To be sure, we have many fond memories of your wonderful gifts over the years, and appreciate them all. We don’t think that you have done anything wrong, and all of our hearts have always been in the right place as we have bought gifts for one another. To our parents especially, who sacrificed to give us nice things, we are especially grateful. We know it was never about the ‘things’ but about the intent for our happiness.

But this is also why we now wonder where our society has come to, that so many people are encouraged by the culture to go out and spend large sums of money on material goods. We think this might not be so much a real tradition, as it is encouraged by the companies that would like to sell these things. Regardless of whatever religious beliefs or values we each hold about this time of year, Christmas has become more like “Consumas” and we think that is contrary to all of those values, difficult for many in hard times and facing debt, part of a larger problem of waste that harms our planet and will eventually become a bigger problem for humanity, and unfair to those around the world where there is great need.

Therefore, we will not be asking for any CDs, DVDs, gift cards, electronics, clothes, jewelry, or any other store-bought items this year. We pretty much have what we need, and if we don’t we can buy things on our own. Likewise, we will not be buying such things for others, with perhaps a few minor and occasional exceptions for young children or if someone is in real need.

What we do believe, is that it is good to have a time of year where we celebrate the brotherhood of humanity, and our love for one another. The winter is a perfect time for this. People can often become depressed in the cold and dark of the year, so the warmth of friends and family are a blessing as we look to the New Year with the hope of renewal.

With this in mind, we ask that if you’d like to give us something, give us your time and your company – this is better than anything you can buy (something we ourselves have not been the best at, and will try to be better). And, despite our aversion to purchasing and exchanging manufactured goods, we do recognize that generosity and the giving of gifts can be a special thing. Although it isn’t necessary, if you prefer to give a gift you could consider a unique gift of your own making (art, letters, crafts, baked goods, etc) rather than a store-bought gift manufactured by someone else. Another really nice gift idea is to make a donation to a worthy charity for us – preferably for those most vulnerable and in need.

Whatever you choose, we hope to be able to see you for the holidays, and send our best. We hope you will respect our wishes regarding our gifts, and will understand our choice regarding yours.

With love,
Daniel & Julie

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  1. The Japanese have a popular custom of bringing back omiyage, or souvenir gifts, for co-workers and friends whenever they travel. While this would seem to promote waste and clutter, they work it out in an interesting way. Omiyage are almost always consumables of some kind, like food or soap. So you enjoy them for a time and then they're gone. They are around just long enough to be the bearer of that caring thought of the giver. They also give you a little taste of local flare, as omiyage are almost always local specialties of the place where you buy them.

    Does this promote consumerism? Well, yes, it certainly does. But it also undermines one of the worst aspects of consumerism: stupid waste and clutter. It satisfies people's urge to give something concrete, but without cluttering up the receiver's house. It also promotes local economies, especially unique local industries.

    Personally, I do think there is something worthwhile in tangible, material gift-giving, whether it means travel souvenirs, Christmas gifts, or offerings in a religious ritual. There's something about holding it in your hand, the physical act of handing it over (to the person or onto the altar or into the sacrificial fire), and then having it literally out of your hands, beyond your possession and control.

    Bonobo chimps redistribute bananas as a social act of bonding. Maybe I just like bananas. ;-)

  2. Nice post -- and would probably be received well by most rational adults. Try explaining this to a 7 year old. She understands that Christmas isn't supposed to be a gluttonous shovel-fest, but she is actively targeted by the retail machine who relentless attack what little pleistocene defenses she has. We even shamelessly use the Santa's listening thought-police threat at this time of year as another behaviour control - are we bad parents? What has happened to us?

  3. Great comments BT and Len! Thanks :)