Saturday 29th November is Buy Nothing Day, a day or rather movement that started in the United States in protest of the over-commercialisation of our holidays and life in general.
One of my earliest blog posts was on the reversing the commercialisation of holidays, Sundays and Christmas. It is hard to avoid spending money and yet it is so easy at the same time. In North America, Thanksgiving should be a time to spend with family and friends, escaping the pressures of work, school and life in general for a few days and yet more and more it is being overshadowed by Black Friday, a day when major discounts are offered to entice people to buy stuff they don’t need or really want for Christmas.
This year we even have Black Friday in the U.K. which is doubly stupid as we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here and because of that, the focus on buying Christmas gifts actually gets under way from the very end of August and we need no more encouragement to spend money.
Just why can’t we be content with what we have? More of us probably could be if it weren’t for the overbearing commercialisation of all our holidays and Holy Days. I can actually list all the things which I have bought in 2014 aside from food (all of which is eaten and preserved and not thrown out). Four books, 2 Blu Ray movies, a pair of trainers which replaced items 2 or 3 years old if not older and which were full of holes, a wooly jumper and also a polo shirt for work. I also treated myself to a gift whilst on holiday in September and a computer to replace my turn of the millennia PC and that is my entire expenditure. Of those I’d say only the movies and my holiday treat were unnecessary purchases seeing as I do need something to wear when I am out walking, a top to wear when touring and a computer to write on. Yet I am happier today than most of the people I see struggling around the shops heavily laden with cheap clothes and plastic tat.
I’d like to think that rather than just follow a Buy Nothing Day, I follow a Buy Hardly Anything Year. I can and do buy things but not just because everyone else is doing so or because it is the specified day or month to go wild in the shops. Nothing in the shops can equal what I have and they want, my money. Money is the most valuable commodity in the whole shopping experience. Why ‘Buy One Get One Free’ or ‘Get 2 For the Price of 3’ when really I only want one and if I think about it, don’t need any. Whatever I buy in the stores will likely degrade and be either old or not used by next year, your hard earned cash though keeps it value and you shouldn’t waste it on junk you don’t need when the real meanings of Thanksgiving and Christmas are so far away from rancid commercialism and over consumption.
It is often said that Christmas is one of the hardest parts of the year. Every year society is pressured to celebrate Christmas and that we must be happy and joyful . Yet undeniably for many Christmas can be stressful and at worst outright difficult and even tinged with despair.
I’ve found in fact that the Christmas that most other people enjoy couldn’t really be any further from the true meaning of Christmas or indeed the type of Christmas which we grew up with just 20 or 30 years ago and I am sure things are similar for Americans in Thanksgiving. The first Christmas adverts start appearing straight after the August Bank Holiday and become ever more aggressive as the weeks roll by. The first Christmas songs started appearing on the radio around Remembrance Sunday. Of course by Christmas they mean spending money and having fun with overconsumption of pretty much everything; two things which should not or need not have much to do with Christmas
The true message of Christmas seems to be entirely lost, there is little if any mention of Jesus Christ or God in the mainstream media except for the few dedicated services televised from Kings College or Midnight Mass. Even traditional themes such as spending time with family is made out to be all old-hat. If we are not eating and drinking too much and spending money then we aren’t in the Christmas Spirit. And yet what is the Christmas Spirit?
Increasingly people complain that they are too busy and too stressed and that Christmas isn’t the same as when they were growing up and yet they literally BUY into the overly commercialised nature of the season. Increasingly people use terms like Season or Holidays because they don’t want to be marginalised into being seeing as old fashioned and Christian and actually wanting to celebrate Christmas for the right reasons. In a recent search through my home town I found two dozen different boxes of assorted Christmas cards and only one had the overtly religious cards that were commonplace until just 10-20 years ago now largely replaced by cute animals, Father Christmas or the even more commercialised Santa. Also I couldn’t believe just how much junk was for sale. Stuff we all have all ready but we HAVE to buy because it is a few years old, not cool or made so cheaply it breaks almost immediately. I just saw store after store selling total <insert swear word here>.
I don’t want to make this a Christmas/Christian only issue either. I’m very happy to celebrate Eid, Hannukkah, Diwali and any other faiths that my friends and colleagues have but lets call them by their names and lets take away the commercialism. We can all celebrate each of these festivals but at heart they are religious in nature and have a special place for those who practice them. Christmas is the same to me.
I always disliked how Christmas was becoming more of a marketing ploy and holiday rather than a religious Holy Day. Even now in late November, Christmas lights and decorations are going up on houses if indeed they are ever taken down. It’s a pretty safe bet too that they will be the ones that take their lights down on the 27th December seemingly unaware that Christmas lasts 12 days starting on Christmas Day and finishing in January. Of course they probably do this because for them Christmas is over. They ate and drank too much, spent too much money on presents they didn’t need or want in the first place and then as they were so determined to have a good time and regardless that they shopped right up until Christmas Eve with enough food and chocolates to last most of us a week or two, they head out to the New Year Sales on Boxing Day. They have nothing really exciting to celebrate and enthral them as the wonder of the Christmas Story, the actual event that sparked the whole thing off is totally forgotten about or even discarded.
This isn’t the sort of Christmas I ever believed in, nor one that I ever intended to follow once I reached reached adulthood. I wanted to opt out of mainstream Christmas and enjoy Christmas my own way and in a style that better fits with a traditional Christmas albeit it with a few hints of modernity. Like many other things, Christmas is very much what you make of it and the idea of spending and indulging so much for one day only to spend the next 3 months not having any money or being able to squeeze into the new clothes that I’d bought but didn’t need seemed entirely stupid.
When I was lucky enough to marry my lovely wife we both shared the same philosophy that we should enjoy a Christian Christmas. After spending all year working manically on jobs based far away from home we were glad not to do a great deal. We would attend the odd Church service and enjoy our few days in peace. Not for us the chaos of Tescos or the vast retail parks but instead some peaceful if rather bracing walks. We’d take the opportunity to check up on old friends or neighbours and also get to know each other again. Maybe watch some television or catch up on the backlog of books or movies.
It can be a challenge as a moderately young couple to celebrate Christmas in the old-fashioned way. Apart from what seems to be much of society destined to spend their way to happiness, there are friends and even family members who insist on doing things certain ways. We aren’t scrooges, Christmas is probably our favourite time of the year and definitely our happiest. It just happens that what makes us happy makes us more in common with our Grandparents or even those further back than the majority who we live our lives with today. We like traditional Christmases.
It’s one where more than any other time, people do help each other and maybe if we all spent less time trying to be happy and just were happy. Traditional Christmas roasts might be big but they are also relatively healthy and left-overs can be used for much of the week or if like us and you’re time-scare for much of the year we actually go out and do the same again when we run out before New Year. Christmas Dinners are also cheap, it is the treats, drinks and fast-food outings that cost a lot of money. The last 2 years my wife and I both lost weight over the Christmas period, that despite it being my birthday in that week.
By all means we buy a few things for ourselves and a few others at Thanksgiving and Christmas but these important days should be more than presents and seeing as we already have the time off and all the other things going on why not forgo spending money this time. It is nice to buy presents for people throughout the year not because we are told we must do so now. Nor will we buckle under the pressure of going to parties just to get drunk or spending time with people we don’t want to, just because it is Christmas. We’d rather go and check on neighbours or do a few chores for people than be forced to be happy with people who are determined not to be.
There is no reason to feel stressed at Christmas, sad perhaps if you have memories of happier times with loved ones that are no longer here, but not stressed. Like the last few years we are going to use Christmas to reconnect with our faith and with ourselves. Our Christmas shopping was already done in one morning and our budget is barely any more stretched than at any other time of the year. What Christmas will give to us are the priceless gifts of free-time to spend on ourselves and others that we care about.
When did our lives become so empty and our minds so over-stimulated that we can’t stand just a few days without spending money or going shopping? Even if you don’t believe in Christmas, is being away from work for a few days so boring that you have to go out and shop or eat? I’m not American and if I were in America on Thanksgiving I’d love to be invited to eat a Thanksgiving dinner with strangers or friends, I’d be more than happy wondering the empty streets of the city or spending some quite contemplation with nature. Going shopping would rank several hundred places down my rankings of what to do on Thanksgiving!
You can keep all your discount signs, drunken parties, indebtedness, forced cheeriness and then New Year resolutions. Thanksgiving was not created to force overworked families to work in Walmart and Christmas or indeed any other religious festival is not about buying junk, over-indulging and standing in line at 2am to purchase a coat or phone for a few pounds less than usual. Christmas was and is a religious holiday, we don’t have many. If you don’t believe in the real meaning of Christmas then that is just fine but there are no negative sides of a traditional Christmas and all those who complain are likely over-indulging in the commercial aspects of it all.
The only sad thing about Christmas is that a time of peace and kindness which can be enjoyed wherever people may be has been entirely overshadowed by selfish me me me spending which even overshadow the secular but entirely wonderful idea of spending Christmas quietly at home or the magical tale of Father Christmas or Santa.
Let us have our Thanksgiving and Christmas in peace and take your tacky commercialism to the other 360 odd days where it is more than welcome. There has to be more to life than just buying things. Join with myself and many others and do anything else this weekend and indeed this Christmas but buying stuff!