As we give thanks let us recognize that today is a rapaciously gluttonous day of celebrating the fact that we stole this land from Native Americans, raped it and wasted all its precious resources and ultimately created a society of countrymen whose existence is based mostly on consumption and excess. So, when you slather your bread with butter and dip it in turkey juice while simultaneously shoving corn and string bean casserole down your throat, be thankful that the best thing to come out of this culture is what’s left of a little Puritan guilt, and stretchy pants with elastic waistbands.
Did I get your attention?
OK, so I am not sure I think in such extremes. I am a grateful, happy girl. Able to be thankful on Thanksgiving and joyful of our bounty. And yet, I can’t help but wonder with obesity rates being so high in this country, mass consumption as our lifeblood, impending global warming and a population explosion that will double in twenty more year, that maybe, we might want to rethink the concept of Thanksgiving and Christmas and how we celebrate. Do we really need all this STUFF to say that we appreciate our country, that we’re thankful for our friends and family, and that we honor our faith? Is minimalism such a bad thing?
For Christmas this year, my family has cut huge corners. The excessive gift giving over the past decade has been a mark of our good fortune, but at the same time, it has made many of us feel , well, slightly excessive and wasteful. We sat around the dinner table one Sunday and passed around ideas: we were buying gifts for others just for the sake a purchasing something. Did anyone really needed a Fry Daddy, or a lava lamp or a battery-operated neck pillow heater thingy that you could use on a plane? Most gifts ended up in a garage sale anyway, sold for fifty cents. So, we decided to just buy toys for the kids and that the adults would do a book exchange. For a couple years everyone bought and wrapped up a book that either got read or didn’t. But even then, we still felt as though we were wasting. (Ok, so maybe my family has a little more of that Puritan guilt than others!)
This year, however, we decided we are only spending $20 on each kids and instead of buying a book for the book exchange, we will simply dig into our libraries (we’re all readers) and wrap up a book we already own. Despite the fact that others may accuse us of being cheap, I love this idea. It feels good. And our holiday becomes more about what is essential rather than what can be bought.
Last year on FB one of my friends posted a picture of their Christmas tree. It had what looked like THOUSANDS of presents under it. It was a pretty picture indeed and looked like most of my trees from Christmas past, and yet, the more I thought about it, the more the idea kinda grossed me out. Sure, all those gifts under a sparkly tree look Hollywood and Disneyesque. But are they necessary? Are they real? What are we teaching our children about Christmas? About tradition? About celebration? That these ideas revolve around our purchasing power? That STUFF is the meaning of life? I may be wrong but I haven’t met a kid yet who didn’t feel entitled to a gift bag or a present of his own at someone else’s birthday party.
Thing is, we are living in a changing world where we need to begin to recognize that all this stuff is simply too much. It’s cluttering up the planet, ending up in a landfill or being shot out into space with more space junk, causing trouble. What’s so wrong in cutting back? What’s so wrong in validating your children and your family members in other ways? Is our worth, value and identity so wrapped up in gift giving and product consumption that we no longer see the benefit in modesty, moderation and self-restraint? Heck, the reality is that a day or two after Christmas, my kids are back outside playing with sticks — the cheapest, most versatile universal toy known to man, chimp and higher brain functioning animal.
Look, I can’t lie. Every Thanksgiving it’s hard for me to resist pigging out. And every Christmas I want my kids to have that fantasy, that perfect Christmas morning where they come running down the stairs into the living room to see a tree lit up in the darkness, abundant with pretty packages and wrapped gifts. When I was a kid we had both– there were years when we had plenty and years when we had few. Of course, I preferred the years of plenty. They were a mark of validation– they meant that my mother and father loved me more those years and that Santa thought I was “good.” Those years also marked the fact that mother and father were happy (unlike the leaner years when my mother would cry), and that everything was going to be alright. But the truth is, whether I had lots or little the one constant was the love of my family. And whether or not I had a deeper understanding back then of the fact that we can all be so easily manipulated by STUFF, I certainly recognize it now. I am no better or worse with or without stuff and I can only hope to pass that concept on to my kids. We are not the sum of what we pick up during our shopping sprees. Our worth is based on something deeper. Mine is and yours is. There are new babies in our family; we are healthy; we all get along; no one is hungry. And this year, I am thankful that I am a few steps closer to recognizing that those are the true gifts of life.
Now, pass the sweet potatoes…