Merry Christmas, now show me the cash. I am accused of being "the grinch" every Christmas season, but for good reason. I can't speak for all the other Jews out there in the world, but I know that because I'm technically not allowed to celebrate that I have a certain passing fancy for this holiday explosion between Thanksgiving and New Years. What is all the fuss about? I even went so far as to see the mighty tree in NY, which is quite large and light encrusted. Good work citizens of NY. Navigating through the haze of shopping bags made me wonder, like I do every year, about the why of Christmas.
As a young nerd in high school, I was coerced into celebrating the ancestor of Christmas, called Saturnalia, which is the harvest holiday used to bring the pagans towards Christianity. In other words, if you call it Christmas but keep similarities like parties and such, people will transition to the new religion. It worked. Contributions to Christmas also came from the Scandinavian holiday of Yule, which also involved lots of drinking, carousing, and merry-making. Sounds like fun, I'll admit. But wait, I thought Christmas was about the gifts? Ok, so there was this fellow named Jesus and he was supposedly born around this time, but that is just a continuation of the myth surrounding this holiday and has little to do with gift giving other than the wise men. In no way am I questioning the validity of Christianity or the belief in the Jesus as messiah, but I am very positive that the birthdate of Jesus is not Christmas. Apparently no one knows the actual birthdate.
Anyway, my beef with Christmas is the economics of the season. Check this out: "On December 6, 1999, the verdict for Ganulin v. United States (1999) declared that "the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal public holiday does not violate the Establishment Clause because it has a valid secular purpose." This "valid secular purpose" is part of the economic boom created during the period between the end of November and the end of December. Maybe you are familiar with the "Black Friday" or "Cyber Monday" or whatever else is popularized by the media as part of the boom. A large chunk of the economic output of our nation is packed into roughly one month of the year, and the pressure to provide is outpacing itself annually, much to my chagrin and disgust.
I speak not as someone arguing for a return to the meaning of the season (although that argument is entirely justified for Christians in an effort to reclaim this holiday as something meaningful to their religious experience), but as someone who hates junk.
The effect of the acclimation of all this junk is catastrophic. In a country already over-invested in the credit system, I watch as the public puts even more harsh strain on their credit. Even worse, the environmental impact is significant. Americans demand goods, and demand those goods at the lowest possible price, which means importing goods from countries that will do anything to keep prices low. Want a really excellent example of this in action? Look at China. Their environmental issues make Al Gore look like an ant waving in a football field. People are protesting over issues like hazardous chemical dumps in their backyard, but business is protected in a large part through the government (similar to America, but the leeway is much greater). Workers are pushed to the breaking point for inconceivably low wages. I have also heard the argument that these wages are the best in the region, but the human rights issue goes far beyond the difference in wages between these workers and everyone else. I know that everyone has heard about this kind of behavior and it almost appears maudlin, but the problem is that still no one seems to care until their children are poisoned with lead paint. Even then, the influx of goods is hardly lessened.
One perfect example is the sock trade in North Carolina...ok, its a strange example, but pertinent. The socks made in NC are now too expensive to make because of the stitching in the toe, so most socks are imported from China at the expensive of fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and the previously mentioned abuse of the workers involved. The difference in cost between American made sock stitching and Chinese stitching is barely a penny, but that one difference has placed many many many American sock factories into ruin.
Bottom line: pricing has destroyed our world and subjugated thousands into slave-like working conditions. Christmas is the worst example of consumerism I can think of, and therefore needs discussion. How important is all that stuff really?? Does the things make us happy? Where do the things go when we become tired of them? There is a ridiculous amount of debt created every year because of this one holiday, and it has to stop. The baseline want will always exist despite one's income. No one is decreasing their "wants", only working like mad to put out the small fires of desire for the next best thing to come along this week.
When did it happen that so much clutter was required to make someone feel successful, popular, or loved? I worked in a school where kids used their DCF money to buy over-priced shoes because they needed a way to push status on others. Forget necessities, a new pair of Jordan's will make anyone feel great...right? Isn't that the message? Buy stuff and have an identity? Who are we without all the stuff? Putting the mental energy into this kind of work is easily shoved aside because the answer is so simple: buy things and get an identity. Bottom-line pricing doesn't help, because now we have really cheap ways of creating identity, at the expense of others and our world.
Here is my holiday suggestion: get to know people around you and stop buying them things. Furthermore, stop buying things for yourself. Find out who you are without the obscuring clutter. Remove the want and regain your sanity. It sounds easy, but it is hard in practice because the advertising is everywhere. Drink Pepsi and you are this person. Watch Nip/Tuck and you are this person. Drive a Volkswagen and you are this person. The advertising isn't always literal, but the combination of all these messages is a shiny, and ultimately empty, version of humanity.
My plea again: put down the credit card and pick your brain for a while. I have heard so many people claim they are looking for themselves, but if you are looking for yourself, who is the you?
Oh yea, and, Merry Christmas.