Do you remember when we would fill a shoebox full of junk and then mail it around the world to “help a less fortunate child have a good christmas”? Do we really think we’re helping? Where are they even being shipped? It was very hard to find out but one place they have gone is Liberia. If you are a Liberian child, you are very likely to be malnourished or “food poor”, your country is reeling from decades of civil war and you are unlikely to receive the medical care you need. Cue the white Evangelist teenager from Nebraska who is handing you a box wrapped in colourful paper. A generous gift from the west. Pencils, a colouring book, some crappy toys.
Are you grateful for this box if you are that Liberian child? Probably, but only because you are unlikely to know how easy it would have been for that same faceless westerner to have paid for you to get a malaria vaccination instead. You don’t know that the warlord who tore your country apart was a C.I.A. informant. You don’t know that the country sending these gift boxes also sent weapons.
Do we really care if our charity is effective or are we just trying to make ourselves feel better about all of the sweatshop toys we’ve been buying for our kids and the conflict diamonds we bought for our spouses and the insane amount of fossil fuels we burned shipping it all across the planet? Trying to block out the images you’ve seen of the factory where that ipad was made? Those nets outside the windows are haunting as they should be and, no bogus secular “philanthropy” should be able to chase away those ghosts from your mind.
We deserve to feel bad for the way we treat the world and there’s no better time to wake up to that than right now during this hypocritical holiday.
Even if it doesn’t take 200,000 pounds of jet fuel to fly your guilt across the world, there’s still a chance that your christmas charity is doing more for you than it is for those receiving it.
I remember one Christmas a big cardboard box of stuff arrived on our doorstep. My mom was single and we were pretty poor.
Where did this come from? My brother and I asked. Who sent it and why?
Inside were toys, clothes, hair brushes, a variety of things, none of which my brother or I were particularity excited about. The only person who was excited about it was my mom. She was grinning like a cheshire cat when the box arrived. Christmas was saved as far as she was concerned. We would get gifts and she could relax a little.
My point is that we didn’t care about the stuff at all, we just cared that our mom looked happy instead of stressed.
If the big C of Christmas were Caring and not Consumerism, that delivery wouldn’t have been necessary at all. We all care about each other and that’s all that ever mattered.
My problem with Christmas is the extravagance, the gifts and the pressure to give them.
There’s always the “it” toy and if your kid doesn’t get the it toy then they will feel like the pariah among their peers and, you may even feel like a failure among the other parents.
People are so desperate to live up to the “norm” shown in advertising that they are literally willing to kill each other to get what they have been told they need. Whether that death occurs accidentally by trampling or intentionally through gun violence, it hasn’t yet been enough to snap us out of this insane illusion.
If showing that you are a good parent rests on whether or not you managed to get the unicorn fingerling or the hatchimals or whatever the hell the kids are being indoctrinated to want these days, then something needs to change.
Any kid who opens their presents on Christmas and says “Is that all?” is a kid whose mind has been colonized by the culture of hyper consumerism. That’s a recipe for suffering both for that individual and the planet at large.
Bottom line: we don’t need this stuff.
Advertising is taking over our world and it’s always preaching the same scripture “Buy buy buy. Buy and you shall be saved, saved from your misery” Too many of us have been indoctrinated into the church of the consumerist. The suffering it promises to allay caused by the very system it has created.
Every year someone gets on facebook and starts yelling about putting the Christ back in Christmas and how being in earshot of a “Happy Holidays” is an affront to their religion and their very existence. But where is Christ in Christmas these days?
First of all this wasn’t his holiday to begin with, it belonged to a couple of warring brothers, the sun and some other mostly forgotten pre-christ deities.
Second of all, there’s no damn room for religion or spirituality around December 25th anymore. It’s all obligations, everything starts demanding more from you around this time.
If you work retail I’m sorry and I’ll see you in Valhalla because I know you’re working grueling overtime, listening to the same christmas playlist on repeat and dealing directly with the harried parents I was just describing.
Even if you have a cushy job with holidays, you’re still being pulled in every which direction. Your parents place, your spouse’s parents place, your friends Christmas parties and the office Christmas party oh, and the neighbors and we have to get a gift for little jimmy’s teacher, and on and on, until you don’t have one fricking second to think about some poor woman going through labor in a barn in the middle east.
Speaking of women going through labor in the middle east. Have you ever wondered what the manger scene would look like today? Well last Christmas a woman in the U.A.E. gave birth to an illegitimate child and was immediately arrested. Do you think if she claimed it was immaculate conception they’d let her off the hook?
If you really care about the nativity scene as more than just a decoration perhaps you should make a contribution to an organization that will support impoverished women with maternity care, or lobby against violations of their human rights.
A very smart friend of mine named John Fowler, a student of history and politics, likened Christmas to a totalitarian empire. It is spreading out and taking over time that doesn’t belong to it, time that is slated for other holidays like Remembrance Day (if you’re Canadian) or Thanksgiving (if you’re American) or even Halloween. It seems like those string lights and shiny balls hit the department store shelves earlier every year. And why not? If they can sell if they will stock it and if they advertise it hard enough they can sell it.
Before consumerism consumed the west winter was a time of quiet contemplation and reflection. It was a time to be conservative with your resources and close with your loved ones.
So what is Christmas really? Or better yet, what do we want it to be? What should we turn it into?
Now I’m not a complete Grinch and I’m not all out skipping Christmas. I will be making gifts for people I love or buying them things I know they can use or failing all of that I will buy a useful gift for someone who really does need it and forward my family member the email stating that a donation has been made in their name. I love my family and my friends and seeing all of them will be by far the best part of this crazy holiday.
Let’s turn this ship around, let’s care this Christmas more than we consume.
We have been fucking up for long enough and it’s about time we starting fixing our mess. Go against the grain, reject christmas as a consumerist nightmare and embrace the time of quiet, hygga and caring.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Blessed Yuletide and yada yada yada, whatever it’s winter just chill.