What would I like for Christmas? The spirit of Thanksgiving

Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, November 28, 2007, p. A10

Christmas is coming and so are the queries from friends and family. What do you and the kids need? The short answer is: nothing. We already have too much stuff.

I was looking at a toy from my childhood last week: a Fisher-Price school bus. The bulk of it was made with wood. Made in East Aurora, N.Y., in 1965, it most probably cost more to make than the new plastic ones, and a higher cost was passed on to the consumer – fine by me.

As a consequence, my parents bought us less stuff, and the stuff we had we appreciated more. We obviously appreciated it enough that my mom saved it for us for decades, so that our kids could play with it (and they do).

Fast forward to our overfed, over-consuming, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, fast-food, dollar-store, imported-from-somewhere-with-child-labour and/or human-rights-violations, landfills-are-full-of-plastic-junk, disposable society. It is too easy to constantly acquire new things. That cycle needs to stop, or slow down dramatically.

In many families, both parents are working to afford everything they think their children need, in addition to the possessions that they have been told by the media that they need. Daycares are full of children with too many toys at home and potentially not enough time at home to play with them (did I mention my kids are in daycare?)

I’ve battled with my family to do a gift exchange where everyone in the family draws a name and buys for only that person. One side of the family embraced it (but cheated a bit), the other side rejected it. One argument against the gift exchange was that Christmas is about giving. Fine, give my stuff to someone who needs it (Christmas Cheer, Salvation Army, Pauline’s Place, Women in Crisis).

I’m not alone. The Sault Star recently ran a story about an Ipsos Reid survey “suggesting that 77 per cent of Canadians polled said they didn’t need anything this holiday season.” The recent emergence of varied gift card walls at grocery stores, drug stores, and gas stations reinforces that we truly don’t know what to get for each other anymore. If someone can’t come up with a list for Santa, stop buying for them; they probably don’t need more stuff.

Personally, I think that all holidays have gotten too commercial. For me, Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday, focused on food, family, and giving thanks. I want to morph all of our holidays into Thanksgiving.

So, regarding gift giving for the kids this Christmas, consider something produced locally (even by yourself), something that is worth keeping for years (or at least won’t break before New Year’s Day), or a “coupon” for a fun play date.

Same goes for me. I’m all for local or homemade jam or salsa, or even better, promise me a “play date.” Make me a coupon or promise me a drink at Lop Lops or a shared plate of calamari at Gran Festa, or offer to help me with a chore around the house.

This year; you can’t just buy and wrap something. Give me your time, visit me, raise a glass with me, or go for a walk with me. If you absolutely must flex your credit card, check out shopsickkids.com or www.wwf.ca, or habitat.ca/homesweethome.

That said, please don’t get me or my kids gifts, because I’m not buying you and yours anything.

Similarly, for my daughter’s birthday this month, I’m stopping the over-stuffed, dollar-toy-filled loot bags. I’m going with a gift certificate for an ice cream cone and all the candy they can grab from a pinata.

Funnily enough, my daughter had it right all along: when asked about her favourite part of her birthday party, she named everything except presents, so we’re taking our lead from her. Our guests are being asked to be more conscious in their gift giving and also have the kids make cards. We will focus on the celebration, not the possessions.

Having recently heard of more and more “toonie” parties in the Sault, I have hope that the trend will continue. If you want to know what text we sent in our invitation, or know what a toonie party is, e-mail me at the address below (I’m also interested in your present-lite party ideas).

I know I’m not alone out there, so if you would rather see less under the tree and receive the gift of time and friendship at Christmas, pass this on to your friends and family. See what they think. Let me know their reactions and tell me your ideas for minimizing consumption around holidays while maximizing time spent with loved ones. I’ll compile the best ideas, and maybe we can see if the Joneses can keep up with my “de-sumerizing.”

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