It doesn’t take long to realize that any notion of giving is missing from the holiday season. From the stores that open on Thanksgiving in order to drain every last drop of possible profits, to the dread of spending the holidays with relatives you seldom see and like even less than that nosy neighbor across the street, the season of giving has become a full-fledged capitalist dream: the season of buying. Like everything else in the United States, the holiday season and its accompanying celebratory spirit can be bought.
Nothing is more upsetting to me than those who consider whether or not a holiday season is successful based upon how much money consumers spend. Since I do not work on Wall Street and have so little invested in its nefarious web, I don’t really care how much we spend during the holidays or how “successful” they may be. The yardstick by which we measure caring and compassion for one another during the holidays has somehow changed to a consumer-driven outlook that only ends up driving us out of our homes in order to purchase that much sought after gift. Since my children are healthy Americans, they too want presents, and I indulge them. My wife and I often spend far too much and spoil our children during the holidays. I recall a few seasons back when we attempted to be better, smarter consumers by searching for only products made in the United States. This endeavor proved to be an almost impossible task. Most of the items (toys, clothes, etc.) are made in China, and those items we did find that were made in the United States turned out to be incredibly expensive. What this experience taught me was just how much we really do depend upon China for our goods; and this is the mark of a true super power.
During a recent shopping trip I noticed, despite the holiday music being piped in over the loudspeakers, how depressed and angry most shoppers seemed to be. I hardly noticed a smile or a laugh among the thousands rushing in and out of various stores, their shopping bags hanging like multi-colored tumors from their bodies. This, I hasten to add, was not on that most holy of days, “Black Friday,” but on a weekday. People pushed and nudged their way among the racks, as if we were engaged in something from the Hunger Games. In fact, that is what the holiday season has become: a twisted, perverted version of the Hunger Games. But unlike that book, this is real life, and the stakes are actually much higher than anything depicted in fiction: what is at stake is a happy household, at least for a day or two.
The spirit of giving has also become corrupted by the false notion of what it means to give. That is to say, we now give up our time because it looks good on a resume or in the community (indulging our egotistical attempts to one-up our friends and neighbors), and we give money knowing we can write it off. The sense of community has been assassinated by capitalism and the holiday season is its black mass. At what point were the holidays become taken over by corporate greed? Moreover, at what point did we start believing that we had to spend more and more in order to make the season bright? If I didn’t have children I would boycott the holidays by shutting myself up and off from the obligations of the global economy. And for those who give money to their church, remember what Jesus did when he found the money-lenders in the temple. Well, the money-lenders are back, and with a vengeance.
Perhaps it’s the warm spring-like weather we are experiencing in the northeast. Perhaps this feeling is just a part of growing older and getting grumpier, but the holiday season seems less and less joyous every year. Even my children groan when they see Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween. It’s even impossible to get a cup of coffee without hearing someone complain that the cups are not “Christian” or “Christmassy” enough. So, while you sip your eggnog and wait for the next terrorist attack, or for the next black kid to be killed by a white police officer, perhaps we can all just admit that we’ve devolved into consumer machines with little or no regard for that which we cannot buy.