Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

Ahh, it's that time again--break out the wallets and go shopping because it's officially "Christmastime!"

What a load of hooey.

Forgive me my Ebenezer ways, but to me, the mindless idiot mentality of "Ready, Set, Shop!" is frightening. The weirdly symbiotic relationship of stores and consumers sets my head reeling. Take this for example: how many stores do you know that will open hours earlier than usual for masochistic "early bird" bargains today only? I can think of several. Kohls and Fred Meyer opened at four-freaking-a.m. for their heavily advertised sales. And yes, they have a right to do that. Question I'm thinking of is this--if no one showed up, wouldn't they stop doing it? We'd have to spank'em for a couple years before they got the idea that the additional overhead in staffing wasn't worth it.

I'm of the contingent that likes to sleep in on my day off. Not to mention I find the idea of making workers wake up at 3 or earlier to go to work for no personal gain patenetly inhumane. At least pay the poor sucker double overtime if you are going to take them away from their families and force single parents into acrobatic contortions to arrange childcare. Not eveyone's grandma live in the neighborhood, you know.

Ooo, I know...High Scrooze factor here. I'm not anti-Christmas, however, I am all for conscientious consumerism. There's going to be a lot of cheap, plastic crap purchased today. And they are bargains, to be sure, but on whose backs does the low cost fall? Underpaid workers in "democratized" countries? Underpaid workers here? It might make you think twice before purchasing those things that not only aren't necessary, but aren't built to last.

And we are told to continually up the ante. On Christmas morning, when I was a kid, my stocking would usually hold a couple outfits for Barbie, a set of pencils with my name on them in gold print, a pencil sharpener, a little notepad with a cute cover, and a couple tangerines and peanuts. Maybe some chocolate. Not bad. I never expected Santa to be a source of endless wealth and resource. After all, there were millions of other kids in the world and hopefully, the elves weren't working in sweatshop conditions. Nowadays, turn on the television and you'll find cell phones, ipods and digital cameras touted as stocking stuffers. Yes, they are all small enough in size to fit into a stocking, that's true. But as a kid (and even now), I always considered the traditional stocking to be somewhat of an "appetizer" if you will to the "main entree" of gifts under the tree. If you get some expensive, digital high-tech toy in your stocking as a kid, what's left under the tree is probably a disappointment.

Or much more expensive. Every year a number of families go into debt to produce a "perfect Christmas"...perhaps some hope giving will cover the multitude of parenting sins that have taken place throughout the year (those times that Ma yelled at the kids because she was just exhausted, or the soccer games missed because Dad had to work). Or because we feel that we have the means, be them cash or credit, to get our kids and spouse what they really want and we know what it was like to be disappointed when we opened a gift. Yeah, that sounds a little touchy-feely, but guilt is a great motivator; unfortunately, it usually motivates us to find a quick-fix gift instead of changing our parenting or getting some counselling around those feelings of being deprived we suffered from earlier in life. So into debt we go, we spoil our kids by trying to give them everything they want and at the same time set a poor example of fiscal responsibility. And when the credit card statement arrives in January, these parents will be more likely to snip at child and spouse...thus the cycle continues.

Okay, a lot of complaining here, you might say, so what do I propose as a solution? How about giving our dear ones a loving dose of reality? Let's start with one idea: One cannot have everything one desires. Choosing one or two desired items is a start. How about a piggy-bank with $20 in it, so that they can start saving for that high-ticket item they are wanting, and a list of opportunities to earn money? If they want the latest video game system, here's a start...or if they choose to spend the money on something else, so be it. It's not a parents responsibility to make their every dream come true, but it's wonderfully wise to give them an opportunity and some support to make it happen themselves.

Or how about more experiential gifts? A certificate for a date at the zoo or go-cart track, just the two of you or you take your child and a friend. What about a "how-to" kit to get started in some form of art, craft or model-building, or a set of lessons in something your child's interested in, say beading or karate? Younger children can develop an interest in the world around them through beginning stamp collecting kits and a map of the world to stick pins in. Or give them your time by choosing a project to work on together and then making time to follow through with it. Building a model, sewing or knitting a blanket, or even building a playhouse in the backyard together will all provide far more meaningful memories than just being given any one of those items.

The same can be said for gifts one might give a spouse. How about arranging a camping trip, just the two of you, or a special night out at a hotel? An evening out with dinner and tickets to a play or to see a favorite band. The opportunities to build up your relationship are endless. Yes, all of these things involve a certain amount of money, but they don't have to be expensive. Try getting those tickets for a favorite local band; going out to that favorite restaraunt you loved whey you were dating and both a little broke. The romance will overshadow the price tag.

So there you have it, my solution for that nasty over-done consumerism problem. It isn't perfect, but I think it's a start. Until we all start whittling our children wood toys and raising sheep to make beautiful hand-knit sweaters... giving with a sense of purpose and thought is a big start in making the holidays a bit more meaningful to those that live with us. Being able to smile at those around us because we aren't harrassed by debt is a wonderful gift we can all enjoy well into the new year.

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