There’s something in the air this season — and I’m not talking about the smell of hot credit cards. People are pushing for simpler holiday celebrations — and some of them are pushing pretty hard.
The New York Times ran a profile Saturday of Kalle Lasn, the 70-year-old mastermind behind Adbusters. The magazine surprised many of us a year ago by sparking the Occupy Wall Street protests. Now, Lasn is on a quest to convince the developed world to stop with the shopping, already.
Lasn is one of the forces behind turning Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving, a major shopping frenzy — into “Buy Nothing Day,” and he’s now pushing “Buy Nothing Christmas,” asking people to march on Times Square from tomorrow through New Years Day brandishing signs that read “#BuyNothingXmas.” From the Times:
“As our planet gets warmer, as animals go extinct, as the humans get sicker, as our economies bail and our politicians grow ever more twisted,” Americans just go shopping, Adbusters says on its Web site. Overconsumption is destroying us, yet shopping is “our solace, our sedative: consumerism is the opiate of the masses.”
“We’ve got to break the habit,” Mr. Lasn said in a telephone interview. “It will be a shock, but we’ve got to shift to a new paradigm. Otherwise, I’m afraid will be facing a new Dark Age.”
Well if that doesn’t get you into a festive mood, maybe this will: Dante Chinni, writing in the Washington Post opinion section, suggests that we stop telling our kids there’s a Santa Claus. His 9- and 7-year-old kids have figured out that the notion of a fat dude flying around behind a bunch of airborne reindeer is pretty unlikely. Looking back, he writes, “if I had it to do over again, I would leave Kris Kringle out of our holidays altogether — at least when it comes to depicting him to our kids as a real person.”
Think for a moment about other lessons you teach your children. Planes fly because of aerodynamics and thrust. Kids shouldn’t put their heads in the railing because they could get stuck. And yet, here we are talking about a guy who pilots a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer around the world in one night, going up and down people’s chimneys. How? Well, he’s magic. He’s reality’s exception. America doesn’t need any more people who deny reality — at any age.
This may surprise you, but I take issue with both Lasn and Chinni. (For those of you just joining us, I’ve asked friends and family to get my kids nothing for Christmas this year.)
I’m guilty of getting a little doomy and gloomy about Americans’ consumption habits. But unlike Lasn, my main motivation is not to save the planet — although, yes, that too. My missions are to clear my home of a lot of unwanted clutter and to breathe some meaning back into a holiday that’s been turned into a nasty stress-fest.
If I had my way, Christmas would look more like it did in 17th century England, before the Puritans got a hold of it. Here’s a description from a Times op-ed by Rachel Schnepper, a history fellow at Washington and Lee:
It was a period of carousing and merriment. The weeks around Christmas were celebrated with feasting, drinking, singing and games. Mummers would … dress up in costumes, often in the clothes of the opposite sex, to perform plays in the streets or in homes. Carolers, too, would sing door to door as well as in the home. Wealthy lords threw open their manors, inviting local peasants and villagers inside to gorge on food and drink. Groups of young men called wassailers would march in and demand to be feasted or given gifts of money in exchange for their good wishes and songs.
And unlike Chinni, I think there is some magic to childhood that’s worth nurturing. I’m personally not a huge fan of the dude in the red suit, but my girls and I have a great time poking around the woods for fairies and the characters in the A.A. Milne books. I think they know full well that we’re playing imaginary games, but they can get lost in them. And they should — that’s what kids do.
So on Christmas Eve, I say this: If your kids want to believe in Santa, don’t spoil it for them. But this year, maybe Santa can bring something more meaningful than the usual pile of store-bought junk. Your home — and yes, the planet — will be better for it.
Need a few last-minute ideas for holiday fun that’s easy on the wallet and the planet both? We’ve got a million and one of them (at least!) right here.