In the end, Barbie got the best of us. Despite weeks of talking and thinking about how to simplify the holiday season and put emphasis on fun times with family rather than the stuff Santa left, my wife, Tara, just couldn’t resist, as she puts it, “making a couple of dreams come true.”
This photo of Chloe, 4, probably tells you all you need to know about her feelings on the matter, but when I asked her last night, she put the Princess Popstar Barbie at the top of the "favorite presents" list. Her 8-year-old sister, Lucia, rated her Surfer Girl Barbie toward the top as well. Sigh. I’ll take some assurance from my aunt Jane, who tells me it’s just a phase: “She [Chloe] has good role models.”
Barbie domination aside, I think we managed to transform this holiday for the better.
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.”
Grist Senior Editor Greg Hanscom, who is on a campaign to create the best Christmas ever for his wife and two young daughters -- without buying them any presents -- appeared with Velez-Mitchell yesterday on a spot called, “A happier, more memorable holiday?” Here it is:
Almost 12 months ago, my family resolved to quit buying new stuff for one year. The experiment itself was nothing new -- in fact, it’s been recycledmanytimesover. But we wanted to take a triple bottom line approach: In a year of widespread belt-tightening, focusing on people, the planet, and profits -- or in this case our pocketbooks -- made just as much sense for families as it does for businesses.
To clarify, it didn’t mean we wouldn’t buy anything at all, but when we did need something, we’d try to find it used. When we could, we’d borrow or rent. Of course we still buy our food new and we make exceptions for some essentials like toiletries and medicine -- and underwear. The idea is to be more conscious and thoughtful about the things we do buy. Progress, not necessarily perfection.
The experiment has not only altered my relationship with stuff, it’s opened my eyes to all kinds of people -- and whole movements -- dedicated to simplifying their lives and breaking out of joyless consumerist mindsets.
I just spent half a day reading through all the comments and tweets. The good news? You're full of great ideas. The bad news? I now have no excuses. This has to be the most memorable, non-materialistic Christmas on record, or I will forever be known as the Grinch.
More than a week into December, I remain relatively unscathed by corporate Christmas chaos (although I’ll admit I caved to the craving for a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha). 'Tis the season to make you realize what a commercially saturated society we live in -- it bombards you from every side: the unbearable soft-rock holiday music playing on loop in the doctor’s office, the sad, cluttered “seasonal” aisle at the drugstore, the bus driver wearing a Santa hat.
I’m not even one of those wet-blanket scrooges who hate everything Christmas, either. I baked gingerbread last weekend, I get a thrill from the smell of Douglas fir on a cold morning, and I’ve been known to get verklempt if I hear Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” after a bit too much eggnog. Actually, my sentimental enthusiasm for Christmas is what makes me cringe at the corporate crap even more -- for sucking the soul out of what should be a quiet, cozy, reflective holiday. (I think the film that best represents my feelings toward Christmas is The Homecoming, the 1971 made-for-TV movie that launched the series The Waltons. My family watches it every year, and I’m not the only one who cries. Go ahead, judge us.)
Given my growing distaste for forced consumerism, Buy Nothing (Corporate) Christmas is a welcome challenge. I kicked it off with a weekend arts-and-crafts binge, hitting up two local art fairs. At Art Under $100, held in a community center in one of Seattle’s more neglected (and thus probably soon-to-be-hip) neighborhoods, they had a DJ, snacks, and local IPAs for $2 a pop, so you could get buzzed while you checked out all the handmade pottery, jewelry, art, clothing, and knick-knacks. I bought a set of coasters made out of old 45s from a kid trying to raise money to go to film camp, a tie-dyed skirt from a woman who sews roller derby outfits for her daughters, and a couple pairs of found-object earrings from a vendor who showed me the design of the bee tattoo she wants to get. It was Christmas shopping farmers-market style, a rare opportunity to chat directly with the folks who make what you’re buying.
It’s that season again -- when UPS delivery people work overtime to rush fruitcakes and ill-fitting sweaters to our far-flung friends and relatives, and Americans everywhere get into the holiday spirit by bludgeoning each other to get the bargain smartphones at their favorite big-box store.
This year, Grist Senior Editor Greg Hanscom has decided to fight back. On Black Friday, he penned an open letter to friends and family asking them to get his two young daughters nothing for Christmas, and explaining that he and his wife, Tara, are trying to put the focus on special holiday experiences rather than just amassing more stuff. The letter attracted the attention of the TV news program 20/20, which included Greg and his family in its Friday evening holiday extravaganza. The name of 20/20’s segment: “Christmas Extremists.”
When Grist advice maven Umbra Fisk asked the good folks at TerraCycle if they had any ideas for reusing old movie film, they were happy to oblige! Here are their instructions for making filmstrip gift bows -- check out their other seasonal DIY projects to see how to make bows from food packaging, ornaments from toothpaste tubes, and more!
Trying to think more, um, sustainably about the holidays this year? So, it seems, is everyone else. It's hardly an innovation that 2012 can claim to own -- in fact, it has become a holiday tradition in its own right.
It's what was on the mind of Grist Senior Editor Greg Hanscom, when, confronted with the prospect of another Black Friday post-turkey shopping spree, he penned an open letter to his family and friends. "Please get my kids nothing for Christmas," he begged. Posted here at Grist, Greg's plea for a saner approach to a less stuff-y holiday fired up many of our readers' imaginations, caught the eye of some of our friends in TV-land, and led us to declare it, officially, our Grist theme for December: For the holidays this year, make it anything but stuff. Shift the gift!
Of course we can't claim that any of this is truly new. Long before someone had the bright idea of transmuting "gift" into a verb, many of us were scratching our heads looking for ways to dematerialize the annual solstice celebrations. I'm sure we're eventually going to discover a cave-wall drawing recording the moment at which some hapless neolithic family, surveying the dwindling space in its communal burrow, let out the cry of "TOO MUCH STUFF!"
Still: Ideas have moments, and surely this is this year's merry meme. We are years into a grueling recession that has only improved around the edges. We are reeling from a storm that battered large chunks of the East Coast. We see with deepening clarity that our system hasn't yet embraced the changes needed to deflect the curve of climate change.
We won't let that stop us from enjoying the holidays. But the last thing we need is to do so by gathering piles of stuff that we don't really need and may not even want.
Celebration without accumulation! Or, as we intend to chant, with our human mics cranked up as loud as we know how, "Shift the gift!"
Oh help. I've really done it this time, guys. I wrote a column for Black Friday asking my friends and relations to get my kids nothing for Christmas. Now I know what you’re thinking: What a noble request! A father trying to introduce his children to the joys of a simple holiday! What could possibly go wrong? Well, let me tell you.
First, let me say that, contrary to what you may have read in the comment section below that column, I was not scarred by horrible holidays as a child. I grew up in a mountain town. My Christmas memories are made of snow crystals and red plastic sleds, ski days and spruce boughs. Yes, Santa came to our house, and we exchanged gifts, but the highlight of the holiday season was the time we spent outdoors.
Let me also say that my wife, Tara, and I have some rich holiday traditions of our own. We celebrate Santa Lucia Day, a solstice tradition that is strong in Scandinavia. (Our eldest daughter is named for the saint, whose surrogate appeared in my bedroom late one wintry night when I was in college, bearing candles, mugs of hot chocolate, and a tray of saffron buns.) Each year, we have a solstice fire in our backyard and host a feast for family and friends. One of my favorite traditions involves an annual running race around Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, which we follow with a great wassail-drinking fest and an off-kilter run home through the snowy streets, exchanging greetings with the local denizens as we pass.
On Christmas, Tara and I always get the whole family outside for some frolicking in the snow (or mud, which is almost as much fun) -- and yes, Santa does come to our house. Tara is amazing at whipping up holiday magic for Lucia, who is 8, and her 4-year-old sister, Chloe. The trouble, as I said in my oh-so-tactful "nothing for Christmas" column, is the sheer volume of gifts that spill from the UPS truck, er, St. Nick’s sleigh, from the far corners of the country.
To cut down on the clutter and send a message of simplicity, I have always opted against getting my kids things for Christmas. Instead, I give them experiences -- a sleep-out in a snow cave or a day on the ski hill. But come to find out, my holiday cheer leaves something to be desired. Like, a lot to be desired. Apparently, I’m a total Scrooge McDuck.