If you’re worried about the health of American consumerism, don’t be. Not even a bum economy can blunt Black Friday: Americans spent a record $52.4 billion over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend last year. This year, 147 million of us are expected to hit stores over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; some folks have been camping out in line since Monday so they can be first to get trampled snag the best deals. I think it’s safe to guess that Grist readers aren’t really into that scene — you have better ways to spend the day after Thanksgiving, as you let us know last year.
The creative ideas you shared then ranged from taking awkward family photos to making homemade cards to donating platelets — all personalized takes on Buy Nothing Day, the annual call to reject the consumer freak-out that is Black Friday and refrain from spending any money at all that day. This year, Adbusters, the folks behind BND, are upping the ante by promoting Buy Nothing Christmas, a challenge to not just skip a day of consumerism but opt out of the entire holiday shopping season.
A group of Canadian Mennonites, not Adbusters itself, dreamed up Buy Nothing Christmas, and they offer some good arguments for why Christians ought to reject the corporatization of their most important holiday. (Liberal, progressive Christians exist, guys — you’re reading the words of one. Stop associating us with Rick Santorum. Thanks.) Anyway, needless to say, every American could benefit from a break from the purchasing frenzy. This year, I’m going to go the extra mile and give Buy Nothing Christmas a shot — and you should join me.
OK, I plan on cheating slightly. Certain younger cousins may be disappointed if I draw their names in the annual extended-family Secret Santa exchange only to offer nothing but an anti-capitalist lecture on the big day. I know part of the idea of Buy Nothing Day/Season is rejecting the cultural pressure to prove your love and devotion through materialism, and if you want to commit to that interpretation of it, more power to you.
But giving gifts can still be fun and meaningful if you know your present is unique and not something the recipient is going to see on a half-off rack at the mall the next day. Nothing kills the Christmas spirit like frantically navigating the downtown shopping district on Dec. 23, pawing through piles of V-neck sweaters and stacks of celebrity memoirs in search of something — anything — that would halfway satisfy that last person on your list. That kind of gift-giving makes me feel overwhelmed and empty at the same time, like when you’re starving for a hearty home-cooked meal and end up snarfing Trader Joe’s Pretzel Slims (chocolate, please!) instead.
So instead of buying no Christmas gifts whatsoever, I’m going to abstain from patronizing corporations and chain stores this season. No fleece pajamas from Old Navy or DVDs from Best Buy. (I’m still deciding whether smaller, local, and/or sustainably minded chains will be fair game or not — must I really boycott REI?) I wish I were one of those people who could avoid spending any money at all by giving everyone hand-knitted iPod cozies or painstakingly assembled scrapbooks for the holidays, but I don’t have a crafty bone in my body — so I’ll have to settle for buying other people’s handiwork (what up, Etsy!), which isn’t really settling at all. Giving someone you love a truly unique present, and supporting a local and/or independent artist at the same time, kind of produces double levels of gift-giving warm fuzzies.
Do you plan on participating in Buy Nothing (or Buy Less) Christmas/Holiday Season? Tell us about it! We’ll follow up with some suggestions for alternatives to corporate gift-giving.