On not buying Buy Nothing Christmas

December 30, 2012
Sarah Ens |

Christmas is by now long over and I am, as always, sad about it. I love the candles, the cookies, the darkness complete and frozen outside the window, and the hymns, stuck in my head all year long, finally sung with family and friends. I love the familiar biblical words breathing new life into my day-to-day and, of course, It’s A Wonderful Life right before bed. These are the memories I love-- the moments I look forward to most and I can’t help but be sad when they come to a close.

I like to think that these images would still be as beautiful as they are to me without the promise of gifts on Christmas morning, but this Christmas in particular, I wondered if perhaps part of the magic of Christmas has more to do with opening of presents than I’d like to admit. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure that the surprises waiting under the tree would certainly be missed if they were no longer a part of my Christmas. Buy Nothing Christmas, then, a movement inspired by an anti-consumeristic ethic I strongly admire, became to me less simple than I originally thought.

I want to be sure to emphasize that I absolutely respect the people who decide to partake in Buy Nothing Christmas. The commercial that Christmas has unfortunately in many ways become, with the Starbucks holiday drinks, the stressful mall parking lots, and the plastic shopping bags stretched to the brim, is troublesome. Those that are able to resist the advertisements and the cultivated need that accompanies them are certainly fighting a good fight. I don’t mean to deny that at all. Buying Nothing can inspire great thoughtfulness as gifts homemade or donations made in someone’s name make for wonderful gifts—the Grinch taught me long ago that Christmas is not bought from a store at all. And so, because anti-consumerism is an ethic that should be taught, especially during the Christmas season--a time of conscientiousness--it is possible that I am constructing an excuse for the receiving and giving of store-bought presents I so anticipate.

However, while I may have bought into the commercials a little too much, there is something absolutely satisfying about picking out a sweater for your brother that he loves so much that he puts it on as soon as he unwraps it and wears it practically every day of the winter. There is almost nothing I like more than receiving a great book that was picked out because either the giver loved the book and wanted to share it or because they had me in mind as they read it. Giving family and friends jewelry, gadgets, or even iTunes gift certificates are presents that are certainly not needed, but rather, wanted. Christmas is an excuse to think about the people you love and give them what you think they might really want.

Certainly, I have romanticised Christmas shopping and certainly I am speaking from a position of privilege. The magic of Christmas that depends somewhat on “stuff” is impossible for many who cannot fill the space under their tree. This, again, is problematic since it creates a yet another power dynamic between those who can buy Christmas and those who cannot. I firmly believe that there must be a change, and that Buy Nothing Christmas is a good way to start. However, I wonder if we must throw out the frivolity that comes from store-bought presents all together—-purchased gifts cannot be all bad. (After all, the Three Wise Men were quite big spenders themselves.)

So this year, like other years, I stood in line and bought Christmas presents, aware of the consumerism I was buying into but not quite sure that it was absolutely wrong either, forcing me to wonder if Christmas really can be as simple as Buy Nothing or Buy Something.

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