For some of us, it’s the least wonderful time of the year.
No disrespect to the holiday-positive types, hanging your tinsel November 1st and preparing your jingle belled playlists. In fact, full respect, and 10 points for your attitude. I wish I were more like you.
For the record: I’m 100% pro-gatherings with friends, and (some) family. I love sharing quality time with quality people, and sharing food prepared with love. I don’t even mind the snow, and where I live, we have a lot of snow.
My beef, in the words of the Grinch, is with the packages, boxes and bags.
I believe commercialism is ruining the holidays, and it looks like I’m not alone. In 2013, 33% of Americans singled out commercialism as the thing they like least about the holidays. Other data suggests that 31 million Americans would be willing to boycott gift-giving altogether. And despite all the insistence on cheer! Joy!!! and LOVE!!!!!, commercialism is thought to be linked with depression rates skyrocketing over the holidays, for reasons that aren’t hard to pinpoint.
“There is a literal mountain of presents for the grandkids under the tree,” shares Tanya, a writer from Montreal, Canada, about Christmas with her husband’s family. “Everything is plastic and is packaged in plastic. But if I dare pipe up about waste or the ocean, I’m the bad guy, for ‘spoiling the fun’.”
“I see people shopping for piles of gifts, or families unloading boxes on Christmas Day, and I’m instantly at myself for not making more money, having a better job, or doing as well as ‘everybody else’,” admits Lidia, a yoga teacher in Minnesota.
Emma, a mom in St. Louis who’s been trying to instill non-materialistic values in her kids since they were born, relates, “I was in the car with my 7-year old daughter, and she said, ‘Mom, I think we should trash Thanksgiving and move right onto Christmas, so I can get gifts.’ I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle.”
Yup. And that battle of making our holidays less about “stuff” is one many of us want to keep fighting. But how? The pressure, the panic and the plastic can be overwhelming, not to mention the fear of hurting feelings, igniting family rifts, or coming off as being holier than thou. It seems easier to just suck it up and lay down our credit cards, at least until next year. But have faith.
Going against the grain doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Small steps add up to big leaps - and you can work within the system, too.
1. Go Small and Go Home
Sometimes, the idea of dissenting from our entire families, friend circles, or (gasp) in-laws is too much to stomach during this already stress-ridden time of year. So how about a change in perspective? In a world littered with Walmarts and Best Buys, the holiday season is a huge boost for small businesses. In fact, some local enterprises (including this one!) wouldn’t survive if it weren’t for the gift-giving season.
So if going gift-free simply isn’t in the cards for you, think of it as a way for you to support local artisans, artists and independent makers. Or write a note suggesting a date with a person you want to spend time with, and pop in a gift card for your favorite neighborhood café or restaurant. QT, packaging-free, and a little extra fun for you, too.
2. Grow Your Heart (and theirs)
Everyone, even Annoying Aunt Amy, wants to feel good about themselves. (And if it helps, remember that, despite her rotating pink Christmas tree, AAA probably struggles during the festive season, too.)
Consider a person’s interests or challenges, and think of a charity or NGO that supports a connected cause. Have they always struggled with poor vision? Find an organization that provides eye surgeries or glasses for low-vision kids in vulnerable communities. Has an illness impacted their family? Look for a fundraising body for medical research about that disease. Did they have to fight to get an education in their younger years? There are amazing charities that fund education for children in developing countries. Donating to a cause on the recipient’s behalf makes them feel seen, and sends dollars to those who need it most. Plus, it raises awareness. Aunt Amy might be inspired to buy clean well water for a family in need next year, too.
Or, do like Emma from St. Louis, who writes an email every year, gently reminding her family that they’re requesting “gifts of experience” for their kids.
“You can get the kids one wrapped gift, and one experience gift,” she says, adding that, despite her daughter’s words in the car, her kids don’t actually appreciate tons of packages under the tree.
“After the second one, their eyes glaze over. Even if they were picked out with love.”
Plus, so many of us struggle with darkness - literal and figurative - over the winter months. Sharing an activity that’s good for the body, mind and/or soul is a great way to nix clutter and elevate the love. A day of snowshoeing together, an afternoon at the sauna, or an evening seeing a one-woman show at the theater might lift someone’s spirits more than you realize.
3. Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth (and say neigh)
“What’s the point? Even if I go completely gift-free, it won’t make a difference, with the amount of crap everyone else out there will be buying.”
It’s a thought that’s crossed many of our minds, but if you’re stuck on it, consider this: if one in 10 Americans called a halt to holiday gift-giving, it would be devastating to retail.
If you’ve decided, and feel strong enough, to go this route, the email method also works here. Send it as far ahead of time as you can, and make sure to use “I” language, and not be judgmental. Some variation of:
“You are special and important to me, and I’m so looking forward to your company, time and presence over the holiday season. However, I wanted to share that, for personal reasons, I’m choosing not to participate in the exchange of gifts this year. Please don’t spend your hard-earned money on me!
And then, as much as possible, let it go.
If you need extra inspiration, consider this: only 1% of goods purchased remain in use six months after they’re bought. And it’s been proven that receiving material things doesn’t actually raise our happiness levels in the long term.
The more we talk about this, and about the real, tangible harm that manufacturing, shipping and wrapping gifts has on our planet, not to mention our sense of connectedness to each other, the more consciousness will be raised about the issues with commercialism over a season that was intended as a time to celebrate love, light and community.
So stay strong. No matter how small a step you take, it’s a step in the right direction. You can’t do wrong by doing right, as long as you do it with love.
Natalie Karneef is a meditation teacher and host and creator of A Single Thing podcast, which is available on iTunes, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts. Find her at nataliekarneef.com.
Looking for more options? Check out this list of 14 Alternatives to Expensive Gifts
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