I like to imagine what the midwinter feast was like in days of yore. Picture it with me, if you will…it’s cold, really cold. Compared to other seasons, the world is very colorless, except for splashes of natural brilliance like the flare of rose hips in the hedgerow. Most of the birds have migrated away, many of the animals are sleeping. The people are worried about whether they or their livestock might die of disease, especially those deep, body-wracking lung ailments, and there’s not a lot of food to go around. So the winter festival is a time to revivify hope to carry us through till spring. We are reminded that life goes on–thrives, even–that spring will come, and that even when it’s cold outside, we’re warm at home, nursing a hot drink, surrounded by the love and care of our family.
I’m pretty sure it’s not about stabbing another Walmart patron over the last flatscreen. I don’t think it’s even about gifts.
And yet I don’t know about you, but this year the materialism and consumerism of the Christmas/Black Friday sale ads seem especially disgusting. Every year it’s worse than the year before. Now we even have mobile phone contracts that allow us to replace a perfectly functional phone up to twice a year, because heaven forbid we be seen without the latest toy. Yesterday I heard some statistic indicating that a large percentage of people (don’t remember the exact number) buy things for themselves while doing their Christmas shopping, and I’m not talking about picking up a gallon of milk and some toilet paper. The marketers have done their work so well that we not only believe that gift-giving is some kind of competitive sport, but that our own gratification must not be delayed even a few weeks. All of this wanting, of course, is motivated by a belief in lack which is not healthy for anyone but advertisers.
It’s well-known that many people kill themselves during the winter holiday season. Naturally one reason is that for those who can’t be with their families, or who have none, the holidays bring a fresh wave of loneliness. Winter is a hard time when you’re out in the cold, literally or metaphorically. But a major contributing factor is the constant bombardment of marketing designed to make us feel that our life is basically not worth living if we can’t have a cell phone less than 6 months old. That instead of spending Thanksgiving stuffing ourselves and contemplating the blessings in our life, we should we waiting overnight in a line outside the big-box store–to buy presents for ourselves.
Although I am lucky to have a family with whom to spend the holidays, I still experience a ridiculous amount of anxiety over the gifting. My family consists of both financially-comfortable city mice and poor country mice. The city mice buy themselves what they want, when they want it. It’s almost impossible to come up with a gift they will really like because you have to find something they’ve never seen before. If they had seen it, and wanted it, they would have already bought it. We country mice have a long tradition of delaying gratification until birthdays or Christmas, so we are very easy to shop for (books!) yet no one ever bothers to ask what we want. So basically no one ever gets anything they want. But it still should all be ok, because love, not lack, is supposed to be the reason for the season.*
In the present economic climate, lots of people are turning to handmade gifts as both more meaningful and personal and more thrifty–although the prices on crafty-type supplies have gotten insane in the past few years so this is no longer a great money-saving option. I too am going to give handmade gifts, but this time I am determined that instead of stressing about whether the city mice will think my DIY stuff is crappy or potentially contaminated, I am taking meaningful action by chipping away at that cycle of lacking-wanting-buying which holds us all prisoner. Others may not care or even realize what I’m up to, but I will know that I’m fighting the good fight by standing up to those who would prefer that we not think, not question, not speak out or talk back, and most of all, not stop buying.**
I hope you’ll all consider joining me–and may your holidays always be about love, not lack.
*Ok, anthropologically, I grant the argument that winter feasts are about lack, or at least potential lack, since winter was such a brutal time of year. People were literally worried about not having enough to eat until spring. But the whole point of these festivals is to emphasize what we do have, our reasons for celebrating, not to dwell on the lack and the fear.
**May Krampus take them.