The television flickers and the radio blares with ad for the next best this or that.
City streets are plastered with billboards extolling the virtues of every product – new and improved, of course. The stores are decked out, bursting with colour, lights, slogans and posters. It’s Christmas, and the masses trek dutifully, to the modern-day cathedral: the mall.
Our society is supposedly getting more secular but we have become positively religious about consuming. It seems a relentless pursuit of more possessions is what the holidays are now about.
I’m not judging. Oh no, I’ve willingly worshipped at that consumer altar.
I enjoy giving and receiving gifts, and I suppose there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. But as a parent, I have been thinking about how to find balance, especially this year, as Mary turns three and may be capable of understanding the holidays. How can we help her (and later, our baby, Adelaide), look forward to more than the acquisition of stuff?
I remember pestering my mother as Christmas approached for the toy I HAD to have. Every year, it was something different. Once, it was a Cabbage Patch Doll. Parents clamoured at stores as demand overcame supply, lining up for hours to secure one lest their daughters feel left out.
My mom loves bestowing gifts, and she’d try to limit the number she bought. But I’m embarrassed to say there was more than one Christmas I’d be on the phone with a cousin or friend, they’d ask what I got, and I couldn’t remember all the gifts even though I’d just opened them.
It’s not just seasonal excess; Tom and I also struggle with how to straddle the line between the secular and the sacred. Easter and Christmas have become commercial holidays – the first about bunnies and chocolate, the second about gifts and Santa Claus rather than the birth of Jesus. We want our girls to enjoy the fun stuff, but also appreciate the original meanings of these special days.
So far, we’ve gotten off easy, maybe because Mary hasn’t been directly marketed to; we record her favourite television shows, so she’s missing all the commercials. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t started school, and so isn’t yet influenced by her peers.
How to stop holiday greed from taking over? This year, we’re going to take Mary shopping to buy some things to donate to a toy drive. I’m hoping this will help teach her to be grateful, that some children don’t have as much as she does and that we must share our blessings.
I’m going to start Christmas shopping in October so we don’t spend every spare moment leading up to December 25th in the malls, feverishly crossing out our gift list.
We’ll put up our Nativity scene, light a candle each week on our Advent wreath and go to Mass.
The end of the year is an embarrassment of riches for Mary because her birthday is exactly a month before Christmas Day. We’re going to take some of the toys she receives and give them to her randomly throughout the year. We’re going to rotate her existing toys more often. When we’ve done this, she’s been as delighted with the toy as when she first received it.
We buy, therefore we are? It could be a motto for today’s society, but hopefully not for our family.