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Buy me no gifts and I'll do the same
Buy Me No Gifts and I'll Do the Same
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Dear family, friends, co-workers, and others,
I am not buying any holiday gifts this year. I am not accepting any gifts either. Please honor my wishes and do not buy anything for me this Christmas and Holiday season.
Why? I am joining the Christmas Climate Strike.
Climate change is real, and we only have about 10 years to halt catastrophic and irreversible damage. Many governments are still not taking the threat seriously. We must do all we can to get their attention. When revenues from economic boycotts cause a loss to the bottom line, politicians and big business alike start to take notice. Boycotts helped to end apartheid in South Africa, segregation in the US, and most recently anti-transgenered ‘bathroom’ bills in North Carolina.
We go into debt to buy ill-received presents that go unused, get returned, or thrown away, and produce billions of pounds of waste in the process. We must stop mindlessly consuming and producing waste because it’s ‘tradition’, many of which are merely marketing campaigns, not genuine long-standing customs.
Let’s create new traditions based on spending quality time with one another instead of buying junk none of us really wants or needs. Please join me and pledge to neither buy nor receive gifts this holiday season. Forward this blog post to others to let them know.
Give the future, not presents.
what about the kids?
What About the Kids?
The most common pushback to the idea of a gift-free Christmas is related to children. Adults are happy to give it up, but societal pressures make them reluctant to ask their little ones to forego presents as well. I understand, but also urge parents to at least give it some more thought. Here's why.
My family was quite poor when I was a small child. I remember the five of us living in a one-bedroom apartment. We got Food Stamps to help buy groceries. For my 5th birthday, my mom gave me a rock as my present.
Punishment? No. It was an important life lesson. Pet rocks used to be a thing in the 20th century (yes, capitalism will sell you rocks if you let it). This was obviously a free, found rock, but she said it was my gift. She explained that she didn't have the money to buy something for me. She demonstrated that I could draw on it with chalk and give it a name.
My reaction? I was fine with it! I played with it. I cleaned it off in my evening bath. My life inexperience was an asset in this instance. Unlike adults, who often let unconscious biases and social norms dictate their actions more than they realize, a young child's mind is much more open. I was basically like "OK, this rock is my toy. I will play with this rock" without any sense of loss or remorse.
The youth of today are the ones most tuned in to the reality of the climate crisis. They're much more open to both personal and political change. I'm continually amazed and impressed by the young ages I see in twitter bios of 9, 10, 11+ year old activists. The youth were out in force at COP26 in Glasgow as well.
Parents of various faiths already deal with this issue, so there are many resources online for how to talk to kids about alternative holiday celebrations. For example there are a variety of discussion boards for Jewish parents regarding how to explain Christmas and Santa to their kids and why they don't take part in those customs. It's a delicate balance to tell your child Santa isn't real, but he's real for others and how to navigate those conversations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in most holiday observances, including Christmas and other holidays that include giving gifts. I remember in 3rd grade I had a classmate who was a Jehovah's Witness, so he was absent from school for our Halloween and Christmas parties. I asked if it was difficult or if he wanted to join in, and he really wasn't bothered by it. I left it at that and it wasn't a big deal to him, me, or anyone else.
Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. If parents of different religions and beliefs can have these talks with their kids about abstaining from Christmas gifts and celebrations, it's something all parents should consider as well, albeit for the sake of the climate instead of religion. If you explain that the North Pole is melting because we consume too much and we need to cut back, you might be pleasantly surprised by the amount of acceptance and understanding you get in return.
Finally, think back to your holidays as a child. Do you remember the gifts you got? I don't. I remember family games, lively dinner discussions, and spending time with extended family members I didn't get to see often like my cousins and grandparents. As an adult I realize those experiences were the true gifts of the holiday season. The only physical gift that sticks out in my mind from my entire childhood is the birthday rock.
I understand that most won't completely give up gifts for their kids, and I'm not here to judge. I'm here to plant the idea as a seed for further consideration. I hope you'll meditate on it more in the months and years to come. Climate change is going to require culture change. Let's reimagine how we want to celebrate being alive.
What about the adults?
I was standing in line at an outdoor kiosk, third in line and doing my best to social distance despite being outdoors with a mask on. A UPS delivery guy walks by, pushing a cart of packages to be delivered. He recognizes the man in line in front of me and they start to chat. From the snippets of conversation I picked up, they both are still working at their respective union jobs ("I'm still with local 488..." or something like that), presumably making a comfortable middle-class living.
Mr. UPS guy is 61 years old, has a full-time union job, but tells his friend he is working this extra job part-time to earn money for the holidays. He says he likes the exercise, and...well...he isn't quite old enough yet to retire and get his pension. Does he really like it, or making the best of the situation?
It's one of those anecdotes that is both sweet and sad. It's touching he's going the extra mile for the sake of his family. On the other hand, he is an senior citizen doing manual labor so that he can fulfill the consumer social contract of Christmas. It doesn't matter how much you love your family, you have to go out and break your back to earn money so you can buy them them lots of gifts.
All I want for Christmas is to live in a world where Grandpa doesn't have to work a second job to buy junk due to social norms that were invented by ad executives. The more we can normalize no-gift Christmases and other holiday events, the more we save people from feeling obligated to work more and spend in excess for no real good reason.
Time is our most precious and finite resource. Spend that time, not money, on your loved ones this holiday season. Don't waste your dwindling years turning time into money to buy stuff people don't need and usually don't really want. Your presence is your present.
My no-gift thanksgiving
Thanksgiving by design is a gift-free holiday, and compared to Christmas it's far superior. Why can't we make Christmas more like Thanksgiving?
I stayed local this year, celebrating Thanksgiving with my in-laws. I made a vegan roast and vegan chocolate cream pie to share. We brought our copy of 'Taskmaster' to play parlor games. One task was to fill your hat with items that only begin with H, A, or T. Most items win. It's more challenging than it sounds!
The final task was 'Write down the best idea. You have 3 minutes', as judged by the Taskmaster (played by my husband). My adorable 7 year old niece wrote 'no virus' for her idea. Another niece played to the Taskmaster's love of cats and wrote 'give all homeless cats rainboots so their paws don't get wet'. She won that round.
We also did more traditional things like play board games and watch TV. My favorite part was that we all shared our art with one another. My nieces make bespoke lamps, do animation, and one is going to school for special effects make-up. My husband and I did a screening of our short film "No Christmas This Year", a French existentialist film about Christmas and COVID, which includes an anti-consumerism message.
It was genuinely a lot of fun, and no gifts were exchanged. We already have a framework and precedent for how to celebrate with family and friends without gifts. It's fun, easy to do, and better for the environment. I hope you'll consider ditching the gifts for a Buy Nothing Christmas this year.