Consumer-capitalist interests have hijacked no other holiday more than Christmas, and that makes this the perfect time of year to practice resisting the billions of dollars worth of corporate messaging that tells you to define yourself and your relationships through the things you buy.
When I was a kid, the best things about Christmas often didn't have to do with presents at all. What I remember in most detail are the cozy, cheerful, adventurous activities we did as a family.
Among the most magical was an -annual trip into the mountains to cut down our own Christmas tree. Every year, we drove the winding road to Truchas to the house of family friends where we strung together popcorn and fresh cranberries into wreaths that would later adorn the trees surrounding the stump of the tree we cut down, an offering left for the birds (if you'd like to do this with your family, make sure to get the proper permits from the Forest Service and only harvest trees in designated areas).
To reclaim Christmas, start with the traditions you already have that are about community—not -consumption—and work from there.
This is about bringing conscious intention to the practice of gift giving so that we stop mindlessly wasting our hard-earned cash on objects that make rich CEOs even richer at the expense of human workers and the environment. But changing the system is also about actively creating an alternative. Now is the time to start new rituals and traditions that emphasize different values, such as creativity and equity, and to strengthen the bonds of community crucial to recognizing the common interests of the 99%.
Santa the Trojan Horse
Oh, Santa. What could possibly be a better embodiment of patriarchal capitalism? While most midnight intruders would probably be met with a shotgun, we tell kids not to be afraid of the cheerful old white dude breaking into the house on Christmas, even if he kisses them in their sleep or asks them to sit on his lap at the mall. Gross.
We train kids to believe possessions are a mark of moral worthiness by telling them Santa only brings presents to "nice" kids. If good people get more stuff, then people who have more stuff must be good. Families with bigger houses than yours must have worked harder, be more deserving, or just be better people for Santa to have brought their kids iPads while your kids got sweaters, right?
Worst of all, we tell kids the presents were made by magical slaves (elves) who love their work because it is what they exist to do, which alienates kids from understanding there are real people laboring to make these objects, often in conditions that are harmful to the workers and to the environment.
Stop giving Santa undue cred.
The most memorable gift my dad ever gave me was a trip to the grocery store where I got to fill the basket with whatever foods my little heart desired. It worked because as a kid I was an adventurous eater and I loved trying new things. We all love getting and giving presents; that doesn't mean they have to be mass-produced objects.
- Teach your kids to be resourceful and creative and make your own presents! Host crafting parties and invite your friends to each teach a project to the group. Give the means of creation to someone else with a membership to studio or classes, or supplies for building their dream project. Give gifts that are empowering and increase a person’s agency, like a tool to fix their car, and then teach them the basics of how to use it.
- Wonderful experiences can cost thousands of dollars or nothing at all. You could give concert tickets or a massage, or you could throw a surprise theme party for your best friend, help your musical nephew -record and mix their first track, or convince your firefighter friend to take your kid on a ride-along.
- Buy things made locally and boycott any company whose workers went on strike for better conditions this year, like Amazon, which doesn’t allow its warehouse workers (the people -shipping your package) adequate time to drink, pray or pee.
Create your own rituals and build community.
Instead of bringing gifts, have everyone make the favorite dish of someone else in the group and have a potluck. Throw a neighborhood tamale-making party. Teach your kids that this holiday is not about getting things but about giving back by volunteering as a family at a homeless shelter, or writing letters to prisoners, or shoveling snow from an elderly neighbor's driveway. Better yet, refocus your holiday altogether on the eternal aspects, whether you spend more time at church or decide to celebrate solstice instead.