WRITTEN BY ERYN AUSTIN BERGEN
Christmas is the biggest shopping season of the year! Along with celebrating friends and family, retailers especially want us to celebrate gift-giving - and not just giving gifts to others, but giving "well-deserved" gifts to ourselves, too.
Retailers motivate our spending by telling us that we fundamentally lack...something - identity? love? happiness? We’re not sure what it is, but we find ourselves increasingly dissatisfied as we progress through the season.
It can be so easy to whip out our credit card and start BUYING. That’s the message - buy this new, shiny thing and suddenly your identity will become clear, you will fall madly in love, and you will live happily ever after.
But will buying more stuff really make us feel less dissatisfied? Can brand names actually relieve our sense of inferiority, insecurity, and entitlement? Did it work last year? Not too likely.
So here are six ways to curb your consumerism this December (while still enjoying Christmas and not being a total Grinch)!
1. FOCUS ON THE PEOPLE
For many people, Christmas is all about family. So for those who have broken relationships or live far away from their family, Christmas can be a poignantly painful season. Instead of filling up your free Saturday afternoons with frenetic shopping, focus on your friendships with those who don't have family around. Invite them for dinner, go out for a coffee, include them in your own family - whatever that looks like! Chances are, that precious time spent together will be far more valuable to your friend than any gift you could wrap up.
2. ENJOY ACTIVITIES INSTEAD OF "STUFF"
There are so many things to do at Christmas that don’t involve going home with more stuff. Find out what they are in your community and get started! Go skating at an outdoor ice rink. Make hot chocolate at home, fill your travel mug, and walk down your favourite street to enjoy the Christmas lights. Gather friends and do some good old fashioned Christmas caroling in your neighbourhood. Visit Christmas markets and focus on the artists’ creativity rather than on buying more gifts. Make snowmen if you live where it snows; go to the beach if you live in the Southern hemisphere. Get to know your city, town, neighbourhood and enjoy experiences instead of shopping.
3. VOLUNTEER AT A LOCAL CHARITY
Shift the attention away from yourself and how much you do or don’t have by volunteering at a local charity. Union Gospel Mission and Salvation Army are well-known for their work with “the poor” and often have holiday volunteering opportunities. Serving and talking with those who have less than we do can really put our own consumerist tendencies into perspective.
4. BE CREATIVE IN YOUR GIFT GIVING
Talk to your family and friends about changing up the way you do gifts. Try homemade gifts this year (baking, candle-making, ornament painting). Give services instead of gadgets (offer an oil change, a house-cleaning, babysitting, a three-course meal, a snow-boarding lesson, a haircut). Give a charity gift in honour of someone you love (Food for the Hungry, Mennonite Central Committee, HOPE International). There are many alternatives to the traditional buying spree!
5. LOOK DOWN
As you drive and walk along streets plastered with radiant billboards proclaiming the holes in your life that "need" to be filled with their product, look down. Look down and see the men and women sitting on the curbside with cardboard signs that say “Every little bit helps”. Then reevaluate what you’re going to spend your money on this Christmas. Sobering? Yep, it sure is. But you can be sure that loving those who need a hand up will bring you immense joy. Wondering how to start? Here's a good place.
6. EMBRACE ADVENT
Nothing releases us from the power of consumerism quite like practicing Advent. What is it? Advent is an ancient rhythm, a season of anticipation, a way that Christians prepare to celebrate the event of God coming into human life - the birth of Jesus Christ. During Advent, we take our eyes off of what we don’t have and focus on the life-shattering gift God has given us - himself. No purchase this season will quench your inner compulsion for more, but drinking from God's living waters will ease your dryness of spirit.