Our guest contributor Sustainable Jess is back with a new post about Christmas! Take a peek below!
Perhaps Mr. Grinch had it right all along. He has been greening Christmas ever since Dr. Seuss wrote the popular children’s story in 1966. Not only is he “green” himself, but he also stole consumerism from the Who’s . Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores, welcome a “green” Christmas after all.
I love the holiday season. It is by far my favourite season of the year. I love the holiday parties, ugly Xmas sweaters, the decorations, candy canes, and sugar cookies and the warm fuzzy feeling everyone seems to have during the month of December.
However, what I don’t love, is the ridiculous feeling that you “ought” to buy a gift for someone else. Our society has placed a repulsive emphasis on “buy more”, “the more expensive the gift, the better”, “you look bad if you don’t give a gift”, “I’ll feel really guilty if I don’t buy her a gift because she bought me a gift” ect.
Exchanging gifts among family and friends is a tradition. Peter Clarke claims that during the Christmas season, the sales of toys are around $US 21.3 million and that Americans spend a trillion dollars on Christmas (and I’m sure Canada isn’t far behind). Furthermore, a recent study by Erik Assadourian compared how much money is spent per individual during the Christmas season across 18 countries. The study found that individuals, on average, spend between $580-$950 on gift giving, socializing and food. Consumer spending sky rockets in the last quarter of the year, which, of course, is good for business and the economy.
It’s easy to spend. Big corporations, like Costco and Wal-Mart, start setting up their decorations right after Halloween. They’ve been strategically planning this Christmas season since last year’s Christmas season ended! They have dazzling decorations that shimmer with Christmas cheer. The colours red and green are all around. They are constantly persuading us to participate in the holiday season. Particularly, young children are targeted. Clever commercials and advertising schemes that include Santa Claus and his flying reindeer are popular when your child is watching cartoons.
Sandra Calvert, professor of psychology at Georgetown University, thinks this is a shame. This is because young children cannot understand what they are watching and become engulfed with the content, requesting gifts from their parents and unknowingly “buying in” to consumerism for years to come.
When shopping this year, I encourage you to shop smart. I’m not saying don’t spend or don’t buy or don’t do something nice for someone else. Those are unrealistic requests. Plus, there are things people will always need. Toothbrushes, new underwear, new workout gear, and socks come to mind for me. But, there are some things that people just simply don’t need, such as another body shop product, another Christmas decoration, another pair of pajamas, another electronic device, or another kitchen gadget. We can still contribute to the economy without buying useless and unnecessary gifts. If you are shopping for someone this year, make sure they will actually have a use for your gift. Is it even a thoughtful gift, or you just buying it because you feel like you have to?
“Most of what corporations produce today is produced not for the needs of people but for the needs of corporations to sell to people”. This was expressed by the American journalist, Vance Packard fifty years ago, and you can bet it still applies today.
Here is a new gift idea: why don’t you contribute to the service economy? Instead of buying your wife a body gift package of soaps (that she’ll probably never use…) why don’t you take her out to a fancy dinner? Or give her a personal massage? Instead of buying your child a toy (that will likely break in 2 weeks), why don’t you take him for an afternoon to Medieval Times, the Ripley’s Aquarium Believe it or Not, the Science Centre, a Broadway play, or the ROM? Why don’t you take your Grandma on a Christmas morning walk and make her hot cocoa afterwards? Christmas morning, give your husband a gift pass to join a social club (like taking squash lessons, golf, a running club, boot camp class, a personal trainer, or guitar lessons), or take your family on a ski trip. Two years ago, my family gave up gifts and decided on purchasing a goat for a family in Nicaragua and it was a very memorable Christmas.
Rewarding gifts don’t necessarily have to come from giving away material possessions. And, if you are buying a product, make sure the person actual needs it and will use it.
In one study (Basker, 2005), it was found that the average consumer spends 26-32 days ($6.50 a day) shopping for Christmas gifts. Take that time and money to come up with something original, that doesn’t necessarily need to be wrapped and put under a tree in un-compostable wasteful Christmas paper (which will probably be shipped to landfill).
Think of the best gifts you’ve ever received. Likely, it was a surprise party that someone took the time and effort to throw for you. Or it was a hand-made or personal hand-written card, or an outing where you got to enjoy someone else’s company. Whether it be a home-cooked favourite dish, a delicious baked dessert, tickets to an NHL Hockey game or tickets to see a favourite music artist, I can almost guarantee that people will enjoy this far more than a one size fits all gift from Wal-Mart.
In 2002, Kasser and Sheldon conducted a study entitled “What makes for a merry Christmas?” in the Journal of Happiness Studies. It was found that more happiness is reported during the Christmas season when family and religious experiences (or if you’re not religious experience, just replace this with quality family time) take precedence over spending money and receiving gifts. The study also found that environmentally conscious consumption practices make for a happier holiday.
To “wrap” up: “the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may undermine well-being, while family and spiritual activities may help people feel more satisfied.”
The Who’s learned a valuable lesson from the Grinch: Christmas just “came”, without the decorations, without the gifts, without the useless “stuff”.
You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch, but you certainly had a point.
Jessica Correa | M.A. Candidate, Trent University, Sustainability Studies/car sharing researcher & enthusiast/ environmentalist/self motivator/ bubbly extrovert/garbage hater/aspiring public speaker/eternal optimist/runner.
- Assadourian, E. (2010). The rise and fall of consumer cultures. State of the World, 2010, 3-20.
- Basker, E. (2005). ‘Twas four weeks before Christmas: Retail sales and the length of the Christmas shopping season. Economics Letters, 89(3), 317-322.
- Calvert, S. L. (2008). Children as consumers: Advertising and marketing. The future of children, 18(1), 205-234.
- Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2002). What makes for a merry Christmas?.Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(4), 313-329.
- O’Cass, A., & Clarke, P. (2002). Dear Santa, do you have my brand? A study of the brand requests, awareness and request styles at Christmas time. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 2(1), 37-53.