Tuesday, November 27, 2007

America's Collective Attention Span for Gratitude: 9 Hours!

Americans' collective attention span for gratitude seems to be about nine hours, but no worries! You can spend about six of them asleep. Get up from the Thanksgiving family feast, watch some football, sleep a few hours, and then rise up at 4 AM to hit the malls for our newest national holiday/aerobic extreme sport, Black Friday. The news media reports deals, traffic conditions, and mall parking lot availability as if they were serious news, up there with blizzards and elections. Actually, Black Friday participation may be higher than elections, at least according the impression put forth.
As one of the 25% of Americans who does not celebrate Christmas (wow! there are 75 million of us "minorities" - Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Miscellaneous-ites, and secularists - more than I realized) I can be smug about this manic shopping. Here are some of the things I particularly resent about it.
1) I hate the media-created lists of suggested "Stocking Stuffers". These are now items in the $25 range, and even though that's a lot of money to spend when you have multiple stockings to fill, calling them stocking stuffers devalues them and makes people think they are not big enough to be considered actual Christmas gifts.
2) I loathe the way in which scarcity is pummeled over our heads. Only 23 shopping days left! Must have your order by December 22 for overnight express shipping! I am quite certain that if stores didn't restock until 2107 there would still be ample merchandise for all.
3) Call me a Scrooge, but I am truly offended by Toys for Tots type programs. What poor children in America need is affordable housing, health care, healthy food, and books. This sentimental idea that a bunch of cheapshit toys from China is a way to spread good cheer one day a year, instead of advocating for economic justice, is feel-good narcissism.
4) I hate that Santa Claus with his bag of sweatshop toys is our national symbol. When I was a kid, Christmas was still a Christian religious holiday. Nativities and creches were the norm, and there was no mistaking that those of us who didn't celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus were outliers. Contemporary churches still decorate with such symbols, but by and large the Christian God has been replaced with Santa Claus - spiritual salvation having given way to Salvation by Consumption, rather than by good deeds. I'm not Christian, but I am sure religious Christians are as offended as I am by this bastardization of a religious holiday.
5) I hate the constant reporting on how much people are going to spend on Christmas gifts this year, as if overspending and going deeper in debt were virtue instead of folly. No reporter ever says, "Americans seem to be coming to their senses and are buying less junk. Thank heavens they're giving the planet a rest."
I have come to a personal milestone this year: the only gifts I am purchasing are for the UPS man (a goody basket) and my cleaning person ( an extra week's pay) who have worked hard all year and deserve recognition. I announced to my grown-up children that we're out of the Hanukkah gift business unless we see one another over the holiday. This feels like a great decision and a huge relief. I am much happier giving gifts when I am inspired to do so, not because the retail calendar police are on my case.
Okay, I've had my say. Happy holidays, whichever you celebrate!

Picture from JohnNguyen


Mich said...

I laugh because it's funny, cry because it's true...it seems to be more out of control every year. I am trying to really focus on the religious/traditions part of the season...FREE traditions, mind you :)

Bill Reichart said...

I have written a blog post that I think you may agree with, as I find the whole Black Friday thing a very sad affair…


Love to hear what you think.

BT Murtagh said...

What I really hate is the commercialization of Santa Claus.

When I was a kid he was he was a cute and harmless myth (harmless because unlike Jesus no one actually expects you to carry it into adulthood). I remember listening enthralled to the reports on the radio of his sleigh being spotted... I really did lie awake listening for sleigh bells and hooves clopping on the roof.

And when I cottoned on it wasn't a bitter thing, because above all Santa was a generous myth, one where parents and grandparents were willing to give up the credit for gifts they'd bought in order to make the season a bit more magical.

Now? Santa's huckstering for every retailer out there. Ho-ho-ho, Santa suggests you spend your money buying this cell phone, that television, the other bit of jewelry. He's not giving anything away, he's selling shit, and it isn't the least bit magical no matter how many CG twinkles and sound effects they add.

I miss the old Santa. Maybe he wasn't 'real' in other than the "Yes, Virginia" sense, but this new guy is just depressingly fake through and through.

Sam said...

I wrote about it too. I was raised protestant and Christmas was pretty boring - going to church and eating a good home cooked meal. I knew no one who did the gift giving thing. Thankfully my husband (who was born in America) also dislikes Christmas and the commercialization of it all. We are the only ones we know who refuse to acknowledge the holiday (we spent it by bottling beer this year).

I had come across your blog awhile ago but thought you had abandoned it since there weren't recent posts and am glad to see you posting again.

-Beany (South Philly resident considering a move to Mt. Airy).