Published in the Sun November 17, 2012
The busiest shopping day of the year is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Now if you are one of the people who really enjoys cruising the mall for Christmas bling, read no further. There is nothing in this column for you. But if you, like me, have a bunch of relatives who always buy themselves everything they want the minute they figure out they “need” it, and if battery-powered plastic widgets from China already fill every nook and cranny of your children’s rooms, shopping for more unnecessary stuff may seem like a strange way to celebrate a spiritual holiday.
Every year my family proposes cutting back or not giving Christmas gifts, but then we chicken out. I’m sure it has happened to you. You make a pact with somebody not to give gifts, and then on Christmas Day she shows up at your door with “just a little something” and you stand there like the Grinch. Or maybe the adults in the family draw names for each other but everybody gets something for the children. Then on Christmas morning the poor children open one gaily wrapped package after another for two hours and then collapse sobbing into a pile of wrapping paper when the frenzy is over.
Surely there are acceptable alternatives to buying gifts that end up in the back of a closet. I have tried giving those Christmas cards announcing that a llama or water buffalo was donated to Heifer International. If, en route to South America, the llama actually stopped by the honoree’s house, this would be a quite interesting gift, but without such a visit I suspect the recipient just wonders why I didn’t donate livestock in my own honor and give him a more immediately useful bottle of Scotch.
The Friday after Thanksgiving has another designation as well. It is also known as International Buy Nothing Day, a campaign by Canadian-based Adbusters Magazine inviting people to go cold turkey from consumer culture for 24 hours by not buying anything. No lattes, no movie tickets, no groceries, no gasoline, no shoes, no Christmas presents. Buy Nothing Day has a website that explains the concept. They suggest such alternative activities as a “Whirl-Mart,” in which you and your friends parade through certain big-box stores pushing empty shopping carts. Or you could offer to cut up your friends’ credit cards.
As I perused the website I found myself wondering if there are Buy Nothing Day T-shirts. I clicked on the shopping tab and received only a snarky admonition, “What? Shopping already?”
After some reflection I came up with a plan that doesn’t involve embarrassing myself at a retail establishment. My family members are forewarned and invited to retaliate appropriately. I am going to celebrate International Buy Nothing Day by not shopping. That won’t take long, so then I am going to sit down with a homemade cup of tea and list some gifts I can make. Some of these will be cookies, some will be photographs, some will be artsy-craftsy. Some may end up in the trash, but what difference does it make? Expensive store bought items can end up there too.
I’m also going to buy gifts at the Christmas Stroll from local artists. I get something unique and the money stays in our community. Some of my family will get vintage items from antique stores. My daughter and her husband don’t need another household gadget and would probably prefer a few evenings of babysitting. Some lucky soul may still get a llama.
If your family has an interesting way to combat consumerism over the holidays, please send me an email. I’ll have plenty of time to check email on Buy Nothing Day!