Free Yourself from Christmas Consumerism

Make this the year you opt out of exchanging Christmas gifts.

If Christmas shopping makes you feel stressed, anxious and exhausted, imagine how Earth feels about it. Maybe a change is in order.

I doubt I am the only American who believes that exchanging gifts at Christmas is a custom that has gotten way out of control. Luckily, you still have time to free yourself from Christmas consumerism this year.

Are you wondering why I am broaching the subject of consumerism during the holiday season when people are supposed to be feeling festive and generous? Well, for two reasons. The first is that the trappings of Christmas consumerism are surrounding you right now, which gives you the best possible vantage point for evaluating how you really feel about all of it. Secondly, if you curtail your Christmas shopping or better yet, skip it all together, you have the whole of December to celebrate Christmas in ways that are meaningful to you and to have some fun.

Does the United States Really Have a Christmas Consumerism Problem?

My definition of what constitutes a consumerism problem and yours are likely to be different. Since you are reading this post, it probably signifies that you have at least an inkling that there might be a Christmas consumerism problem.

Lined Up Shopping Carts for Christmas Shopping

I found 2017 Christmas shopping forecasts and trends dismaying. Here are a few examples.

  • Of the people who incurred credit card debt during the 2016 Christmas shopping season, 14% are still paying it off.
  • Consumers (I hate that word) in the United States are expected to spend a whopping $678.8 billion to $682 billion during the Christmas shopping season. This is a 3.6% to 4% increase from 2016.
  • 32 million people were planning to shop on Thanksgiving (I wonder how many did).
  • Retailers have increased their efforts to make it easy for you to tell your family and friends what you want for Christmas via online wish lists, social media, and in-store apps.
  • I could not find a statistic on how many Christmas gifts are not wanted, needed, or liked by the recipient. However, I did learn that two-thirds of holiday shoppers return at least one gift that they received, making the day after Christmas one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Okay, you get the picture. Now, you might be thinking something along the lines of “What about family Christmas gift exchange traditions?”

Christmas Gift Exchange Traditions

The environmental zealot in me can easily say, “There is no Christmas tradition in the world that is worth jeopardizing our children’s chance to have a habitable planet to live on in future years.”

That said I realize that family traditions are important to many people including myself. Generally, a tradition is a way of passing down customs, values, and beliefs from one generation to the next. Traditions give people a sense of continuity, belonging, and ways of creating and sharing memorable moments.

Fortunately, family traditions are malleable and not set in stone. For instance, previous family traditions undergo modification and adaptation when two families merge into one. I posit that a Christmas gift exchange tradition can be retired without spoiling Christmas, but you are the judge for your own family.

My spouse and I gave up our Christmas gift exchange tradition in 2013. Four years later, we are looking forward to another delightful stress-free holiday season.

The Year We Opted Out of Exchanging Christmas Gifts

In 2013, with Thanksgiving approaching, I realized that my own internal Christmas shopping button had malfunctioned; somehow, it had been switched off, broken, or repurposed.

Green Buy Button on Computer Keyboard

My spouse and I talked it over and decided we wanted to stop exchanging Christmas gifts, period.

We let our family members and friends know that we had decided to stop exchanging gifts and why. To ensure there were no misunderstandings, we made it clear that we did not intend to give any Christmas gifts and did not wish to receive any.

When I wrote the post entitled Let’s Take Back Thanksgiving – Opt Out of Consumerism, we had just broken the news.

Most everyone accepted our decision with equanimity and I think a few with silent relief. If I remember correctly, my mother objected to the not receiving gifts part saying she enjoyed giving gifts. One of my friends pointed out that I could graciously accept a gift if someone wished to give me one without feeling obligated to reciprocate (good advice).

In the end, opting out of exchanging Christmas gifts was a non-event. Of course, you may have a different experience if you opt out of exchanging Christmas gifts, but chances are your family and friends will still love you.

Is This the Year You Opt Out of Exchanging Christmas Gifts?

If the idea of opting out of exchanging Christmas gifts is even remotely appealing or intriguing, reading the ten statements below may help you assess your own readiness to take the plunge.

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribbon and Bow

  1. I dread Christmas shopping.
  2. I worry about the environmental consequences of Christmas consumerism.
  3. I am tired of going into to debt to buy Christmas gifts.
  4. I feel stressed out trying to come up with gift ideas for the people on my list.
  5. I cringe when a friend or co-worker asks me if I want to exchange Christmas gifts.
  6. I am concerned that my children are focusing too much on acquiring stuff.
  7. I cannot relax until I have bought, wrapped, and shipped all the gifts on my list.
  8. I feel disturbed by the amount of waste generated during the Christmas holiday season.
  9. I feel obligated to give a gift to everyone who gives me a gift.
  10. I wish someone in my family would suggest we stop exchanging gifts.

Do one or more of these statements ring true for you? If so, perhaps it is the season to rethink your own Christmas gift exchange traditions. Now is as good a time as any to just, stop.

Imagine what you could be doing if you were not searching for a parking space near the store, walking up and down the aisles in search of the perfect gift, standing in line at the checkout counter, surfing the web looking for the best deal, or waiting in line at the post office.

I can see you smiling and I hear Earth sighing with relief.

Merry Christmas!

Featured Image at Top: Little Blue Car Overloaded with Christmas Gifts on Top – Photo Credit iStock/Sergey Peterman

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Thanksgiving – We are All Connected

On Thanksgiving step outside and share your gratitude.

This Thanksgiving I am mindful that people are part of nature not separate from it. Everything on Earth is worthy of our reverence and gratitude.

A few weeks ago, after an inspirational morning at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden in California, I knew that I wanted to write about the interconnectedness of nature (yes that includes people) for my Thanksgiving post this year.

It all began with a bowl of oatmeal.

But, before we get to the oatmeal, a bit of background may be useful.

My home is on the California Central Coast in the midst of one of the few remaining swaths of Monterey pine forest. Before we bought our home, the mostly wild yard had been untended for years so invasive plants had been encroaching unimpeded and some plants that had been purposefully planted had gotten out of control. Somehow, I got the possibly ridiculous and crazy idea in my head that we could restore our tiny piece of land and then it could encourage the neighboring land to go native.

With limited knowledge, a shovel and some clippers I set about removing the few invasive plants that I could identify. The flip side of invasive plants is native plants, which I am trying to learn about so we can encourage natives growing in our yard and plant others.

So, when I read about an upcoming event called the Chumash Kitchen at the botanical garden, I signed up my spouse and me. We were excited to have an opportunity to learn about native plants from two Chumash women (Jeanette and Violet) who are descendants of the people who have been living on the California Central Coast for thousands of years and we were looking forward to tasting some dishes made from locally foraged and harvested foods.

The Chumash Kitchen

The day was warm with just a slight chill and the skies were cloudy and gray.

We arrived just in time for breakfast. I was somewhat dismayed to find that breakfast was oatmeal (I think it had ground acorns, too) because I seriously dislike oatmeal and have since I was a little kid. Not to be deterred from fully participating, I ladled a small portion into my bowl and topped it with several heaping spoonfuls of cut up local apple pieces. I was thankful to see there was coffee and poured myself a mug.

Group Photo Beneath Ancient Oak Tree in El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo, CA
Group Photo Beneath an Ancient Oak Tree in El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

After breakfast, the group headed out for a hike up to a sacred Chumash site. Along the way, one of the young participants introduced us to an oak tree that she and others had gathered acorns under two days before. At a magnificent and ancient oak tree, we stopped to admire its beauty and sense of history and to pose for a group photo.

Sacred Grinding Stones

A short uphill hike brought us to a small open area with huge boulders embedded in the ground. Scattered across the boulders were round indentations that had been created by the Chumash people who had been grinding acorns here for thousands of years. This is a sacred site for the Chumash people who live here now and we were asked not to take photos of the stones.

By now, we were all warmed up and feeling fortunate that the cloudy sky was keeping the sun from beating down on our heads.

Jeanette began speaking of thankfulness and history and telling stories in a quiet and melodious voice. I remember her looking up at the cloudy sky, smiling, and saying, “The Mother is smiling on us this morning.” or something very close to that. What a delightful way of expressing gratitude for clouds.

View Looking Away from Sacred Chumash Grinding Stones near Eagle Rock Nature Trail in San Luis Obispo, CA
View Looking Away from the Sacred Chumash Grinding Stones near Eagle Rock Nature Trail in San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

While Jeanette was speaking, Violet circumnavigated the group carrying a smoldering bunch of white sage. She paused at each person and using her hand wafted the smoke over us. This simple act seemed to connect us all even though many of us did not know each other. I came away with the understanding that white sage is honored for its healing qualities and is used for blessing people.

Before making our way back down the hill, we were each given the opportunity to make an offering by placing a small pinch of tobacco leaves into one of the grinding holes and saying a prayer (out loud if we wanted to). My prayer (said silently) was that my children and everyone else’s children would have a habitable planet to live on in years to come.

Oak Trees and Acorns

Back at the garden event center, while Violet and a small contingent of volunteers were preparing lunch in the kitchen, we learned about the history of oak trees over thousands of years and Jeanette entertained us with stories.

Acorns were and still are an important food for Chumash people. We learned from Jeanette that some acorns are always left under the oak trees for those who do not speak. She referred to people, plants, trees, and animals as her kin. Hearing her speak with such respect and reverence for every living thing struck a chord in me. It feels right.

San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden Volunteers Preparing Acorns
Volunteers of All Ages Preparing Acorns for the Meals to be Served at the Chumash Kitchen Event – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
A Locally Foraged and Harvested Lunch

Before the lunch meal was served, Violet described the locally foraged and harvested ingredients and how they were prepared. I admit that once the mouth-watering plate of food was placed in front of me, I could not remember everything that had gone into making it.

I do remember a few things like the silky feel of the acorn gravy that had been ladled over a stuffed and roasted acorn squash. The Manzanita vinaigrette was tart and fragrant. Who knew you could make salad dressing from a Manzanita plant? The sautéed greens looking suspiciously like kale were tasty with a sort of acidic twang. I think ancient Chumash people probably did not have ice cream, but it was delicious melting on top of an apple crumble made with local apples and garnished with acorn dust.

The gathering ended with a traveling song. Feeling replete and uplifted we headed home.

Thanksgiving Gratitude

The reverence and gratitude that Violet and Jeanette had expressed for, well, everything stayed with me. So did the way they had spoken of the non-human members of nature as their kin and neighbors.

I frequently talk to trees, houseplants, and the variety of animals wandering and flying through our yard. However, I do not think I was conversing with them as peers, neighbors, or potential allies.

During the week following the event, I knew that something had shifted in my relationship with nature when I found myself apologizing to the ice plant that I was removing from my yard because it was choking out everything else. Another day, when a big buck deer wandered into the yard while I was working, I politely asked him if he would come back later. As he sauntered away, I could almost hear him thinking, “I was just passing through anyway.” When I noticed that somebody was living beneath and chewing on the roots of our lion’s tail plant, I suggested to the unseen neighbor that we try to work things out (the jury is still out on that one).

Although I do not fully understand how the diversity of life on Earth makes Earth, well, Earth, I do believe that everything connects somehow. People do not have dominion over nature we are part of it.

This year, I propose that we enlarge our gratitude circle beyond the family and friends gathered around our Thanksgiving tables to the whole of nature.

On Thanksgiving, take the opportunity to step outside for a few minutes or a long time and give thanks to a tree, a bird, a spider, a flower, a lake, a plant, or a mountain. How do you give thanks to a tree? It is up to you. Perhaps with a gentle hug, a prayer, a gift of water, listening, or just saying thank you. You get the idea.

“I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect.” – David Suzuki

Happy Thanksgiving!

Featured Image at Top: Give Thanks in Block Letters with Fall Leaves, Acorns, and Pine Cones – Photo Credit iStock/jenifoto

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