Sunday, December 4, 2011

What will you not buy this holiday season?

Walking around Ann Arbor late Friday night, I noticed that all of the shops on Main Street were open until midnight...Midnight Madness they call it. Just when we think have enough in our homes, the stores are open so that in our drunken stupor, we decide to buy something else we don't need. Madness it seems to be, for it is a continuation of the materialistic binge that so definitively marks this time of year.

My family doesn't celebrate Christmas; we're not Christian. And so, we haven't given gifts to each other...not only because we don't celebrate Christmas, but because we never really did. But that isn't to say that gift-giving is wrong or bad. Gift-giving can be emotionally rich and thoughtful. Giving a gift can be giving a part of yourself. It can signify lasting bonds and friendship and love, and the knowledge that someone is there for you, no matter what. Thoughtful gifts don't have to cost anything, but they mean an infinite amount.

But from what I have observed as an outsider to Black Friday and Christmas traditions, gift-giving is far from emotionally meaningful during the holiday season. Are the gifts that many give meaningful for more than a few days? Gift-giving seems to be focused on the new, which will quickly turn into the old and unwanted, instead of turning into the cherished and storied. What is the point of "gifts" then, other than to merely acknowledge your existence? Is there anything more to gift-giving other than appeasement to the cultural norms of gift-giving and shopping to turn the crank of this ecologically-degrading economy?

Maybe people can give more meaningful gifts this year. What about non-materialistic gifts? Maybe little arts and crafts and drawings and poems. Maybe home-made candy and hugs and kind words. What about community gifts? If the Christmas tree is the center-point of your home, your family, your community, why then focus on individual gifts? Why not cherish the communal gifts of family and community and kinship more fully?
(If I am incorrect in this assessment, please point it out.)


  1. Hi, Darshan, this is a hugely relevant and thought-provoking topic, and while I appreciate your sentiment of urging a more communal approach to the giving of gifts, you have yourself provided a most effective premise in support of giving individual gifts right at the outset of your piece (emotionally rich, thoughtful, bonds of friends, giving of yourself, etc.).

    Now, as one who does celebrate Christmas, and also one who is of Indian origin (such as yourself), allow me, if you will, to humbly point out the origin of giving gifts in the true tradition of Christmas. First, to establish the purpose of this holiday: Christ-mass is the mass/feast/celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, some 2045 years ago (take 2011 + 33 years of Christ's life on this earth), and for those who believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, it is the fulfillment of prophecy of the Messiah/Savior of the world. To this end, the verse in the book of John 3:16 states, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life." The birth of Jesus was a gift of God to the world-- a precious token of God's love for mankind-- and in the spirit of remembrance, we likewise give gifts to one another. The birth of Jesus caused "wise men from the East" to seek out this baby in order to bring to him gifts of incense, gold, and myrhh. This gift-giving is yet another manifestation of the great joy that was on display to honor this great event. It was another matter, of course, that the babe that was being honored had nothing to his name, and was born in a cattle manger! Didn't have much and didn't create much waste-- certainly minimized entropy by all means!

    Well, in a nutshell, these are the origins of the tradition of giving gifts for Christmas. I trust this is helpful to further the conversation, and as always, I commend you for your fine efforts at being a good steward of the resources within our environment.

  2. Thanks for this, Smriti. Yeah, I admit that I do not know much about gift-giving. As you have pointed out, it clearly symobolises (or at least used to symbolise) the spirit of the time of year. I fully appreciate gift-giving, and I see its importance.

    But I am finding it very difficult to reconcile that spirit with the drivers of a materialistic society. You know more than I do, but my sense is that today, people don't give gifts because of Jesus, but rather because it is the social norm, because it acknowledges one's presence, and because, well, people are just sold on the idea of gifts. While following a tradition is important, it is difficult to continue to see traditions that result in huge amounts of waste and ecological degradation. And so, I wonder if gift-giving can be done differently.

  3. Couched in this frame of reference that acknowledges an understanding of the origins and greater motivations of this custom of exchanging gifts on the occasion of Christmas, I am certainly an avid supporter of the point that you make, dear Darshan, on the need to being mindful of balancing tradition with being environmentally responsible! And certainly, the point of giving to the community bears great value in a day and a day and age that is witnessing huge amounts of waste and ecological degradation.

    Again, kudos to you for raising a noble point, and in the spirit of the season, I am happy to wish you season's greetings, aka, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!