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.)