Monday, December 2, 2013

My War On Christmas

I am declaring War On Christmas this year. Finally!

I’ve been leaning this way for a long time, albeit non commitally and without a proper label, but this year I’m resolute. I am launching rockets of indignant abstinence at toy corporations, dropping bombs of boycott on every cheaply produced hunk of plastic crap that the advertising machine tells my kids they need. I don’t care how well it was engineered, I don’t care if it promises that my kids will be more brilliant and creative ( if!) as a result of playing with it. Any product that was manufactured by an unfairly treated worker before it was shipped to a corporate chain to be stocked and sold by another poorly compensated worker is no gift at all, and is in fact a blight on the real notion of Christmas. The same goes for clothes, shoes, candy… you get the gist. My gift to my family and friends this year is to carefully research every gift that I purchase, to find out where it came from, who made it, and how well that person was compensated for their effort. I don’t want to sound preachy. I don’t want to alienate anyone who has not resolved themselves to the same choices. Of course I hope you’ll join me once you’ve heard me out, but I’ll love you all the same if you don’t. No soapbox, I’m just going to present my position and why I’ve come to this conclusion, and why I think it matters.

It’s no secret, I’m not a religious person. On the spectrum of complete atheist to devout follower of one deity or another, I fall somewhere in the territory of hopeful agnostic. Mostly, I’m hopeful that said deities, should they prove to exist, have a plausible Plan B to this human experiment. I guess I sort of doubt the viability of Plan A, because I read too much Noam Chomsky to be persuaded that it is going to work out well. But even if it can’t, or won’t, I really think it’s lovely here, and I’m attached to a lot of folks, so I’m eager to do what I can to improve and prolong the experience for all of us if possible. That’s not just about me, my family, my friends, my beloved. I feel it for everyone. There are times, often in the middle of a busy restaurant when I should be focused on some important task like fetching wine or toast, when I catch myself in the midst of the human melee and feel entirely connected to it. For a brief moment I see every person around me as a former infant who will die someday, and I feel genuine love for them. This results in a slight existential crisis that resolves itself as soon as someone pisses me off.

It’s the love that’s brought about my War On Christmas. If I understand the fable correctly, Christmas was supposed to be about the collective, right? Like, “hey whole entire world, rejoice, a savior is born unto us!” or something of the sort. Then some people were like, Cool, and some people were like, Nuh-Uh. But regardless of one’s position on the implications of Jesus’s birth, whether or not you believe he was the savior, none of it was about plastic. None of it was about promoting a consumer climate that undermined the collective and made the whole day about corporate profits.

Seriously, you guys, where did this come from?

That's a hot pink wallet with a big rhinestone cross on it. I see these everywhere lately. Isn’t that the symbol of your Jesus’s sacrifice for all mankind? Jesus, who walked around with no shoes on his feet and talked to people about love and compassion? You keep your money in that? I once saw an air freshener featuring Jesus in a crown of thorns, his eyes cast skyward in agony just above the words New Car Smell, and I thought that was pretty tacky, but this wallet thing is really gross! I have every confidence that the people who buy these mean well, they mean to share the gospel as they feel is their calling, but dude... this is about as prominent a symbol of the corporate manipulation of feeble-minded consumers as they come. I think for a long time the invisible wire between mysticism and consumerism went un-illuminated. I won’t venture a guess as to which end is holding up the other, but the two have become connected in such a way that no one is embarrassed by the symbol of sacrifice (by way of excruciatingly painful death) in gaudy rhinestones on, of all things, a fucking wallet. And we aren’t embarrassed either, at the atrocities played out against our neighbors for the sake of a toy that will be cast to the bottom of the toybox by New Year’s Day.

The engineering kit that I was considering as a gift for my five year old was made in China, most likely by a woman. She may not see her family, her mother and father, for weeks. She lives in the factory-town in a small dormatory where she falls asleep alone. Every day she wakes up and works in a room full of people like her. Each of them alone. She has no bargaining power, no rights. There is no collective voice, no union. Do I really want that in my daughter’s hands? Merry Christmas, and Fuck you, young lady who doesn't see her own kids so that I only had to spend $30 on a toy that you should have been paid $200 to make, but you probably only made about $3 that day.

The necklace I was looking at for my eleven year old is made of gold that was mined in Papua, by a national without an identity outside being an employee of the corporation that retains full control over his government. His country is not sovereign, they are owned by Freeport, a gold mining and manufacturing firm. Any protest, even peaceful protest, for safe working conditions and fair wages is met with incarceration. Do I really want that hanging around her neck? Merry Christmas and Tough Shit, 14 year old kid who had to go work in the mines because you were born into a country where your parents, indigenous people, have been marginalized to the point of near slavery.

I live in a town full of artisans. There is a musician, an artist, a crafter of something beautiful on every block. What a lovely gift that is for my sweet babies, to support this community of such abundant creativity. I bet if you look around your own town, your own neighborhood, you’ll find the same. I’m seeing this Christmas as an opportunity to be a part of the collective, rather than an excuse to undermine it.

Check this out:

My neighbor makes these! He harvests clay and molds these lovely creations and then fires them in a kiln he built his-fucking-self! I'm drinking a little brandy and cider out of this one right now. He makes cups and bowls and platters and the most lovely, utilitarian hand-potted stuff you can imagine. And we should all have them because they're super fun to use. (Seriously, if you want some of his stuff, let me know. Buy it, and I will ship it to you for free.)

And this:

A beautiful girl I work with makes these one-of-a-kind, gorgeous, hand-crafted earrings. And she's so cool that the cool probably gets into the leather and makes you cool when you put them on... I'll let you know. I can't think of a better gift than that for an eleven year old girl. There's a big sale this weekend in my town, and that cool girl and a lot of other cool girls are going to be there selling their handmade stuff for a fair price. I will be there with my dollars.

In a market driven economy, the consumer has, quite literally, all the power. The trouble comes in when corporate propaganda is disguised as harmless advertising and we are convinced that we need something that we don't. Then we put our powerful dollars directly into the pockets of the people who are influencing legislative policy to keep us from organizing as a collective. These same corporations are undoing labor unions and "persuading" our leaders to restructure the tax codes in their favor. And so it goes, round and round, most notably at Christmas, when we are too busy feeling nostalgic to pay attention to our dollars very carefully. Public relations didn't exist as a career until it was clear that the only way to control people in a non-dictatorial society was through mind-control. Now we have billions of dollars spent by corporations every year, researching our habits and playing to our weaknesses in an effort to squeeze every last cent. With the other hand they are squeezing every last breath of life from people in countries like China, Pakistan, India, Papua, who are mining and making the shit that keep us calm and quiet and make us feel like we own a little piece of the dream. Can't complain too much, after all, I do have an iPod...

This year those fuckers are not getting a dime from me. I can't think of a bigger gift for my kids than the ability to pay attention, to think critically, to question everything. I can't think of a better effort to make for them than to endeavor to bow out of the system that is designed to keep their voices quiet.

There will be presents. This year under the tree, they will find the fruits of artisans from our own community, whom I trust I have compensated fairly. There will be music and lessons in art and dance and sport, and candy and bright, pretty things, and we can talk about the birth of Jesus and the scared mama in the manger because there are still mamas giving birth in the dirt who don't have clean water or nutritious food, and no wise men are showing up with gifts and no angels are singing to the shepherds, and those women and babies deserve our attention. At the very least, they deserve our abstinence from a system that is keeping them poor. We are the collective.

And that is my War On Christmas.


  1. Testify, Meghan! Well done, as usual.

  2. Word! I think this same thing virtually every day when zach exclaims "I want that" as he sees a commercial for some piece of crap he doesn't need. My war on Christmas is vowing to not be a stressed out basket case that misses the moments I should enjoy during this lovely month. Enjoy.

  3. I forwarded this post on to several friends who agree with the idea of buying local. I say every year that I hate Christmas, but really, I hate the hubbub that surrounds it. I hate the "it's Christmas, be nice!" when really, I think people should just be nice regardless of what day or season it is.

    My Christian friends got a real kick out of the blinged wallet. :)