To Spree or Not to Spree - Holiday Shopping
I've spent some goodly time over the last few weeks wandering through shops and stores to try to crank up some holiday spirit. I know a lot of people hate the holiday traffic and crowds, but I have always loved them. The traffic might be crazy but you know (or at least I imagine) all the cars filled with holiday shoppers. The crowds are tight but they are (or at least I imagine) full of people smiling and having fun.
I love the holiday decorations down Main Street, the window displays full of holiday dioramas, the cheesy holiday music flowing out of every speaker, the velvety red garlands above the racks of holiday cheese and crackers at the market, the over the top displays of warm holiday print blankets and blingy holiday party dresses (although I have never gone to a holiday party that would require that sort of apparel) in the department stores.
Which makes it all the more ironic that on a purchasing level, I've become less and less of a participant every year.
I realize that all the glitz and glitter is to draw in the shoppers and make them SPEND MONEY. And yet, although I like to watch the show, I don't have any desire to pull out my wallet and pay my percentage of making it happen. In the past I've enjoyed holiday shopping. Perhaps because, for decades, money was always been tight, so on the occasional year when we could splurge, it made it a special experience.
But over the years, as we've had more consistent discretionary income, it's become more of an obligation to spend, spend and spend and I've enjoyed it less, less, and less. Too, although the raven in me still loves shinies and baubles, the crone in me is less enamored each year with THINGS. I still enjoy the experience of shopping, but I don't necessarily want to top it off with bags of things to bring home.
I understand that the way our economy works, spending is a "good" thing. It creates jobs and increases prosperity. That's true, within the construct of of consumer culture. And yet as much as I'm culturally programmed to feel warm and fuzzy by the idea of busy shoppers, there's some part of my brain that finds it discomforting. The idea of buying our way to prosperity forever and ever just feels like a pyramid scheme on a grander scale. The world can't sustain that sort of growth forever. Instead of valuing MORE, I think we have to find our way to valuing ENOUGH.
I didn't really know where to go with this contradiction in my head, when I accidentally stumbled upon a lecture on ...I think it was C-Span.... by Joel Waldfogel, the author of Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays.
It sounds dreadfully bah humbug but honestly, it wasn't. He didn't advocate NOT giving gifts completely. Instead it was more about the economic quality of gift giving the way it's practiced today. His concern seemed similar to mine - he wasn't opposed to giving gifts, he was opposed to the expectation and practice of obligatory and not well thought out gift giving. I won't go into all that he said, feel free to Google his thoughts online or even buy his book (I might check it out next time I'm in a large bookstore and gift myself with it!) I just wanted to mention it to say that it's nice to know I'm not the only person who is confused by this annual frenzy of going into debt diguised as a holiday tradition.
While I'm still confused by how to balance it all, it's not like we ignore our call to public service. Au contraire! We're excellent consumers during the month of December! We spend money on extra "going out" this and that - an extra Starbuck latte, an extra dinner out after an afternoon at the shops, more batteries for photo snapping, more foods for family snacking. We spend money on travel both to and fro. I certainly justify the purchase of additional craft supplies. We spend more and more in recent years on charity purchases, trading the extra time we used to donate with the extra income it's easier and quicker to donate now. We go out to holiday movies at the theatres. The difference with most of this is that we aren't buying products but experiences.
And that doesn't confuse me at all. Experiences, especially experiences shared with those we love, are better than things. More fun. Less dusting.