Note to Family: the title above applies to you. The fact is, I am driving around with two antique rapiers in the trunk of my car because I have nowhere to put them in my apartment. I also have a brand-new toaster oven in my shed; I received it as a wedding gift three years ago, and it will remain in its package on the shelf in my shed until I can find the counter space to use it. As for my wife Lisa, she is renting a studio space in Kensington Market so that she can have her own room to create her crafts and a place to put some of her extra rolls and spools of fabric which until now have been part of an unsteady mountain of material dominating the south eastern corner of our computer room. In other words, we are fine for stuff: we don’t need anything. And I can safely assume that you, dear family members, are in a similar situation. And rather than go through the usual Christmas ritual of waiting in endless line-ups to buy things we don’t need and exchanging them for things you don’t need, what about get something for someone who is actually, honestly, in need?
This is where the chickens come in. Through Plan Canada, a mere $40 will buy farming tools and seed for a family in Sudan. $40.00 will buy a pig, $35 will buy six rabbits, and $25 will buy someone a home birthing kit. Now, when your life situation makes things like live pigs and rabbits and hygienic pregnancy kits incredibly useful and possibly life-saving, I would say that you are definitely in need. The choice between spending $30 on yet another Gap tee-shirt and medical kits which could help potentially 10 women deliver healthy babies should be pretty apparent; as obvious of giving a Big Mac either to a man with a tableful of food behind him or a man who is completely emaciated. But year after year, most of us are making the wrong choice. Not only that, we make ourselves believe that the act of giving to people who aren’t in need is actually a genuine “act of giving” – something to feel good about – and not simply a complete, fraudulent waste. The question is why do we do this, year after year?
The answer, I believe, lies in my Note to Everyone Else: please don’t get me anything, because I am not going to return the gesture. Firstly, my savings rate is under the current 4.8 % percent national average. So the small amount of money I do have – I’m sorry to say – is not going towards buying you “The Dark Knight” DVD. Before you write me off as a cheap prick, I’m only halfway through the argument. Now, since the national personal savings rate is only 3 percent, I can safety assume that you also don’t have much money either, and I don’t want a copy of “District Nine” badly enough to put you in debt. I think now is a good time to remind you and myself what the banks are trying to make us forget: when you have to charge something to your credit card, or run an overdraft to make a purchase, you are putting yourself in debt and you should not be spending that money.
But we do spend. And why? I believe it’s all about social pressure and about keeping up appearances. I often catch myself thinking: c’mon, someone my age should be able to afford that. And often enough I make the purchase against my better judgment. During Christmastime this mantra of keeping up with the Joneses becomes the marketing-fed zeitgeist for most of the Western world. Last Christmas, hundreds of Christmas shoppers rushed the doors and stampeded into a Walmart in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York. The calamity has since been labelled as a Black Friday incident. Chances are, everyone involved in that stampede are dealing with enormous credit card bills, including a pregnant mother who miscarried and the Walmart attendant who was trampled to death. In an environment of mass job loss and housing foreclosures, people are literally dying to keep up an outward appearance of success and to reassure themselves they are in control of their lives. How? By buying stuff.
This is an extreme example of what Christmas has become: a blatant, obviously fraudulent way of making ourselves feel good. I don’t know about you, but I no longer care about my appearance, and I am actually taking control. This year I refuse to surrender to guilt-ridden social pressures and the self destructive zeitgeist of consumption. I’m sure, the first time, it will hurt, but I know I can get through it. Label me a poor cheap prick if you want. And if you really insist on spending the money on me, make sure it goes on chickens. To do so, please visit www.plancanada.ca.