Op Ed
November 30, 2007

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Consuming Christmas
by Vicki Walker

Feeling overwhelmed about Christmas? Check out “Christmas” on line and the number of websites is enough to send you into a second depression.

The National Mental Health Association says financial stress at Christmas as a big cause of the “holiday blues,” which ends up in anxiety and depression.

Do not despair!

There are sites that will help you “solve” your problem — which is you don’t like Christmas. Or you feel Christmas isn’t what it should be. Or Christmas is never the way it is in the movies.

Websites abound with suggestions; for instance, some tell you to manage your time; have a preset dollar amount to spend ahead of time; limit the number of gifts; shop on line; shop all in one day; SHOP SHOP SHOP!

A scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas TV show goes something like this:

Charlie and Linus are wandering through the acres of lit Christmas trees with baubles and neon signs saying “Buy Here,” and finally run into Snoopy who is decorating his doghouse for an annual display. The flyer reads: “Find the true meaning of Christmas. Win MONEY MONEY MONEY. Super! Colossal! Stupendous!”

Charlie Brown goes back into his annual depression.

Christmas by the numbers

When did the number of presents and how much each cost become the gauge of a good Christmas? There are people who actually celebrate the holidays by NOT giving presents, or at least not giving anything bought from a store, which just reading those words is enough to send the retail industry into therapy.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average person this year will spend $923 for Christmas this year, up nearly 4% from 2006, but according to the American Express Retail Index that is down from a high of $1,564 in 2001.

Consumers spent $438.6 billion during “the season” in 2006, according to NRF. Americans total credit card debt is more than $600 billion dollars, a 2001 Consumer Federation of America survey found.

Americans send enough cards during this time of year to fill a football field ten stories high, resulting in the killing of 300,000 trees, according to Use Less Stuff (http://use-less-stuff.com/).

Household garbage increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, according to the Environmental News Network.

What really matters?

A poll conducted by Widmeyer Research and Polling for the Center for a New American Dream in 2005 showed 87% of Americans believe the holidays have become too materialistic and should be more about family and caring for others, not giving and receiving gifts.

Seventy four percent of Americans — that’s 3 out of 4 — do not think it is necessary to spend a lot of money to have a great holiday.

According to another poll by Widmeyer Research on kids, the “nag factor” — that “please, please, mom…Janie and Kimmie both have the shiny, sparkly thing that I want SO much!” — is actually a marketing tool built into product design.

So parents can arm themselves. Kids feel the pressure, too, and YOU are their out. But who will help the parents?

Consume less, enjoy more

There are a plethora of websites and self-help books to point you in myriad directions, from buying fewer gifts, to alternative gifts, no gifts or handmade gifts.

One of those websites can be found at New American Dream (www.newdream.org), a site that helps you understand how to “live consciously, buy wisely and make a difference.”

Buying nothing for Christmas seems like a drastic way to get control, especially if you have children. But in Canada, there is group who would like you to do exactly that (www.Buynothingchristmas.org)

Simplifying your holidays doesn’t have to be difficult but it does require a change in attitude. That attitude says, “ I am not what I consumer. I do not have a shopping gene and I refuse to let Corporate America control what I buy, believe or how I behave. Holidays are for family, friends and fun.”

One local woman convinced her family to stop exchanging gifts and to start donating to Heifer International (www.heifer.org.) This is truly the gift of hope. A donation can buy a chicken or part of sheep or a whole cow to be given to a family in a poverty-stricken part of the world. It offers them the chance to feed themselves and become self-sufficient. What a gift! One that keeps on giving, too.

Another couple sans children agreed to give each other “time,” not gifts. Still another are giving “experiences” — shared time with the grandkids. That may include an outing to the movies, theater or symphony over the holidays. Or a carriage ride through the Plaza. Or an afternoon cooking cookies in a kitchen filled with the smells of chocolate chips and love.

And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

Vicki Walker is a Kansas City-based writer and host of KC Media Watch Dogs, Mondays, 9:30 am, on KKFI.


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