We all live on one planet. We live within many worlds. Ads and news show things that make me realize that isn’t my world. Good. Sad. Reality.
I haven’t sung so much since last Christmas. I like Christmas carols, particularly the ones about friends, feasts, and fun. The snow parts are good, too. One of my many holiday traditions is to play George Winston’s December album on Thanksgiving Day. Pardon me as I stop typing long enough to get it playing the in background. … (I wonder what takes longer, starting the music by aligning the needle on an LP, dropping a CD into a player and working through the menus, or convincing iTunes that I want to play only a certain set of songs. But, I digress.) The only other time I’ll sing a lot is on a sunny summer day while doing chores when I launch into my internal Jimmy Buffet collection. Very therapeutic. George Winston’s music is simple piano, but I use it as prelude to carols that are easy to sing. On some of my evening walks I’ll conduct a solo caroling session that no one else hears except the other walkers.
The songs describe a different world, but do so sweetly. The ads describe a different world, but are loud, pushy, and make grand assumptions while delivering a dose of guilt.
Buying a tree. I’m more likely to ask a neighbor if I can cut down a Charlie Brown tree that they consider a conical weed. We both benefit, and I get a tree that is far fresher than one from a parking lot.
Buying presents. The average American will spend about $750 on gifts. Years ago I spent above average because I had the money, missed home and family, and everyone was younger. Toys are fun; but as we get older, gifts become more practical, then more consumable, then an obligation rather than a celebration. For people who are downsizing, more stuff is not more goodness – though the thought is appreciated.
Decorations. The hardware stores’ shelves of lights and ornaments are pretty and amazing. I enjoy putting up a few, as I have time. My favorite outdoor tree to decorate was a living tree that I transplanted. It lasted years, but finally died during one of our droughts. Becoming a scratching post for the deer didn’t help. Maybe I’ll do something with the lilacs instead. The rosemary gets trimmed this time of year. Some of the branches are six feet tall. I can’t use all of that in the kitchen so I wait until after Thanksgiving, whack it back, and turn the cuttings into garland and a wreath. My Dad’s big, old, inefficient but colorful outdoor lights get strung around. They’re pretty, probably keep some critters warm, and are a reminder of the family home. I’m one of those people who remember each ornament’s story as it goes from box to branch. It’s a long session of reminiscing.
Total it all and get to over a thousand dollars easily. For many like me, a thousand dollars isn’t so easy.
As my frugality has shifted from choice to necessity, I find my holiday celebrations shifting. A few visits with friends, as work schedules allow. Very few community events, because they tend to be relatively expensive, especially if they are potlucks or require gifting. Almost no shopping, except for food and a few small items. When possible, I bake or make gifts, and am more likely now to find that people are happy enough with what they have and have no desire to have more.
I enjoy seeing the pictures of kids opening presents, photos of grand feasts that someone else has to cook and clean and work off. I enjoy the generally more friendly way people treat each other, almost as if they still care about whether Santa is watching. In addition to the music, I enjoy watching a string of holiday movies. The list changes a bit each year: White Christmas, Muppet Christmas Carol, Love Actually, Scrooged, Aardman’s Robbie the Reindeer and Creature Comforts, and the Hogfather.
As with most people, most of the time is spent working, fitting in some of the traditions (got to get to those cards, including ordering some from my Whidbey series), and somehow keeping up with life maintenance.
The ads are in such contrast to my situation that they are jarring rather than jolly. Their attempts to get me to spend come across as lacking compassion, definitely a contrast in this season. The world they display rarely exists regardless of the season, but the urgency now is so severe that it pushes me away rather than draws me in. Their assumptions don’t match my reality. For years, I saw myself as the fault. Now I look around and see I’m not alone, that many in my community and network are redefining the holidays for themselves. Rather than a flaw, my personalization is closer to a proper celebration.
Displays of new cars, multi-million dollar houses, phenomenal vacations, sophisticated gadgetry aren’t confined to the season, but the assumption that everyone wants them becomes more jarring when combined with the other dissonances. As of 2015, 32% of American adults didn’t have smartphones. Don’t assume everyone can “just get the app.” Regardless of poverty measures, 20% of Americans have a negative net worth, which means any holiday purchases make things worse. As many as 15% don’t have Internet access while institutions increasingly are going paperless.
There’s a tendency to assume each of us is a representative of some group, some demographic, some ideology. I think the thing that was uncovered in the recent election is that society’s demarkations are archaic. Beyond the holidays, people are becoming less constrained in the ways they are defining themselves by choice and necessity. Some will retreat to old models. It would be highly improbable if everyone abandoned every existing institution. The political parties missed the shift in the electorate. I suspect retailers may do something similar, though it may take longer for traditions to abate. What will they do when there’s no place at the North Pole for Santa’s workshop?
There’s a freedom and a value in frugality and individuality. Even while being part of a community, understanding what you want and need means wasting less time, money, and energy on other people’s expectations. As more people do so, they can be in a better mood and have more to share. If we live with more respect for each other’s worlds and don’t assume they don’t exist, we may find more lessons that work with the reality that the world is changing, our worlds are changing, even while we’re all on the same planet.
More joy, more happy, more merry. Gifts I can hope for.