Are You Ready for Christmas?

I am thinking deeply and intently on Christmas at the moment, memories of a conversation being stirred up by a chance remark while out shopping: “Are you ready for Christmas?” It was somewhere about December 1st, I believe, when a well-meaning, kindly sort of middle-aged woman asked me that question. The memories I refer to here are of a delicious conversational rant I enjoyed with a friend – oh, probably a few years back. She was irritated at the assumptions implicit in the question, not to mention the ubiquitous banality of it, as was I. As if Christmas consists of X, Y, and Z purchases which will ensure the requisite readiness.

 Neither my friend or I celebrate Christmas as Christians, for that is not our religion, which is true for many millions of people. On the other hand, most of the world celebrates some sort of festival at this time of year, and those traditions of the Northern Hemisphere are well-ingrained for many of us. So while it is perhaps a touch insensitive to blithely assume all your fellow shoppers do celebrate Christmas, I am not about to embark on a deconstruction of the politically correct holiday address. Call it Christmas, call it what you will, we set aside a day at the beginning of the winter season to celebrate, and that is a beautiful thing.

What I was shopping for on that day was lined paper, and you, my imaginary friend, will be pleased to know that I am sitting in my favourite 1940s library chair writing on said paper, whilst sipping a cup of Kick Ass coffee. Cogitating on Christmas. That shall be my last purchase other than food necessities until January, for I cannot bear to be a part of the dysfunctional ritual shopping farce that Christmas has apparently become for some. I am curious (and ever hopeful) to see if more people shall disconnect themselves this year. It simply cannot be bought, the magic and charm of the season.

 I was, I think, five years old when my cousin told me that there was no such being as Santa, but I never really believed her, for I could see the spirit of Santa Claus in everyone and everything. The bright lights and beautiful decorations, the special foods and feasting, the treats, the happy, smiling people everywhere and many visitors, the ordinary cares of the world set aside for a few days. Silver-shining blessed moments such as these could only be invoked by magic, I reasoned then and still do.

 Most of my Christmases have been spent with the family I grew up with, though not all for we live far apart. But those moments preserved as memories of the very best of times mysteriously bind us together in ways that cannot be reckoned logically. A couple of gifts stand out: a big box of second-hand books, one year (we are all book lovers), and another – a pony. The entire neighbourhood came out on their doorsteps on Christmas Day to clap and cheer as I rode my pony through the gently falling snow. What a picture postcard scene to hold fast to my heart: my family, my friends, my community showing their joy at my joy.

There is much more I want to tell you, my imaginary friend – yes, it will be a book, and it will be ready next year about this time, I think. I am hoping you will forget this, though, as they are likely to be next year’s gifts. And I am not telling you what this year’s gifts are, although I have been working on them for months. When I finish this I shall start on making some special cakes for friends and family…Christmas here will be full of simple feasts and simple pleasures and simple good cheer. No frantic shopping required.

 Maybe I shall end here with a vignette of Rudolph, who is about fifty-six years old – older than me, anyway!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally Rudolph pranced about in the snow (oh, that marvelous fake snow that looked so real!) with his team mates and sleigh and Santa, all encased in a golden sort of cage. It was a table ornament, I guess, and I loved it with a fierceness that still surprises me. Sadly, a few years ago the thing pretty much disintegrated, and my mommy gave me Rudolph as a keepsake. You know, when I look at him I remember just how he used to look, proudly leading his sleigh. Never shall that vision tarnish, for it is my symbol of everything Christmas.

 Joy. Goodwill. Peace on Earth.

 Yes, I am ready for Christmas.

Buy Nothing Day

Today is Buy Nothing Day, as brought to you by Adbusters for the last twenty-five years, apparently. I haven’t been aware of the campaign for that long and I am not writing here about Adbusters in particular, but about what this meme has meant to me. For I do remember that the first Buy Nothing Day I can recall found me shopping. I can’t remember the details, but I am pretty sure I went grocery shopping which I have a tendency to put off until desperate – out of food, or out of coffee, more likely.

I suppose I was already absorbing the lesson of how dependant we North Americans are, all but a very few of us in any event – whether we live in big cities, small towns, or sleepy rural villages – most of us  depend on the work of thousands of people to sustain us: to feed and clothe us, to keep us warm, to transport us around. Should any of these systems fail we are in trouble, and that is rather contrary to the picture we like to paint of ourselves as free citizens exercising a choice. We consume because we have to, so the idea of Buy Nothing Day is an exercise – for a day – of examining what and when and how and why we consume, and I think there are some terribly interesting things to be learned from that.

 Perhaps Buy Nothing Day has been misunderstood as a kind of earnest, lefty rant about consumerism, or maybe even conjures up the crusty old Scrooge or some such image. So I want to be very clear that I am writing about my experiences and what I have learned. I haven’t much interest in writing prescriptions for anyone else, save this: that in the quest for the ‘good life’ it is worth examining everything, I think. (I must insert here that I am irritated to have run out of lined paper to write my first draft on, and have resorted to the keyboard. I really do observe Buy Nothing Day, these days!)

 I will take you back to when this began in earnest for me: I was running a business, a rather successful business with thirty full-time employees and usually another dozen or so part-time, and I simply couldn’t keep up with the demand from consumers. I did not see how I could logically manage more employees, more customers, more, more, more – that is, not if I wished to run a small business that brought me a comfortable living. My business consultant thought I should sell franchises, but that didn’t appeal: I did not have it in mind to be an executive, but a small business owner doing the things I loved. I set about creating a business that sustained a steady range of income, that neither grew too much, nor contracted too much, and that proved much more interesting to manage and required me to be much more creative in my planning too.

 It was inevitable that I would look at my personal life too: I think in those days I spent a fair bit on clothes, and shoes, and cosmetics, and books and CDs and going out for brunch, lunch, dinner for lack of time, often, and I also had a small house. I loved the small house and wasn’t willing to move, so managing stuff took up time, time I resented. It was easier to stop buying some of the stuff in the first place, so I did. Everything I decided to stop buying at first was the obvious stuff; obvious because I didn’t miss it and nothing was missing in my life: just the opposite, I had more time and I wasn’t managing stuff. Naturally I had more money: money that went into a savings account, and money that I could be generous with when it came to charitable donations. That giving gave me a lot of pleasure, I found.

Of course, I am trying to compress here a kind of ongoing game I played for more than 15 years. Did I need it? Did I love it?  These were always the criteria, and it is now an absolute reflex, and ingrained habit for me to ask of myself when buying pretty much anything. These days it is out of necessity that my purchasing is restricted – as is true for so very many of us – but necessity does not feel harder than choosing, paradoxically. True, there are things I must give up in order to drink the fair trade, organic, bird-friendly coffee that I love – Kick Ass Roast from Kicking Horse Coffee – but I love the coffee. It is a morning ritual to prepare it just so, and to spend an hour or so enjoying the flavour and aroma and terroir of the bean. More importantly, it is an integral part of my day that brings me immense pleasure and satisfaction. In the main, that has become the ethos of Buy Nothing Day for me: that I do less, and have less, but what I have and do is so much more intensely pleasurable and joy-constructed.

 We are not what we buy, but what we love. No matter what the marketers tell us, we cannot be defined by our possessions. We cannot be defined by which of the colas we drink, and you know who they are, I refuse to name them, and I do not drink them – or what laptop we purchase or what cell phone we  have. Neither by movies we might care to watch, or books we read, or what brand we purchase. For me, there are ‘right’ choices and ‘not right’ choices, and those choices might be different for you. But if all each of us does is to make the choice that feels good and right to us, that brings us pleasure or brings another pleasure, then we have set out upon our true path to a life of meaning. I think Buy Nothing Day is worth thinking about, and talking about, and reflecting upon for these reasons. We can awake to a sense of both purpose and pleasure in the day ahead of us, as well as constructing our days to bring us joy. I suspect that might mean less is more, for some things, and more, much more, of other things. But I am pretty sure we cannot get there without some deep reflection on the ways we spent our money and the things we do to get that money, and of course, all the things that money cannot buy.