Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas Resistance

[It's not my intention to slight or promote Christmas celebrations]

Every year as the Christmas season approaches I get the strangest, uneasy feeling that "I just don't want to participate!"

I seem to instinctively know that there's something wrong. Something is just not right with the way America is celebrating this holy holiday; or maybe it's that I want to feel that it's an optional thing, with no shame attached for not indulging in material consumption, overindulgence and frenzy—and I don't.

I certainly don't have anything against Christmas, love the man they call Christ as much as anyone, I enjoy the lights as I walk though my neighborhood at night, look forward to the stock market's Santa Clause rally, but is this really the way He would have wanted us to remember his birthday?

While doing some research to back-up my suspicions I came across this by the Christmas Resistance Movement, "You know holiday shopping is offensive and wasteful. You know Christmas 'wish lists' and 'gift exchanges' degrade the concept of giving. You know Christmas marketing is a scam, benefiting manufacturers, stores, and huge corporations, while driving individuals into debt. You know this annual consumer frenzy wreaks havoc on the environment, filling landfills with useless packaging and discarded gifts. Yet, every year, you cave in and go shopping."

Wow! That about summed it up for me!

So... I took a stand this year: This Christmas I decided to do something different and volunteered some time at a couple of local agencies. But before I made my plans and set out to celibrate "my way," I did a little more research to find out what this tradition was really all about.

Background: Americans Celebrate Christmas in Diverse Ways

The early New England Puritans frowned on the often boisterous Christmas celebrations they witnessed in Britain. In 1659, the Massachusetts colony briefly criminalized observance of the day and Christmas remained a regular workday in much of New England and Pennsylvania. Other parts of British North America, however, celebrated with gusto, with costumed revelers passing door to door and receiving small gifts of food and drink.

The modern, more commercialized Christmas began to emerge in the 19th century with the new custom of purchasing gifts for young children. Seasonal "Christmas shopping" began to assume economic importance.

With Christmas shopping vitally important to some retailers, Christmas has expanded into a "season" of its own. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed moving the Thanksgiving holiday to extend the shopping period between that holiday and Christmas. Today, the day after Thanksgiving is known as "Black Friday."

—U.S. Department of State, International Information Programs

Now, having armed myself with information (I had lots more, but don't want to bore you) and executing what I had in mind, here's what I did:

On Christmas Eve I served as the Salvation Army Giving Tree elf at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights. No, ha! I didn't have to wear a funny hat, but I was stationed right by Santa Clause inside the mall and in front of Penny's store. People walking by would pick a suggestion tag off the Giving Tree and purchase gifts for needy kids from the mall's stores or anywhere else. Then they would bring them to me to be cataloged and stored at our Giving Tree headquarters—I brought in $733 worth of children's gifts in 5 1/2 hours.

Then on Christmas day I helped out at St. John's Shelter for Women and Children in Sacramento. I was the supervisor in their computer lab, which they usually don't open for use unless they have a volunteer available. I had 5 computers humming and 9-10 kids and adults clicking mice all afternoon 'til 9pm. The kids were a blast, smart, really good at using the Internet: I chatted and joked with them the whole time and helped them with everything from Barbie.com to PaperDollHeaven.com to online sports games.

When I was done, I felt satisfied with Christmas.

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris