Christmas consumer frenzy sends me ducking for cover

Nov 22 2011 - 1:27pm

I intend to sleep through Black Friday. If I could, I would sleep from now until Dec. 26.

I really hate this season -- the endless pressure to buy, buy, buy, as if there is something in the acquisition of a discount microfiber sectional sofa that enhances life's quality and extends life expectancy.

On Black Friday, I will be warm and untroubled, occasionally working up enough energy to crack open a book or pick through the food that China King or any of our three neighborhood pizza franchises will deliver. My college-age children will wander through the living room, cuddling with our variety of cats and planning to meet with their high school and college friends.

But I will not go out, much less camp out, in the frozen pre-dawn to get $30 off a laptop or Blu-ray player or a boxed set of anything.

First, I think Christmas should be a short spiritual holiday, not a sprawling credit-driven fantasy in which we all play Daddy Warbucks for a week with charity, get our smug on and assume that impoverished families are covered.

Families who are poor enough to have their names and needs hung on Santa trees are also needy in August. Charitable giving is lovely, but making it seasonal only creates a consumer population that expects great stuff during the holidays and reduced-priced school lunches the rest of the year.

You want to do something meaningful? Tutor a kid in March. Donate a one-time housecleaning to a desperately sick person in May. Mow the lawn of a senior citizen in July. But step off when it comes to what poor children want for Christmas, if you think that's going to give them long-term life improvement. What they need is a sound education, attentive mentoring, a wardrobe that doesn't call attention to their poverty and a chance to succeed. These things don't just come from filling a box with adorable gewgaws and calling it a charitable day.

Teaching kids, rich or poor, that Christmas is about the stuff rather than the experience makes me queasy.

So, no, I haven't participated in Black Friday for a while. Being lazy about commercial Christmas and grateful when it's over -- I spend the entire period between Halloween and Christmas envious of my Jewish friends -- my only real conviction is that I'll shop when I shop, for what I need. It's amazing how often people parrot the themes of "reduce, reuse, recyle, repair" while on their way out of the electronics superstore parking lot with the latest in HDTV splendor.

It's not that I don't believe in Christmas as a day of celebration. I like the hymns and the decorations and two or three days of Christmas good feeling.

But my real attitude toward Christmas was struck by something an acquaintance said many years ago during some form of holiday parental slavery into which we had allowed ourselves to be coerced by our overbearing school: "You know, when I was a child, we didn't even put up a wreath until Christmas Eve. It seemed more special."

She had the right idea. Christmas should be a holiday, a day's vacation with music and a nice church service, a few presents and a good meal.

What I don't like is the Christmas blastathon that sets up having consumers pick through 70-percent-off cashmere sweaters come January.

Here are my reasons:

--I like to sleep. I figure being able to sleep in is worth at least $20 when compared with standing in line in the cold dark for something I do not need, probably don't even like and definitely don't want to go into debt to buy. If a store is advertising genuine leather Chesterfield sofas for $100, I'll make an exception.

But the electronic stuff will get discounted again, just before it is surpassed by new and improved electronic stuff. It always does.

--My children are in college and no longer subject to the toy whim of the year. By the way, if you fight off other crazed parents for the latest overhyped gadget, your kids will never remember it and never, ever thank you for that day you nearly got creamed by a psychotic Papa Bear at the mall. For a Furby. I blush just thinking about the day I did this very thing.

If you're going to lose your dignity, at least do it for something they will remember. Luckily, you are a parent, and your kids are guaranteed to come up against at least one disturbed peacock of an athletic coach, teacher or school administrator, so your options are many.

Just ask your kids what you got them last year. Do they remember? Do they have a sense of how many work-hours it took you to pay for those particular doodads?

--Really, can you feel good about a present that you obtained by knocking over someone in a motorized shopping cart?

--Although I've never lived in a rich family, I don't feel the urge to acquire stuff for its own sake, which is something I seem to have passed along to my kids.

Our day is made should we find a superlatively terrible movie and figure out a way to knock back some more hash brown casserole. One of the best days we ever had, many years ago, was when we were all sick and watched "The Addams Family," again and again. We were together, and except for the occasional barking cough, we were content.

And that, for me, is the true meaning of Christmas. Good luck in the trenches, Black Friday shoppers: May the stripped-down bargain laptop you got to the cash register by drawing blood be all you hope it to be.

Cheryl Truman is a reporter for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. Readers may send her email at ctruman@herald-leader.com.

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