Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas - A Time to Reflect on our Shopping Habits

No sooner have we finished our Thanksgiving dinner than the invasion of the Christmas shopping season begins. This year as we are painfully aware many stores moved their opening times back into Thursday evening to capture still more sales. This blatant consumerism offended myself and many others, but apparently didn't stop many people from rushing to the stores to get that great deal. I shouldn't be surprised really, because consumerism is one of our American idols, although it receives precious little attention from the pulpits of our churches. It does strike me as extremely sad that a country which so warmly embraces and affirms a celebration of Thanksgiving follows it immediately with an orgy of buying more stuff.

In some years past I have adopted a quite negative attitude toward gift-giving. I would argue that it detracts from the “true meaning” of Christmas, that it promotes greed and consumption and really runs counter to the very message of the Gospel. In many ways it does. But I now look at it differently and recognize that this season of gift-giving can be a time of blessing, a time when by promoting giving we do emphasize a very positive quality. By refusing to give or receive gifts, I may very well rob myself and others of the joy that can come from giving. By adopting an anti-gift mentality, do I become like Scrooge?

This year I want to be more open and free in giving and receiving gifts. This does not mean I should go into debt to buy gifts or that I need to buy multiple gifts for everyone—including my family. But it can be a time to express my appreciation and love for others by giving a significant item or two. I want to recapture the joy of giving that I have lost in my tight-fistedness over the years.

Because Christmas does include gift-giving, it presents a great opportunity to stop and think about our purchasing habits. What are we buying? Where did it come from? What does our quest to pay the lowest price mean for those who produce the items we buy? What does it mean for the environment? We should be conversing about these things as a society and certainly as followers of Jesus Christ. We shouldn't engage in mindless consumerism, mistakenly thinking that our shopping habits have nothing to do with morality or justice. They do, very much so.

I doubt that any of us can completely abstain from shopping. If nothing else we need food to live and things do wear out and need replaced. But I greatly admire Danielle at From Two to One for her goal of not buying anything new this year. I also appreciate her desire to move beyond tokenism in buying goods that are fair trade or support various ministries. We do well to consciously think about how we can purchase gifts and everyday items in ways that benefit the producers and promote sustainable economic practices. We can look for vendors who sell meaningful items and not just cute trinkets so that by our shopping we affirm the value and dignity of those who produce the items. PerfectNumber628, on her blog Tell Me Why The World is Weird, correctly reminds us that fair trade shouldn't be about cute and adorable. It should be about changing the way we shop and the way we produce so that the entire transaction becomes one that affirms worth, affirms dignity, creating value for both producer and consumer and at the same time respecting the world in which we live. I really appreciate these two authors and many others who are helping us to think more carefully about our shopping habits and offering us alternatives that go beyond cute, adorable tokens that we really don't need.

Of course shopping this way does take more effort than simply looking for the greatest deal on or at the local Walmart. It may mean at times choosing not to buy. It also requires that we shop realistically and recognize that unfortunately not everything can yet be found from fair-trade, sustainable, dignity-affirming producers. Rather than judging others for their purchases, we can encourage them to think about the implications and impact of their purchase so that perhaps next time they (or we!) will consider what they buy more carefully and make changes where possible. We will not change the economic structure of our culture or globally by our changing our shopping habits, but we can each make a small but significant impact as we carefully spend the money God has provided for us. We won't eliminate the consumerism of Christmas in America, but in small ways we can transform it for good.

I'd love to hear how you are creatively transforming not only your Christmas shopping but your overall buying habits. What creative ideas and dignity-affirming vendors have you found?

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