One of my favorite things this time of year is looking at the glow of the Christmas lights and the shadows they cast on all the gifts I’ve bought for my family and friends. Gift giving is one of my greatest passions, especially around this time of year, and it is always a joyous season for most people. If you celebrate Christmas around this time (or any other holiday), it’s possible that you plan on purchasing different gifts for your friends and family.
I absolutely adore giving gifts to friends and family. I love the hunt of finding the perfect gift for all of the people that I care about. I usually don’t stop looking until I find it. I hate giving gifts that are just mediocre. To avoid this, I usually shop right off all the Christmas lists that my friends and family give me. This is a way to guarantee that I get them something that they are sure to enjoy and not return (or give away).
However, often times these lists come with a price (and not just the one on the tag at the store either). Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, and big corporations take advantage. People go crazy and get overjoyed because they can finally afford all those things that their friends and family want. My family included. Now, I’m all for having an opportunity to get gifts for your loved ones at much discounted prices. I can appreciate this, especially as I grew up poor. Second hand toys and clothing were the norm for my family for most of my childhood, and I’m not ashamed of this. It made me really appreciate what I have and to make the most of what I have. It also made me appreciate Black Friday shopping when I was growing up.
However, Black Friday shopping (and shopping around this entire season), something I usually feel really joyful doing with my family, actually really felt not only stale to me but almost sickening this year. Over the course of the last few years, I have become more aware of the impact this shopping does on the environment, on people, and to some extent, depending on what it is, on animals.
Black Friday is the epitome of the consumerist culture that led us to the environmental and humanity crisis that I discussed in a previous blog post, Not just a climate crises.
It really does overwhelm me, and it makes me incredibly sad, angry, and scared for the future of this beautiful planet and for us. As someone who loves to hike, enjoy parks, and see the beauty of other places by traveling, it pains me to know that there is a time limit on all of that if we don’t take serious action.
Why are we buying more things that we really don’t need or won’t use for an extended period of time? Most especially, why are we buying from corporations, like Amazon, just to name an example, that pay few or no taxes? Or corporations that tend to push the majority of their jobs overseas and endanger people working those overseas jobs by having them work in questionable working conditions and for long hours for little pay, such as fast fashion businesses, like H&M and Forever 21, to name some examples? The New York Times article I’ve linked above is a bit dated, and though I know that some companies have pushed to do better, it doesn’t erase the truth that they still are fast fashion companies focused on the bottom line, which means still operating questionably overseas and operating overseas period. Additionally, people complain that immigrants are “taking American jobs.” Seriously? Why don’t you focus on where you buy your products and where those companies produce those products and then talk to me about immigrants taking American jobs? Most people actively contribute (aware or not) to a system that perpetuates the pushing of jobs to overseas workers. That $5 H&M shirt is $5 for a reason. You are getting a great deal at an immense cost. But of course, if we actually gave those jobs to Americans, the cost of the product would go up, because we have much better labor laws protecting workers in the U.S, which require minimum wages, capped working hours, and safe and healthy working conditions, laws that don’t necessarily apply overseas. However, this wouldn’t make people happy either. People would complain that the cost of the product would be too much. You can’t have it both ways. And, let’s not forget to mention also that the fast fashion industry is the second most environmentally polluting industry after the fossil fuel industry. It’s sickening.
But I digress. It’s terrible and overwhelming and depressing. That’s why I decided to get truly serious about my passion for environmental and human justice by choosing to shop locally and second hand or to make my own gifts this year for Christmas gifts for my family and friends. I didn’t work off lists, because as much as I love my family. I know that they just want what they want, and they don’t think about where these products come from. Now, I do not believe this is because they are actively choosing not to know. I just think that there’s also an education crisis in the United States most especially as well, as most of the American public is not taught to be aware of where the products they use and enjoy come from.
However, you can’t exactly tell your family that the purchases they are making are wrong and that they are terrible for contributing to ruining the planet and to inhumane practices. I only just got them to accept that I’m a vegetarian and to not push me to eat meat unless I make the call that I want to. I love my family, and I don’t want them to feel any lesser because of my passion for environmentalism and human justice. I firmly believe that many people, especially in the United States, have difficulty believing that the Climate Crisis and that Corporate Greed are real, because by accepting these, their whole lifestyle, way of living, and their value/belief system are being questioned. So, you can’t bombard them. They will just get defensive. It’s like the “Jesus is real/Hell is real” sign on Interstate 65 on my way home to my parents. Like, okay, yeah you’re totally convincing someone to convert to Christianity by telling them that if they don’t believe in Jesus they are going to Hell. We have to meet each other on a real level of understanding and education. We have to be open to learning and educating each other and ourselves. However, this is not always the easiest for many people.
So, to combat this, I’m deciding to educate my family through my actions: by buying all my Christmas gifts this year at local shops or second hand and ensuring that they are as locally made as possible and by ensuring that they come in either reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable packaging. For the items I couldn’t buy locally, like a coffee grinder for my dad, I was able to find a perfectly good working one at Goodwill.
Now, I understand that buying locally means that things will be more expensive, however, this is also a great opportunity to get fewer items for each family member/friend or to even combine gifts (such as getting one gift that your parents can both use and enjoy), if you were only planning on getting each person one gift anyways.
Buying things second hand is also a great option. I love buying second hand for many reasons: it has less environmental impact, it’s almost as if each item has a story of its own (like it’s been somewhere, and I love imagining what the person who owned it before me’s life was like), and many second hand stores are dedicated to helping people, such as Goodwill, who pours money into training people for jobs who might not have had jobs otherwise, either because they are differently abled or because they do not have financial access to a proper education.
You can also not buy gifts for your friends and family. Instead have a potluck dinner together, for example. Spending time with loved ones is also always a wonderful gift, especially during this time when people are usually quite busy and stressed out from the pressure to have the perfect holiday season. Take some time to enjoy each other’s company, play games, watch movies, or bake together. In a society where we are becoming ever busier and disconnected, this is a perfect gift.
So, whatever your finances allow this Christmas, we have to start somewhere to fight and reverse this climate crisis and corporate greed and to fight against this consumerist society. It all starts with us. We have choices. Yes, of course, we are heavily influenced by marketing, especially with the possibilities with social media. However, we still have a choice. You have a choice, despite what your financial circumstances might be.
We all have choices, and I have faith that you can join me in starting to make the right ones.
I’ve always heard the saying, vote with your dollar, because nothing is more powerful, and I firmly believe this will be the key to making a better society.
So, I encourage you to vote with your dollar this holiday season and to embrace what you have already been blessed with.
Much love and happy holidays everyone,