People do lots of things in the name of God. People kill each other, steal each other’s possessions and spit on each other. People also serve free food to those who are hungry, shake the hands of strangers and even, recently, go to a remote island filled with natives who dutifully kill anyone who approaches them.
So, perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising to me that so many people go into debt in the name of God. And what I’m talking about, of course, is Christmas.
Across the globe from my American hometown, here in Melbourne, Australia, I see a few Black
Friday ads and holiday decorations popping up. That’s to be expected, as almost everything about Australia seems to be nothing but a kinder and less … gun-ny (?) … version of America. Strip malls still line the roads. Thrift shops, known cheekily as op shops here, are all over. You can buy anything you want. Last night, I stayed at a hotel overlooking a shop that specialized in rugs. The electric neon sign repeatedly scrolled, “Range of Rugs! $$$$ Rugs! Rugs! Rugs!”
But without Thanksgiving, of course, Black Friday doesn’t have the same frenzied draw here. No one is talking about Cyber Monday. Today is “Small Business Saturday.” I see plenty of cute small businesses nearby, but looking around the café I’m at I can’t say anyone has that “I gotta spend my paycheck today” vibe.
Black Friday is even a more ludicrous concept in Taiwan, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia – the last five countries I lived in. While Taipei, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are certainly modern cities – the Gangnam area of Seoul even has a famous song highlighting its excesses – there’s simply not the dramatic push by every member of society to prove your love for others by buying them things.
Or worse … prove your love of God by buying things. Because, of course, nothing says “I’m a good person and deserve to go to heaven” like by buying sparkling, plastic decorations to fill your home … only to pack it all up with relief in a big, plastic bin a month later and stuff it into the storage locker you rent because you have too many things for your mini-mansion.
Every year, like me, I’m sure, you shake your head as you watch the videos of people pushing their way into a big box store in a desperate attempt to get a discounted television. They’ll elbow each other out of the way to save a little money so that they can have the capacity to accumulate even more things in a sad attempt to feel better.
Because, that’s what we’re trying to do, right? We’re trying to feel better. We use a holiday that
was once about showing a love for God and – even if we don’t believe in God – we spend hundreds, sometimes thousands. We may be trying to feel good, but often the aftermath is a financial hangover that adds to the real one we get from all those fancy cocktail-filled parties.
I know for me, toward the end of my time participating in the holiday season, I’d be exhausted. I’d bake cookies for my neighbors. I’d hang pretty lights on my house. I’d buy and decorate a beautiful tree. I’d buy well thought-out presents for everyone I knew – every close family member, my love interest, my dear friends and usually the children of those dear friends as well. I’d purchase a few new dresses for all those parties. I’d get my nails done. I’d buy and then mail around 100 Christmas cards to loved ones living far away. I’d make treats and wrap them thoughtfully for all of my co-workers. I’d purchase extra bottles of wine to give as hostess gifts. I’d usually make special crafts that I would plan out months in advance. I’d never break the bank, because I was working three or four jobs at the time. But I’d spend.
But anyone who is my friend or my family member, I would hope, doesn’t feel like I love them less simply because I am no longer giving them gifts. I did have one friend who struggled with this. When I was selling my possessions so that I only own what I can carry (I did it this morning … that’s one way to cut down on the buying!), I asked a dear, dear friend if she would like to have a beautiful wooden instrument that she gifted me earlier. I thought it was a better option than selling it. She was very hurt. Over the years, I’ve tried to reach out to her – because I love and respect her – but in the end it seemed she truly equated our friendship with the gifts she gave me.
I understand that one of the five love languages is gifting, and it’s true. I did feel special last month when my boyfriend gave me a cute coffee mug with a little princess kitty on it. But you know what? That mug already got sold when we sold the van we were living in. He didn’t even notice that I didn’t take it when I packed up my things. Because the mug is not our love. It is an expression of our love. Just like how he makes me coffee in the morning. That’s a different love language: service. That one is free.
You know where I’m going with this. “Yeah yeah yeah,” you’re already saying. “Stop buying things, start living.” It’s like a broken record with this blog, right!? But the reality is that buying things in the name of God is hypocrisy. The more you consume, the worse off the Earth is. Earth, you may recall, is God’s creation. And if you don’t believe in God, then what the hell are you doing participating in the Christmas buying season anyway?
To recap: Buying things is not a necessary way to prove your love for others. Buying things will not make you feel better. Buying things is not a way to celebrate the entire point of the holiday season. If you want to really celebrate this year, get creative. Give your time. Give hugs. Give love, please – in the name of God!