“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.” —Dr. Seuss
Over the next few days, Americans will spend nearly $37 billion in retail sales on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. The average shopper will spend $423 this weekend.
But this weekend only signifies the beginning of the holiday season. All told, the average consumer intends to spend $720 on gifts this holiday season—and this figure does not include other seasonal spending: food, decorations, and other holiday items. Some surveys predict Americans will spend nearly $600 billion during the winter holiday season.
Unfortunately, the entire holiday shopping craze is based on unhealthy foundations. It finds its roots in a society conditioned to act on impulse and solve problems with purchases. It is spurred on by corporations appealing to the aspects of us that are selfish and self-centered. And the short-sighted philosophy fueling the excess is the belief we can find happiness in our purchases. But the premise is wrong.
We recognize it each December as the cycle of holiday spending begins again. We recognize it next month as the conversation inevitably turns to diets, home organization, and debt relief. Even more, if we look close enough, we can notice the foolishness of our thinking next week as our trash bins overflow with the pre-packaged waste of the holiday season.
Happiness simply can not be purchased at a store.
In fact, we can do far better than holiday shopping:
We can be content with our possessions.
We can realize our contentment in life is never found in our outward circumstances. Contentment (and happiness) is found in the decision to recognize the opportunity already exists and choosing to accept it. Deciding to be content with our current level of possessions is one of the most freeing decisions any of us can ever make. And it opens the doorway to countless possibilities.
We can value experiences over possessions.
Removing ourselves from the holiday shopping frenzy does not mean we give up all opportunity to express love through gifts. In fact, there are a number of wonderful gift ideas that could be explored. One of the sweetest is the simple idea to gift experiences rather than products this holiday season. You and the receiver may be pleasantly surprised at its value in a world where mass consumption is commonplace.
We can choose to value relationships over purchases.
Gift-giving is an interesting arrangement. We sacrifice our time and money in an effort to put something manufactured into a box for the purpose of showing love to someone else. According to statistics, we will spend over 15 hours in the next 30 days shopping for these gifts. What if we decided to spend that time with our loved ones rather than at a store shopping for them? Consider how sweet our holiday season could become if we chose to invest those 15 hours in real relationship with one another. In today’s world, 60 minutes of fully-devoted listening ears is priceless and far more valuable than anything you can buy anyway.
We can choose to act responsibly.
Rather than adding consumer debt and extra stress to our lives, we can choose to act responsibly this holiday season with our finances. We can intentionally stand up against the cultural pressure to spend money and instead, act mindfully with it. Rather than adding debt this holiday season, perhaps we could choose to pay it down instead. Imagine that.
We can invest our money into social good.
There are desperate needs all around us: internationally, nationally, and locally. While many of us search department store shelves to find the perfect gift for “someone who has everything,” 768 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, and 2.5 billion people live without proper sanitation. But the needs are not always across the water, many are local. Rather than buying scented gift boxes, our money could be used to make this world better and life more tolerable for countless others. It would be wise for us to start recognizing this opportunity.
We can choose to pursue more lasting meaning.
Each new day offers new opportunity to accomplish something new with our lives. We can create rather than consume, we can explore new learning opportunities, or we can bring about lasting change and significance. December does not need to be a month lost to overcommitted schedules and crowded lines at the cash register. We can do better than that. Just like any other month, we can use this one to further pursue meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in our lives. And based on the ads I’ve been seeing this year, those things are still not for sale.
We can remember our world’s resources are limited.
Moses Henry Cass once said, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” And it rings true in my mind as one of the most significant and thoughtful phrases concerning our responsibility with the natural resources available to us. This holiday season, we ought to keep in mind our world’s resources are indeed limited. And choose to shop (or not shop) responsibly.
We can be a better example for our kids.
Many parents will fret over the possibility that their children will be disappointed on Christmas morning if they don’t receive enough (or just the right) toys. This is too bad because our concern is misplaced. We can teach our children valuable lessons this holiday season. We can teach them about spending within their means. We can teach them about caring for those less fortunate. We can teach them about love and sacrifice and contentment—and how none of those are dependent upon a bank account. This is a valuable season for parents. Let’s not waste it by focusing more on holiday shopping than parenting.
We can remember the reason for our celebration.
For many—including our family—the holiday season has rich roots in religion and spirituality. For others, the season represents family, friends, or giving. But regardless, at its heart, it is a season of celebration. Yet many of us have traded the beautiful reason for the season for the tireless pursuit of the perfect Christmas as exemplified on television and in catalogs. We have tried to buy the perfect Christmas. And as a result, many of us will spend more time looking for parking places than we do creating space to celebrate the very meaning of it.
Now, don’t read me wrong. I’m not proposing we need to avoid all holiday shopping over the coming weeks. I’m only arguing we can do better—much better.