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Sunday, November 6, 2016



The print ads and television commercials breathlessly scream about the great bargains and deals, the limited quantities and limited-time offers people don't want to miss. The ads get louder, more obnoxious and more in-your-face every year. And they start earlier every year.

I cringe at the chasm between reality for most Americans and what the advertisers want us to believe. Particularly distressing are the commercials for new cars, as if somebody is going to watch a commercial and then rush out to buy their beloved a new $65,000 Lexus for Christmas. Or they can make payments of 'only' $600/month plus tax for the next six years. Such a deal!

The Christmas push, which used to begin the day after Thanksgiving, now starts in August with the first appearance of Christmas trees and decor. Thanksgiving, once a major American holiday, is now little more than a bump in the road in the rush to spend money we don't have on things we don't need.

Personally, I find it disgusting that a season about peace, love and goodwill is now all about deals and commercialism, complete with pushing, shoving, grabbing, tripping, stampedes, gun violence and fist fights over a small number of electronics or toys available at discounted prices to lure in the unsuspecting shopper. I find it disgusting that some radio stations begin to play 24/7 Christmas music in October, and that on Thanksgiving Day last year I was subjected to an ad on my favorite radio station wishing people "Feliz Navidad and Happy New Year." Really? This ad was a waste of money anyway, as it was for some cosmetic surgery business that wasn't open until four days later.

A couple of years ago, I was in Costa Rica on a hiking trip just before Christmas. The hotel in which I stayed in San Jose had a small nativity scene set up, but no other Christmas decorations. The nearby shopping mall I visited was similarly devoid of Christmas decorations and screaming sale signs. Had I not known that Christmas was just a couple of weeks away, I never would have know it was the holiday season. For Costa Rica, Christmas remains a time for family and celebrating the true meaning of the season. And fortunately for me, I will get to visit this beautiful country again this year and escape, for a while, the madness of the American Christmas season.

Are we trying to buy our way into the spirit of Christmas? Are we trying to prove we love our friends and families by going into debt buying them expensive things they don't need? What are we teaching our children about overconsumption, excess and managing expectations? Are they going to learn the difference between wants and needs? My daughter used to be friends with a girl whose mother worked for me. The mother, divorced from an abusive husband, never had money to spare. But she showered her two kids with the latest electronics, video games, whatever they wanted. Then she would borrow money from friends to pay her bills. I believe she was trying to compensate for a poor family life by spending money she didn't have on things the kids didn't need.

I am trying to simplify my life by getting rid of things I no longer want, need or use. If my daughter buys me a box of my favorite candy or shortbread for Christmas, great, but she understands that there is absolutely nothing I want or need. I saw a 'Black Friday' ad last year for a 65" curved flat screen television that I would love to have. But did I buy one? Of course not, because the television I have works just fine. When it dies, I will consider a curved screen television, but not until then, because a new television is a want, not a need.

Last year, as my daughter set off on her life as an independent adult, I bought her a couple of things for her birthday and Christmas that will make her life easier as she cooks for herself and her then-boyfriend. And I bought gift cards to a couple of her favorite eateries so she could enjoy a meal out once in a while, and some cash to help with bills. But there was no mad dash to find 'the perfect gift.' For me, 'the perfect gift' is having a daughter who has found her way, who works as a licensed cosmetologist, and who recently married a nice young man who is serving his country in the US Air Force. That is a perfect gift. 

It is remarkably freeing to not have to worry about Christmas cards (I'm not sending any for the third year), shopping, decorating the house (I'm not putting up a tree again this year), hanging lights or doing a lot of holiday baking. If I want to bake cookies, I will, but there is no pressure to bake several kinds of cookies and make fudge as I used to do. I will work my way through my 40-50 Christmas music CDs, but that's about it as far as Christmas goes. I also plan to make a special effort to donate food to some of the local food pantries, something I do throughout the year. And I will most likely go through my clothes and donate any unwanted winter clothing to a coat and cold-weather clothing drive.

You won't find me at the mall or any of the big-box stores after November. Too many people get totally stressed by trying to plan and execute the 'perfect' family gathering, party or whatever, on top of caring for a family, going to work and dealing with life's many annoyances. It's time to take a step back, downsize and simplify, and focus on what truly matters -- spending time with family and friends, sharing our blessings and working to achieve peace on earth and goodwill toward others. This year needs all the goodwill and peaceful efforts we all can muster.