Consuming Our Holidays

Nov 182003
Authors: Meg Burd

Ask most people here on campus what Thanksgiving and the

holidays are really about, and they would most likely tell you

spending time with family or reflecting on the truly good things in

life. Considering these views of Thanksgiving in particular, it

seems strange then that the day after the holiday is the largest

retail shopping day of the year. This frantic rush for consumer

goods, juxtaposed against a day set aside for time with family and

appreciating the quality features of life, seems contrary to the

spirit of the holiday. Indeed, as found in a survey by the Center

for a New American Dream, most Americans would agree, with the

survey explaining “that most Americans would welcome lower spending

and less emphasis on gifts during the holidays,” according to the

New York Times.

Kathy Plate and others organizing Buy Nothing Day here on campus

certainly agree that reflection and attention to the people and

indeed the world around us should be the way to celebrate this

holiday season.

“Buy Nothing Day started approximately 10 years ago in reaction

to the commercialization and over-consumption that happens this

time of year, especially at Christmastime,” says Plate of the

reasons behind the day.

Other organizers nationwide echo this sentiment. As Chapin

Spencer, a Vermont organizer, said in a New York Times interview,

“The message is a positive one, not a confrontational one. We’re

not telling people we shouldn’t buy what we need, but we need to

look at what we’re buying and what the effect of that is

personally, socially and environmentally.”

Some proponents of the day also suggest those who do wish to

shop this day could participate in the similar Buy Local Day. “You

could buy locally, from a local farmer,” Plate said. The important

part is “reflecting on your own consumption patterns,” Plate


Holiday spending, as seen in another survey by the Center for a

New American Dream, can lead to high debt, as demonstrated by the

15 percent of its 800 respondents claiming to still be paying off

holiday purchases from 1996. With credit card debts rising for many

of us college students and the average shopper spending “$835 this

year, up from $722 in 2002″ according to the Star Tribune and the

research company Myvesta, examining what and why we are buying

things for one day at least is not a bad idea.

Opponents of Buy Nothing Day decry it as anti-capitalist. Some,

such as Regan McKendry of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian at the

University of Massachusetts, says that we have a duty to

“demonstrate our gratitude…donating every dime that we can spare

into the economy.” One man, interviewed in the New York Times, also

said that people should be spending because “To do for others, you

have to spend money.” To do any less, suggest these detractors,

would make for a bad holiday and be plain un-American.

This confrontational argument against Buy Nothing Day needs a

re-evaluation. Being a discerning shopper does not go against any

founding principle of America, and the suggestion that thoughtful

shoppers are somehow bad for the nation should rile all of us who

do try to be discriminating in what we buy. Besides, careful

consumption is the way to ensure that resources and energy will be

available long-term and allow for ecological sustainability. If we

keep consuming at our current rate, suggests an environmental

program Ecological Footprint, we would need an approximate 2.4

earths just to keep up.

Likewise, those who participate in Buy Local Day are directly

supporting community members who own small businesses or local

artisans who create items. Be it Buy Local or Buy Nothing Day,

Plate, Spence and other participants emphasize that the day should

be special for its emphasis on thoughtful consuming and reflection

on the holiday season. We should, as the New York Times says, dare

to “challenge publicly the very institution of the Christmastime

consumption season on…the day it traditionally begins.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Meg is a graduate student at CSU. Her column runs every





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