It’s that time of year again, Thanksgiving is this Thursday, snow is already falling in the Eastern US, and Christmas is only one month away. Are you ready for the holiday season? Beyond eating turkey dinners with family and hanging festive lights, a new tradition has emerged. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has become famous for low sales prices, all night shopping, and busy shoppers crossing gifts off their lists. Once again, you ask why would this topic be included on a website dedicated to agriculture, food, health, and the environment? And once again I reply, as I did a couple weeks ago during the US Elections, because “everything is connected”.
Tradition, holiday, or religion?
It is no secret that Americans love to shop, and it has become well established over the past few decades that the holiday season is a profitable time for retailers, but what does this mean for the health of our society and our planet? It appears that the act of buying gifts for family has moved beyond the status of tradition to that of an actual holiday. Rather than being a small task that we do for those we love as we celebrate the larger purposes of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, and the New Year, there is now an entire day dedicated to shopping. The only thing missing is a Congressional declaration that Black Friday is an official US holiday. So shopping has arguably transformed beyond the status of tradition into that of a holiday, but does it stop there? As each year becomes more and more extreme the temptation arises to label shopping the new American religion. Retailers once opened their doors at normal operating hours until some of them thought it would be a good idea to open a few hours earlier. Like the US-Russian Cold War, an arms race ensued and eventually some stores started opening at midnight. Of course, it didn’t stop there, and some stores now even open on Thursday evening, barely late enough for most people to have digested their pumpkin pie. It appears to me as though the holidays have completely lost their meaning. Sorry if I’m stating the obvious here, but do we really believe that Americans are thankful for the kindness offered to them by our Native American hosts? Are we thankful for the rich and fertile soils, which are necessary to produce the abundance of foods that fill our plates? Do we celebrate the birth and life of Christ, or are we more focused on getting that new smart phone we asked for?
Buy Nothing Day
As consumerism spreads like bacteria across America’s borders into the emerging markets of Brazil, China and beyond, the planet is being devoured by our wants and needs. It would be bad enough if all 7 billion of us were simply shopping for the items we actually needed (in reality there are probably only 1-2 billion of us wealthy enough to shop). Instead, we shop for items that we merely want, or even worse we try to make ourselves happy by seeking the entertainment of some new toy that we quickly forget about. I suspect we are trying to fill an empty spiritual void with material possessions. Speaking from my formal education in Environmental Science, I would strongly argue that the planet is not able to supply our endless demands. I don’t want to sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas, but the truth is that Christmas was already stolen, by Walmart. Or did Walmart sell Christmas? Either way, if you want to show your love for somebody by buying a gift they would truly appreciate then I honestly see no harm in that. One sign of the problem here is seeing shoppers who view gift giving as a stressful chore they must endure, so they buy family members things they don’t even want or need simply to complete their duty. By now, you’ve probably heard enough, so you may be wondering what kind of action can be taken. Perhaps you should try taking no action. Buy Nothing Day has emerged as a global movement in response to Black Friday. However, if you must buy a gift then consider purchasing it from a local business, or making it yourself. Ask yourself what the person really needs, whether they will actually appreciate it, and if there is an environmentally friendly version of the product available. Instead of an item you could also purchase an experience such as a massage or a float tank session for your family member.
Mind, body, spirit
Now that Black Friday is a holiday, and Santa Claus is a corporate executive, where do we go from here? Economists always tell us that we need to grow the economy, but can the planet sustain nonstop consumerism while population rises to 9 billion and beyond? If shopping really is an attempt to fill a spiritual void with a material possession then it is probably time to reconnect to the spiritual world. Ayurveda tells us to eat organic kale for a healthy body, and to get good sleep for a rested mind, but we can’t forget the spirit. This holiday season instead of worshipping at the church of the shopping mall, consider spending some time in the wilderness on a winter hike, or take a trip to a sunny destination to connect with nature. If you must shop then be mindful, and don’t forget to have a very happy Buy Nothing Day!