Let’s do an exercise.
Imagine for one minute that we can halt the viscous flow of time and space. Just reach down into the petri dish that is likely our universe, drop your index finger amid the stars, dark matter, bosons and light years to seize a moment, this moment, for consideration.
By thumbing through the millennia at an arm’s length, let’s also imagine that we’ve effectively divorced ourselves from this moment, to consider its value and condition from a bit of a distance, with objectivity. We’re all victims of a kind of cultural momentum, so there may be some resistance to making such a mental move. But it can be done. Work with me. Pretty please.
So now we’re all blank slates, right?
Let’s talk about Christmas: The fantasy of Christmas; the globes, the bobbles and the lights; the sparkling tinsel, trees forced into bear traps in living rooms and dining rooms, and the mountains of wrapping; the Long March shopping trips moms and dads and grandparents and siblings and aunts and uncles and even coworkers take through Wal-Marts, and Targets, and Sears, and the Verizon store, even the local mom-and-pop music stores, toy stores, and book stores.
Across this country and much of the rest of the west and even the world, people move in massive, panicky crowds to spend money on Christmas or Hanukkah, or whichever December holiday they prefer.
It’s an avalanche of commerce that provides an adrenaline shot every year for our economic system, locally and abroad, one that’s increasingly necessary to keep this strange system we have from collapsing all around our ears.
Because it is strange. We’ve taken sacred holidays ostensibly about love and generosity, selflessness and family, fellowship and kindness, and turned them into an orgiastic spasm of limitless spending, aggressive shopping, greed and expectation.
Yard signs wont change this. Money has become the reason for the season.
I’m pragmatic at heart, and I can see how utilizing an emotional, religious (for some) and family holiday to strengthen the society as a whole and move dollars around from here to there, could be an ingenious way to marry tradition with necessity.
But if we twitch our galactic finger a hair’s breadth to the east, just so, we zip over the shoulder of our planet to what would likely seem a rather unremarkable city in China.
According to a report by BBC’s Tim Maughan, Yiwu is the real North Pole, where more than half of all Christmas bling originates. All the glitz and Santa glamor mentioned above, the wreaths and bells and snow globes and tinsel and stockings and cotton-puff snow and little plastic Santa figurines, are manufactured in China then shipped to this bland, even smallish, city to be sold to buyers across the world.
In Yiwu, there’s a kind of mall where all the products are displayed. Each and every item has its own square booth, one of 62,000 such spaces there, where buyers can peruse the merchandise and pick which baubles and ornaments will populate the shelf of the store back home. According to the BBC, the place gets 40,000 visitors every day, and covers an area of some 3.7 million square feet.
So this is modern Christmas. Worse than that, it’s modern civilization. Up here above the petri dish, floating like Greek Gods and Goddesses among cloud sofas and rainbow fountains, for me at least, it’s apparent how twisted our needs and values have become, how divorced we are as individual people from the reality of what it means to be such consumers.
Christmas and the like are the most egregious examples, but this kind of horse-trough consumption is simply the way things are getting done.
And as far as the system is concerned, this financial sausage factory, that’s all we are — gigantic, mesmerized mouths slurping up all the cheap plastic cud we can afford from working at the stores that sell cheap plastic cud.
I don’t have any solutions. Buy local? Shop at the Co-op? Eat kale chips and couscous? I don’t know how we could even begin to dismantle this apparatus, and honestly with four kids and a job and a column, I feel like I don’t have the time.
I should find the time.
Now how does this tie into a column about the dead? I came across a list compiled by palliative nurse Bronnie Ware of the top five regrets people on their death bed harbor.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Keeping in mind how Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and virtually every other sacred occasion in the west has been turned into an excuse to spend money by the trunkload, it’s clear to me at least that one thing leads to another. The only sacred thing is spending.
And when your family members come to see me about purchasing a hole in the ground big enough to accommodate your fancy and expensive wooden box, what’s going to be on your list?
James Faulk is a writer, cemetery worker and family man. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org