With the economy down this year, perhaps the retail frenzy will ease. Perhaps consumers won't come to blows with other shoppers (whatever happened to "good will toward [wo]men?") over the last must-have item still on the shelf. Perhaps this year children will make do with only 3 presents each instead of 6. Even better, perhaps people will remember that the first Christmas gifts were frankincense and myrrh (spices make great gifts; cinnamon and real vanilla extract ain't cheap). Perhaps Christmas spirit will be expressed by foregoing pricey gifts and donating the funds to a worthy cause, inviting holiday"orphans" to your family meal, or volunteering at a soup kitchen on Christmas Day. Perhaps just being together with friends and family are all the gifts you'll ever need. Perhaps the materialism will be tossed in the garbage, along with the fruitcake (or toss it my way; I love fruitcake).
Now before you press "send" for the email to remind me that Chanukah materialism is just as bad, let me clarify a couple of things.
- My opinion about commercialism is obviously influenced by the fact that I am not Christian and don't celebrate Christmas. I object to materialism as a whole all year long, not just during the holiday season.
- Contrary to popular belief, Chanukah is not the Jewish equivalent to Christmas. Chanukah gifting started in the early 20th century by Jews who distanced themselves from their immigrant roots in an attempt to assimilate into mainstream America.
- Also contrary to popular belief, Chanukah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday that doesn't warrant traveling to reunite with family or planning a big feast. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Passover traditionally bring Jews home.
- If parents decide to give children a gift on each of Chanukah's 8 nights, it's typically a small one. When I was growing up, my brother and sister and I had the choice of a little token each night, or a single, more significant gift. We always chose the latter, and even then it was never as extravagant as some Christmas-gift purchases I've seen (and because I regularly volunteer as a funraising gift-wrapper at the mall, I've seen plenty).
- Many a Jewish child (especially in minimally-observant homes) has wished to be Christian in order to have a Christmas tree, the stocking, the pile of presents...not because [s]he preferred the teachings of Jesus.
- Don't feel sorry for the lonely Jew on Christmas Day. [S]He's happily eating Chinese food somewhere.
My husband and I decided to forego holiday gifts to each other in favor of buying our local animal shelter a few things on their wish list. We also asked the grown kids to do the same instead of buying presents for us. We don't need more things. This year, why not try gifting those who genuinely do? It's food for thought, and more easily digested than fruitcake (but I still love it).