Stuff.

December is a month that brings a lot of thoughts and feelings. Some are joyful, some are morbid but almost universally we all reflect on ‘what an x year’ this has been and nod our heads while casting a hopeful eye to future prosperity (more recently garnished with a flourish of apocalyptic doom) in the coming year.

So it is unsurprising that I had many thoughts that I could have written about this month. A bounty of thoughts. It’s also no surprise that when faced with so many options I chose to ignore them and wait until the last minute to try and scramble something together. If there’s one thing that undoes me more than feeling like I have no options, it’s having too many. Because there’s always a choice, when it comes down to it. But when there are 457 choices, where do you even start?

For this blog, the place to start is at the last minute. So this time around I don’t imagine there will be a whole pile of references or the need for multiple cups of tea to read it all in one sitting. Simply a reflection on what thoughts have consistently come up for me at this time of year. Feel free to take them or leave them.

I have in my later years been fairly uncompromising in my distaste for Christmas and everything that stems from it. Religion aside (that’s quite a different discussion), there is a mind-boggling amount of stuff that appears each time Christmas rolls around and it seems to be expanding every year.

There are some species wide problems that we have yet to fix (we have already got solutions in the chamber we could fire off at any stage) and one of them is staggering wealth inequality, which was sadly only turbocharged by the pandemic and our special K shaped recovery (okay I lied, you have to back up your claims).

The main narrative that I despise at Christmas is one of idolised, gleeful, gluttonous excess and waste. It’s revolting. I can only imagine how much worse this narrative must be for the many people less privileged than me. We gorge ourselves on so much stuff, and parade it brazenly in front of the people who are unable to do the same, often through no fault of their own.

Living every day in a world you are not really able to fully participate in and being told every day that you didn’t receive an invite because you are not good enough is a heavy burden. Christmas is a high impact car crash of this reality.

This has been largely engineered as an inevitable, yet avoidable, byproduct of rampant consumerism driven by unfettered capitalism, predominantly in Western countries where Christmas is celebrated. The glory years of unchained expansion and for-profit business have passed, we are left with a planet strangled by waste products, emissions careening out of control and a wealth gap that far exceeds even the gilded age.

All because we are driven (by our nature and by our corporate overlords) to buy, to have, to create stuff. And more stuff. And more and more and more. To keep up. To stay relevant. To maintain our status. To improve our status. To have access. To be seen. To be invited. To be respected. To be included. To be entertained. To have convenience. To save time. To reduce effort. To not be lacking in any way.

Consumerism is already in overdrive and Christmas puts it into hyperdrive. When you can walk into a Bunnings Warehouse and see shelves upon shelves, 20 feet high, lined with Christmas decorations that are plastic and unneccesary, which will be discarded like so much trash to end up in landfill or in oceans, it almost seems that we are living in the mind of some twisted satirist.

We have to be more self aware. We have to divorce ourselves from the need for stuff. I’m not saying to give up everything and live a simple life on the land, I’m suggesting that it’s probably okay, and in fact necessary to dial back the consumerism from satirical levels to something more sustainable. And, that we will be perfectly fine if we do.

I love going to watch live sport. I’m so happy with the seats I have for the Jack Jumpers NBL games. However each game I have been to I have been given mass produced, useless plastic nick nacks that have hit the bin as soon as the game is finished. Thousands upon thousands of useless items that will be trash within hours of being distributed. They don’t appreciably improve the game on any level. We can get rid of them. No one will miss them. It’s already enough that they have impressionable kids monotonously chanting “Hun-gry Jacks” every time the opposition shoots a free throw – we don’t need to add tonnes of useless virgin plastic to the trash heap of our combined legacies and dignity.

I feel much the same way about those antlers people put on their cars. No one’s life that I know of has been made better in any measurable way by having that product. Get rid of them. Christmas isn’t cancelled because overly enthusiastic motorists can’t put antlers on their car. Likewise there should be no need for 20 feet high shelves stacked full of useless Christmas decorations every year. We don’t need them. Stop making them. If your Christmas is on such shaky ground that it’s noticably worse by not having any of that crap you probably need to figure out if not having enough plastic decorations is really the problem.

And that’s really the point here. Christmas has become a hedonistic parody of the anthropocene. You may think, and you’d have a case, that I am simply drinking deep of the haterade and need to loosen up and get into the real spirit of the holidays. I would argue that as a society we have lost the true spirit of Christmas. So many movies and hallmark cards like to tell us about the true spirit of Christmas. I think, if you look at the evidence, the true spirit of Christmas at the moment is showing. We have to show everyone our love for Christmas, our joy at the festival of giving (buying). Our idyllic family settings. I’m not into it.

Christmas, and really any day of the year, has so much potential. It’s a time for us to lift up those of us who have been knocked down. To share our good fortune. To be thankful for it. To not show everyone how great our table is, but to invite people to come sit with us. I like to think most people are generally on board with this – yet there is still such a lavishness around Christmas that I have to wonder.

Take wrapping paper and these over the top Christmas light displays. Man, what a Grinch, how can you hate such joyful things? It’s just harmless fun, I hear you sigh. That’s the thing though, it’s not harmless at all. I will agree that it’s fun, but we have, as a species, long since used up our quota for fun that is harmful. At all times, but especially this time of year, light pollution is a real problem. Wrapping paper is fun and exciting for about 11 seconds. The waste problem lasts a whole lot longer than that and is completely avoidable.

When will our collective consciousness wake up and take a step back to look at what is really important at Christmas, or any time, instead of continuing the traditional carnage and in fact becoming more excessive every year? I haven’t even mentioned the presents themselves and the absolute desecration we all inflict on the earth to present each other with so much stuff that is not needed and will likely end up in storage or in landfill. I guess I’ve mentioned it now.

To further expand on my point that Christmas is wasteful, decadent and the eminent domain of the privileged, Christmas does not need any of that opulence to be wonderful. In fact removing the decadence could make it even more wonderful. What you are left with is each other. If you get someone a gift, why not put time and care into it and make sure to get the person something they will treasure. The act then transcends the gift itself and becomes about showing your love, through thoughtfulness and effort. One gift like that wrapped in newspaper or not wrapped at all sounds far more lovely than getting the fleeting joy of ripping open a bunch of presents that individually aren’t really that useful.

To me, the best thing about Christmas is the food. I don’t think I’m alone on that score. What I really enjoy other than spear-tackling myself into a Jabba the Hutt-esque food coma is that after the feasting is done, we all pack the food up and finish it off over the next few days – nothing is wasted and the leftovers are sometimes even more enjoyable than the meal itself. We put a lot of effort into creating a lavish feast, enjoying it and making sure not one bit of food is wasted.

When you strip back Christmas to what it should be – people caring for each other, giving gifts of love and sharing food – and remove all the opulence, it starts to look more recognisable to those people who may be struggling. I believe Christmas should be about bringing people, not just your family, closer together. I don’t think it’s doing a good job any more, but I have hope that it can once again.

My Christmas wish, if there is such a thing, is that we celebrate by giving, not by showing. Let’s get rid of all the useless, extra stuff.

I hope you and those close to you have a fantastic Christmas, if you celebrate it, and you’re able to share in all the things that make it special.

References:

https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/social-affairs/income-and-wealth-inequality-australia-was-rising-covid-19

https://7news.com.au/news/world/study-finds-covid-pandemic-has-worsened-already-massive-gap-between-rich-and-poor-c-4854872

https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/

https://www.allthingssupplychain.com/the-wrapping-paper-waste-problem-and-what-can-be-done-about-it/