Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Gifts the smart way.

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

I slept in this morning - way in. We finished breakfast at almost 11:30am. Our big plans for the day include finishing up the laundry and a bit of light cleaning, followed by the afternoon grand finale of cooking for this evening and shabbat.

In between, we'll just relax and marvel at the news reports of all the insane people frantically running around in the cold to consummate their orgy of consumerism.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not opposed to giving gifts. Here's our "teaser table" at home - the sideboard hutch in the dining room, actually - with our pile of Chanukkah gifts. There are a couple of things that have not arrived yet from Amazon, but unless the boys have a gift hidden away somewhere for their parents (which they probably do - but not 8 of them), this is Chanukkah for 5 for 8 days at our house.

On Havdalah, they will get some cash for spending money to buy something for themselves over the winter break - after all, there are some good sales going on before New Year's eve. But we won't be participating in Black Friday or anything like it. All our shopping is done, and we didn't break the bank.

The large bags of candy you see on the top right side of the pic is a tradition we started just a few years ago. They boys each get a bag of little round candies of their choice - Reece's Pieces, Skittles, M&Ms or whatever - and they use those instead of money to play dreidel (when there are younger kids around) or Texas Hold-em (when there aren't). If they are careful they can keep their candy for a long, long time - and they have learned, also, how sad they would be if each of those little candies was $1 gambled away.


We have a holiday savings plan with our credit union - granted those are set up with Christmas shoppers in mind, but they can be useful for Jews, too. Every paycheck the CU takes $35 and puts it into the holiday account, and in October of each year they transfer this money to a regular savings account. This way, we never have to charge anything for Chanukkah or Purim. It's strictly cash - pay as we go - and everyone has a great time. Before Chanukkah, we ask for a list of paperbacks, music cds and movie dvds, card games and board games, older video and computer games (their budget won't allow for much in the way of new releases, of course) and other small items - and give them a budget to stick to. Sometimes, they decide to pool some of their budget to get a larger or more expensive gift - that blonde wood box you see on the table is one such project. This year, we decided to get a real mah jong set. (My youngest thinks this will help him beat me because it has jokers and more blank tiles, but I seriously doubt that.)

Since it is our custom to play family games (board games or card games), we have a pretty good collection of games and the boys are pretty good at all of them. We don't use money, of course, or even keep score for most of them (not on Shabbat - on other dreary evenings, well, no more mr. nice guys - or ms. nice gals, either). What we do is have fun.

It's a shame that so many parents simply won't take the time to actually just relax with their kids - giving them a big pile of expensive gifts once or twice a year is not going to make up for the fact that you aren't a part of your children's lives. They would rather have your time than any piece of plastic from China.

Consumerism cannot compensate for real love - and once your children's hearts are hardened by consumerism, it's extremely hard for them to learn what real love is - they become shallow and selfish, more concerned about what everybody else has that they don't than on what they have that everybody else doesn't - a close, loving relationship and fun times with their family and parents.

It's hard to win back that territory once you've lost it, as I see in many of my kid's friends. So don't lose it in the first place - and if you have, start taking it back now. Buy nothing today, and when you do buy gifts, buy them with discernment - buy local, buy used, buy things that last, not plastic junk. This is a war, a culture war, for your children's lives and their futures, their characters and their attitudes, and it's time to stop letting the advertisers and fat cat robber barons win it.

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