More thoughts on Christmas

I thought maybe I was jumping the gun the other day when I blogged a little bit about my Christmas ideas, but tonight, I saw a store window sporting a Santa made from rope lights, and the Christmas trees were already out a couple of weeks ago at Garden Ridge, so apparently it’s time, once again, to celebrate the birth of Jesus with an orgy of mindless consumerism.

Or not.

I knew the Grinch of Madison Avenue had stolen Christmas about six or seven years ago, when a grown woman bit a 13-year-old girl to make her let go of a Furby during a late November feeding frenzy at Wal-Mart. But I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until two years ago, when I was working for a great little weekly newspaper that had an annual tradition of publishing children’s letters to Santa, and I was given a stack of these letters to type up.

The Gimmes down in Gimme-ville were in rare form. They sent Santa long lists of expensive gifts: remote-control Hummers, new four-wheelers, XBoxes, and all manner of other presents that most parents in their economically uncertain region couldn’t begin to afford. Some of their letters didn’t even say, “Dear Santa” — they were just shopping lists. It was the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen. I was so disgusted with the commercialization of Christmas that I didn’t even bother putting up a tree — I just got out the nativity set so we wouldn’t forget what we were celebrating, and that was that.

Last year, Ron and I looked at the news reports about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I put my foot down. How could we buy trinkets for our friends and family — or allow them to buy things for us — at a time when thousands of people were living in shelters, wondering when (or even whether) they would be able to go back home?

We announced that we were canceling Christmas and sending our entire gift budget to the organizations that were working to rebuild NOLA and the rest of the Gulf Coast. We asked our families to do the same instead of buying us presents.

I’m not sure how much money we raised that way, but we didn’t miss opening packages, and I felt much better about handing out Mardi Gras beads and notes about which charities we were supporting than fighting the crowds at the mall to buy presents for people who really didn’t need anything. Our families got into it, too — even Ron’s young niece and nephew asked their mom to make sure Ron and I made a donation in their name instead of buying them gifts. I was proud of those kids. Really proud.

I’m hoping to do something similar this year. My friends and family have incredibly diverse interests and backgrounds, but there are worthy causes that correspond to most of those interests. Here are the groups I plan to support in honor of my loved ones this year, either by sending them donations or by purchasing products/gift certificates/etc. from them:

The First Church of Christ, Scientist
Habitat for Humanity
The National Historic Route 66 Federation
The Nature Conservancy
Seed Savers Exchange
Retired Greyhounds as Pets
Ratbone Rescues
Heifer International
Amnesty International
The Matthew Shepard Foundation

Of course, if someone on our gift list requests donations to a specific organization (I usually ask for contributions to Friends of the Mother Road or the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, although I’ll probably ask somebody for a Terrapass this year to offset the environmental cost of my Route 66 adventures), I’ll honor those requests. But if I don’t get requests, I’ll tailor the donations to the individuals as much as possible.

If you’re fed up with the commercialization of Christmas, considering moving out of Gimme-ville for a year. I think you’ll find it therapeutic. I know we did.

And if you can’t think of a cause that corresponds to your loved one’s interests, feel free to post a request for ideas. If I get a lot of interesting requests, I’ll do a special Ask the Hippie column about them.