Materialism in the World

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Boxing Day. The most materialistic day of the year. I am still coming to terms with modern society after my sabbatical-of-sorts in Wrigley. As we drive around Edmonton, I just can not get over how many stores there are! And new developments — whole new neighbourhoods have sprung up since I last noticed. But I think it’s the stores that bother me the most. I even said out loud on the way home after supper, “do we really need this many stores?” My family agreed that no, we didn’t.


Yet I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I need stuff too sometimes. I have to remember that there are thousands of people that need stuff, so of course there are going to have to be stores to serve them. There are students, freshly moved out from their parents’ places who need to furnish whole new apartments. There are people who have moved from across Canada to take advantage of Albertan opportunities. These people I understand. They make sense to me. But I have a feeling a lot of people who really don’t need new stuff spend a lot of resources (time and money) buying stuff they don’t need. More candles. New curtains. Just stuff.

This bothers me. I don’t know why. But, when something bothers me, I try to understand why it bothers me so much. It must be a mirror to me — showing me something about myself. It’s an opportunity to learn something new about how I tick.

It could be because I see how people are trying to fill a void in their lives with material things. It could be because I think people are being programmed by commercials on TV until they believe they need things they don’t. It could be because I lived without stores and was totally happy! It could be because I lived without new things of any kind for so long when I was a university student — I joke that I was food bank girl — that I know it can be done. It could be because I feel that the world’s resources are so limited, we shouldn’t be wasting them on more scented candles and unnecessary curtains.

boreal forest near WrigleyYet I know that the world is far more abundant than we think. I have seen abundance in the trees, snow, and the immense size of the Mackenzie River. I know that the world is healing itself faster than we can hurt it. Little old mankind has less effect than we think — it’s egotistical to think that we can “destroy” the whole planet. We make significant marks on the surface, to be sure, but Gaia is not in danger. But I digress.

I think what bothers me the most is this: I perceive that people are very materialistic. This isn’t actually true, so as a result, I feel unsettled. That is all. If I can adjust my thinking to see stores as a good thing, or a sign of a prospering economy, rather than a sign of social disease, I know I will feel better. Edmontonians are actually kind, generous people.

Could it be universally true that when we feel bothered by something, it is only because we are thinking, or believing, something that is fundamentally untrue? I think so…

Or maybe I’m just a little freaked out by the $99 long johns at Cabella’s. I’m still buying everything at second hand stores if I can. 🙂

Tis the Season to be Jolly?

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It’s supposed to be the season of jolliness, apparently, yet those who work in emergency services and at hospitals know it’s also the season for increased accidents, suicides and depression. So why is that?

The Christmas season is such a study in contrast — rich/poor, jolly/miserable, giving/getting, gratitude/selfishness. It’s supposed to be the season for happy family get-togethers, coffee that reunites sons and fathers, and skating on open rinks with your beautiful, lovely children. Do you ever feel like American culture is stuck in a time warp? This cartoon hits the nail right on the head (click for larger version)!

Now, I never grew up with Christmas traditions, so I’m in the unique position to see them for what they are — mostly silliness! But I think so many people have bought into them so thoroughly that when some part of their life doesn’t match up, they are severely disappointed. Tis no longer the season for jolliness —

Tis the season for self-pity!

When you feel even mildly disappointed or discouraged, catch yourself before you sink into a full-blown self-pity party. Stay happy anyway. So what if your family won’t be together for Christmas. Or maybe seeing your family stresses you out — stay happy anyway. Do something you enjoy, whether it’s part of the traditional model or not. Don’t feel like you have to go skating with your tots just because that’s the traditional thing to do (you don’t even have to have kids, but that’s a whole other blog post)! You don’t have to make a 10-course meal. You don’t have to buy presents for everyone you know, or send out a hundred Christmas cards if you don’t want to. It’s 2011 — you don’t have to do what the baby boomers did! When you compare yourself to others, or to the idealistic traditional model, and feel like you come up short, you can get upset and slip into self-pity pretty easily.

Grumpy people are actually entrenched in self-pity, and grumpy people don’t attract happy situations. So don’t be grumpy! You don’t have to be a pollyanna, just be yourself and stick your tongue out at some of those silly traditions! And of course, the best way to beat self-pity is with gratitude. Christmas would benefit from more thankfulness!

Related posts: Peace on Earth | Cheering Up | Happy Birthday Jesus

Happy Birthday Jesus

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As you can tell from my last post, I’ve been thinking a bit about Christmas lately. What makes it good? What makes it frustrating, annoying, or “bad?”

Just a pic I found on the internet. Not the one the church used!
Just a pic I found on the internet. Not the cake the church had!

I used to go to a church that had a Christmas morning service. The preacher encouraged people to just sort of “get out of bed, open your gifts, and show up,” even starting a tradition of bringing kids still in their PJ’s. Nice idea! Certainly more practical than expecting people all decked out in their Sunday best. He would ask all the kids who were there to come to the front of the church, and then we’d all sing happy birthday to Jesus — literally, using the song and everything. After church, there’d be birthday cake, which was mostly for the kids, but I think more than a few adults indulged in a piece! I used to enjoy those times, although it did seem a little superficial. Having no tradition of Christmas of my own to refer to, I had no historical background, so I guess I was a bit more analytical than most.

So I’ve come to one conclusion: I think one thing that’s so annoying about Christmas is that “yay, Jesus is here!” attitude. If Christmas is supposed to be the time we celebrate Jesus’ birth, why is that all we celebrate? If my friends wanted to celebrate my birthday in a big way, I hope they would say more than “hey, you showed up!” Wouldn’t it be nicer if they said “we love you. You are great! You are funny, warm, caring, honest…” appreciating me for who I am.

This reminds me of when people congratulate a man for the birth of a new baby! For Pete’s sake, he did none of the work! He just got to have fun once! The woman did all the work — enduring morning sickness and all the changes to her body, feeling bloated and later just plain heavy, and of course, the big finale, birth! That’s no party! So next time you want to express joy at the arrival of a new baby, focus on the woman! But I digress.

The second part of the Christmas attitudes that baffles me is the “oh, I’m so glad he was born so he could die for me.” Do people think about the baby’s death at the baby shower? Do you talk about that? Hmmm, I don’t. “Geez, he sure is adorable, I hope he doesn’t die in a car crash. That would be tragic.” Or, alternately, if you’re remembering someone’s life, you don’t focus on the very end, do you? “Grandma sure suffered at the end, didn’t she? Oh, she tried to be strong, but those last couple of months were rough. Too bad she couldn’t talk because of the stroke.” Nope, in my family, when we talk of Grandma, we remember her pickled carrots (the best!), her grilled cheese sandwiches, her “get up and go” attitude, her positivity, her independence after Grandpa died, and how she shoveled her own walk — even swept it! — until the last year or so when we convinced her to hire a neighbour boy to do it. We don’t talk about the circumstances of her birth or her death — we talk about all that happened in between.

So, if you’re a Jesus-celebrating person, I hope I’ve given you something to think about. He was awesome. He was so loving to everyone he met. He did miracles, with ease. He had a beautiful spirit. I’d like to be more like him.

But I’m still not really “celebrating” Christmas. Not the way most do.  🙂

Life Without Christmas

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Christmas is fast approaching, isn’t it? The days surrounding Christmas can sure be fun! Crazy. Exciting. Busy. Frantic! But not for me.

I grew up without Christmas. (pause for the shock to sink in) The religion my family belonged to didn’t celebrate it. If you are an old school mate, you might remember what a “weirdo” I was; I didn’t make cardboard jack-o-lanterns at Halloween — it was strictly pumpkins for me. All the trappings of Christmas were stripped of art class — no Santas for me — I made “winter trees” or snowmen. My poor parents had to go to parent-teacher interviews each year and explain the situation. I think it was much harder for my older sister, with her classmates and teachers. At least when I came into the system 2 years later, the teachers remembered my weird sister and would say “oh, yes, we remember the drill. No Santas, no valentines, no Easter bunnies.”

We didn’t have anything to do with these holidays, with Christmas causing the most fuss. Think about it — what do kids talk about for a MONTH at school? Where they are going for Christmas, what they might be getting, the candy, and then in January, for another week, the only topic of conversation is what they got for Christmas. I don’t think the kids who rode the school bus with me were trying to be mean when they asked “what did you get for Christmas?” But my answer stunned them every time: “nothing.” I think some of them thought it was because we were so poor (I wore a lot of hand-me-downs in those days). Kids who weren’t in my class didn’t see the all the other signs I was different than the rest.

I am not bitter for growing up in this different way. My sister and I put up with quite a bit of teasing and shunning; I didn’t have any friends at school until grade 5 or 6. I am very grateful for the kids who did befriend me. Some of the teachers treated my sister and me differently too, besides the basics of being banished to the library during Christmas concert practices. Actually, that was kind of fun, ’cause we had the whole place to ourselves and could run, make noise, and throw paper airplanes.

I survived the school years without any aspect of Christmas. When our religion changed and started to become more main-stream, many people struggled with how to change their thinking and traditions. We had our own traditions and holidays, you see, that were quite meaningful and beautiful. It was as hard to toss them out as it was to accept new ones that had been the source of our rejection, and we’d been criticizing, for all those years. Christmas trees are pagan, phalic symbols, don’t you know!?!

So, it might come as somewhat less of a shock to hear that my husband and I aren’t really doing much for Christmas. We have lights on our house, and some family/friends will get small presents, but we aren’t giving anything to each other. I don’t think we did last year, but we got married at the beginning of December and things were pretty hectic due to that (our wedding was also a small, un-hyped affair). Do you think that strange? Impossible? Crazy? Maybe it is for you, but I think a LOT of what happens at Christmas is pure distraction. Some traditions are lovely and some families do manage to keep it simple, but MOST of the stuff that happens has nothing to do with Jesus (the reason for the season, you know) or family bonding. Never mind the soap-opera-like baloney that goes on among people offending each other, re-offending, being offended, shunning… mostly because of presents or other silly reasons. The stories I hear from some people make my head hurt!

This got me thinking that a lot of what happens in life in general is distraction. I use the radio as a distraction on my drive home, for example. To keep me from thinking about what, I don’t know. TV is a bad culprit for this, and so are books. We enter another world through these media… I wonder what is wrong with the one we’re in? Jobs, tasks, goals, children, hobbies, material things, holidays, traditions, and entertainment are all huge distractions to what we really are. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: We aren’t human beings on a spiritual journey, but spiritual beings on a human journey.* I think that sums it up nicely.

In the busyness, craziness, and loveliness of this season, please don’t forget that we’re all on this planet to share an experience. Don’t try to control others, just as you hate to be manipulated. Be patient. Love the ones you’re with. 🙂

* quote attributed to Stephen R. Covey.

Just saw this, and it’s too funny!