American Waltz: a Black Friday rant

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Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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American Waltz: a Black Friday rant

It's a Santa Claus world, if you will
Of ice cream and candy bars - eat you fill
And marshmallow fatness that's bound to kill
But we love it that way.

Yes, we love it that way
Every day
and we hope that the fat times are here to stay,
La la-la-la la-la la la... (from "American Waltz" by Biff Rose)

So here we are, at the official opening of the holiday shopping insanity. I stand here in an enviable position, needing nothing, not defined by what I have or how others see my accumulation of things. I have trouble understanding why anyone would run up credit card debt for worthless baubles and status symbols. Something must be wrong with me - that's downright un-American. Isn't it?

It's a Santa Claus world, where everyone dines
On gluttonous steaks and champagnes and wine
And all virgin waitresses high in the sky
On United Airlines

Industrial pancake
And neon co-op
Mechanical humans - thanks a lot.
La la-la-la la-la la la...

It's a form of insanity, really, to think that a flat-screen TV or an iPhone will bring you more happiness than a sunset or a child's smile, or a glass of water on a hot day. Technology is a tool, a tool that is only useful in whatever capacity it brings humans together to solve their problems or loneliness. And food? You should eat to live, not live to eat. Who the frell needs gold-dusted chocolates? People are starving and struggling, some of them in your own neighborhood. Unless it's your wedding anniversary or some similar milestone, the waste involved in impressing someone with that oh-so-expensive meal in an "exclusive" restaurant makes me want to cry. 

In our Santa Claus world the decorations appear
For Christmas in April - the savior is here!
With mass-produced love and peace everywhere
Ten dollars a pair.

It's the spirit of giving
Through selling and buying
It's the spirit of dying

La la-la-la la-la la la...

And here we get to the crux of the matter. Holidays are also tools, useful for telling others that we love them, forming family traditions, and forming community. That can be done with a gift of attention, a homemade craft, cookies, breakfast in bed, or non-commercial means. Holidays should not be an excuse to sell useless crap that will end up in a landfill.

It's a Santa Claus world so let's go for a ride
In cars shaped like bullets with people inside
And concrete that covers our whole countryside
But we love it that way!

I like my countryside not covered in concrete, thank you very much. At this point we have gasoline-powered (or diesel-powered) vehicles. Well and good. But transportation is also a tool. It's important because it allows us to go places like to check on grandma, see a doctor, buy necessities, get to a job, or visit a park - or people. If I had a nickel for every car commercial I've seen where that is NOT what they are selling. Like beer commercials telling us that their brand is associated with picking up chicks, automobile companies want us to associate their vehicles with power, prestige, wealth, or fun.

I'm off the merry-go-round. I will not participate in Black Friday and I will barely be seen in the stores between now and December 25th. I'll be buying a few little extras to let the important people in my life know they are cared about, not on credit, and not to impress anyone except the recipient. When I'm done, they will know they are loved. And I will know I stayed within a budget.

Yes, we all love to dance our American Waltz.
It's our dream come false.
La la-la-la la-la la la...

(To hear the song AMERICAN WALTZ by Biff Rose, circa 1969, go here.)

sand_puppy's picture
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Black Friday Injuries.....

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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Beans at the bottom of the world.

An Idea for the kids. 

Get some climbing beans. Make a tunnel out of reo. (The square metal mesh that they use to reenforce concrete) . Make a tepee at the end out of reo. And let the beans run rampant over it all.

The kids will have a secret hiding place with beans hanging down inside.

Hang on. You lot live at the bottom of the world. You are going into winter now. That is most inconvenient. Never mind. 

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
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The Religion of Consumerism


Great topic. I have been battling with my family and the inlaws for quite some time on the absurd amount of gifts everyone feels so obligated to give. Two years ago, I mentioned to my wife's family and mine that we did not want to do gifts for the adults anymore, only the kids. Everyone agreed and seemed fine with it. Some seemed relieved not to have to worry about so many gifts. I did get a few dumb comments about me being cheap. Incidentally, my wife and I do not have kids, but we do have 16 nieces and nephews, so this was not about being cheap.

On Christmas, things did not quite go as planned. My sister-in-law decided to go against the no gift rule for adults and buy for everyone except my wife and I. We showed up to my inlaws slightly early to the dismay of the sister-in-law as they were trying to get the gift giving done before we got there. We're typically a little late. When they started handing out expensive gifts to the adults I said, "I thought we weren't doing gifts for the adults?" She turned to me without any Christmas spirit whatsoever and said, "THAT WAS YOUR DECISION NOT MINE!!!" I think she was prepared to be defensive. My brother in law felt like a jerk because he didn't buy any gifts for the adults, because that was what he thought we agreed upon. He later ran out to buy gifts. It was pretty uncomfortable for my wife and I. The sister-in-law later explained that she made a lot of money this past year, and she wanted to buy gifts and she could do whatever she wanted.  

Now the gift giving between my wife parents and her sister are done separately. We are not invited. Last year we bought gifts for all the kids, but as of now we are not buying any presents. I do have some dried basil and tomatoes that I was going to give each family, but no more store bought gifts period. I don't see the point anymore. It's difficult to watch kids rip open presents, not care who provided said present, then cry when there isn't anymore. We've turned the holiday trifecta of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years into a showcase of our own dysfunctional behavior of overeating, overspending, and getting wasted.  

westcoastjan's picture
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The greatest marketing campaign ever!

The ad men of decades past did their jobs well and have created what I believe to be the best marketing campaign ever - Christmas. The growing consumerist mindset emerging from the 60's was ripe to be shaped, and most fell for it, hook, line and sinker. And as zeroenergy points out, the resulting gift giving dynamic (not to mention the requisite fashion and decorating) is now minefield of guilt, mixed emotions and disagreement all topped with a healthy dose of family stresses that pull us in a 100 different directions each year. So much for peace and goodwill among men...

I gave up on the gift giving thing a number of years back. Two things served to erase any desire to participate further: being told a gift was not good enough, and then being thanked for the wrong gift (such was the over-abundance). I expressed to my family a desire to NOT have gifts given to me as I want/need for nothing, but somehow, there are a few who cannot seem to adhere to that, and insist on sending me something. One said it offended them when I said it wasn't necessary. I said it offended me when you sent something in spite of the fact that I made my wishes known. A stupid tiff over a stupid consumerist mindset! I wonder what will happen this year? Can we fast-forward to January?!?

In lieu of what I might otherwise spend on gifts I donate to a local charity that provides basic essentials for the many street people who live here. Lord knows they need it more than we do.

For me, I look forward to baking a few of my grandmother's Tortiere pies (to die for French Canadian meat pie which are a Christmas Eve family tradition), baking cookies and trying my hand a making hot cross buns. It doesn't snow much where I live now, but when I was little in Ontario, the best times of all were ice skating and hockey in the back yard rinks, hot chocolate with marshmallows by the fireplace to thaw the inevitable frozen toes (while we were all out there pretending we were Bobby Orr or Rocket Richard! I gotta say, a family of 6, with 3 Bruins fans and 3 Habs fans made for some really vocal Saturday nights in the rec room); toboganning (sp?); snow angels, snow ball fights, and, wait for it - learning to ski in the front ditch!

I feel like I had the greatest gift of all - growing up in the 60's and 70's, in era that we here on this site know will never be replicated. I feel sad for those who are pulling up the rear, who will never experience the wonderful, simple life that it was back then. Before the ad men got to us, and all hell broke loose...

In spite of (some) family resistance, I am going to stick to my guns and continue to resist the marketing machine, and espouse the simple things that bring such pleasure...birds at the feeder in the snow - which I can hear now!!!! Cookies in the oven, and the Mitch Miller tape from when I was a kid :)  I'll wager there are a few of you out there familiar with that one... Mitch could teach Lady Gaga a few things...

Cheers to simplicity,


Grover's picture
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My solution

Wow. I share similar experiences with safewrite, zeroenergy, and westcoastjan. About 20 years ago, I informed my family that I no longer wanted to participate in the Christmas gift giving because of all the focus on consumerism. My siblings and their families adhered to my wishes, but my mother couldn't. The following year she gave me a very expensive sweater, beautifully wrapped, with a crisp red bow. I thanked her for thinking of me and gave it (unopened) to the first homeless person who was about my size. The guy was truly thankful for such a warm gift. I'm sure he wore it every day until it got too warm. Then, who knows what happened to it?

My mother was very angry that I took her gift and re-gifted it. She reminded me that "money doesn't grow on trees." After that, she chided me for my beliefs, but accepted my wishes. Over the years, others have insisted on giving me gifts. After lots of trials and numerous errors, I finally came up with a solution that works (for me.)

When people ask what I'd like, I ask them to think about how much they'd like to spend on my gift ... but don't tell me. When they say they have the number, I ask them to figure out how much time it would take them to earn that amount ... but don't tell me. Then, I ask them to turn off all distractions, make sure they'll be uninterrupted, and think about me for that much time. I tell them to let their mind wander and it is perfectly acceptable to think about anything at all. It is important to me that they have uninterrupted time to think.

The reactions are across the board. Most insist that I should have a tangible gift, so I ask them to get a box of crayons and a piece of paper and draw like a 6 year old, or write me a letter that starts with "Dear Grover, I've been thinking about you,,," If the letter ends there, that is fine. If you write it or draw something that you'd rather not share with me, that is fine. I make them promise to set aside the time and follow my wishes.

The best gifts keep on giving,


mobius's picture
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A Creative St. Nikolaas

Hi all,

In Holland the 5th of December (the eve of St. Nicholas's birthday) is celebrated by some gift giving to the youngest kids and for the older bunch people will draw one name and make a "surprise" for that person -- a funny packet, resembling or a clue to the gift inside.  It is usually made with craft papier maché or other things.  But it doesn't stop there:  a poem is also composed and read aloud before opening. 




Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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the real St Nick


Funny you should mention the historical St Nicholas. If he were alive today I think St Nick would be horrified at the orgy of consumerism that now commemorates one of the main high holy days of his church. For the record, I am not a Catholic like he was. But I think it's safe to imagine that the material focus of our modern "Christmas" would sadden him.

My children were part Dutch in their ancestry, so from a very early age I taught them that they knew the real story behind the holiday - the story of the historical St Nicholas who was charitable andd nice to kids. Since it was supposed to be "Jesus' birthday" when the kids were really little our holiday tradition was to bake a cake, put candles on it, and sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. Then we gave him a present, a present that consisted of helping someone else. There was always much serious discussion between the kids about what to give the good Lord for his son's birthday. It shifted their focus from consuming to giving.

I like to think that tradition modeled a good attitude, the lessons being (a) that "people are more important than things,"  and (b) the best gifts--for any occasion--don't come from a store. Hopefully they also learned that it is more fun and more satisfying to give that to receive. Of course, I'm just sharing a personal annecdote: I know a lot of you have no particular belief system or a different one from mine, but give me Charlie Brown's christmas tree any day over the the local Walmart.

mobius's picture
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Second that!

Safe-w, I absolutely agree with you.  Trash the trash and do the deed.

RJE's picture
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Yeah, I have an idea...Just be nice to people, just be nice.

Hell safewrite (do you have a name?) you are singing my tunes Sister!!! Christmas is EVERY DAY for me. I kiss my Lady off every day, and every evening, and I haven't missed one since I came home from serving in the military waaaayyyy back in the day. I swear, I swear to the almighty, that is a gift that keeps on giving. It is all I require in life so help me God. Well, my flannels 3X (I like baggy) are nice, Tigers t-shirt, and clean white socks after a hot shower are nice too. A snack and dinner are required also but....that's it. Well, talking to my grand sons daily, a hello to my son and oldest son are nice. My dog at my feet is comforting, well, you get the picture. Cozy stuff you might say are what makes me happy.

I will admit to wanting this really cool shot gun I have had my eyes on for some time now but, I niche that idea when my Lady wanted me to buy it. I have a shot gun so two is just silly.

Merry Christmas (whatever your name is)

These are my every days, enjoy.

Gotta scram, I have to go and push this 'Thumb thing' that seems so important around here to push. Don't worry, you get a BIG 'Thumbs up'. Nice topic by the way.

Respectfully Given

Bob (that's my name)

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Amanda Witman
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Yes. Yes, I do!

Do you have advice for enjoying the holidays without wasting money on meaningless tripe?

Yes.  Yes, I do!

I've very consciously managed my kids' holiday expectations since they were little.  Some unnamed, mysterious magic does come to our house on Christmas eve while we're all sleeping and sprinkle some gifts in the stockings and under the tree, but it's small and relatively non-"consumerist." 

I love decorating with evergreens and candles, both relatively homemade, local, and responsibly consumable.  I give my kids some red, green, white paper and colored pencils, tape and scissors, and invite them to make decorations for our house.  We have a tree and we decorate with carefully-saved ornaments and handmade things. 

We read Christmas books out loud to each other and drink hot cocoa on Christmas Eve. We also listen to and make lots of holiday music.  Last year we began a Christmas Eve tradition of an English-style pub sing in the local pub.  Happens we have a lot of musicians here with diverse holiday repertoire, and someone brought cookies to pass around, and now my kids want to make cookies for this year's sing.  For us, this is a great holiday tradition. 

We spend Christmas day in our jammies eating goodies (things we don't normally make or budget for during the year) and NOT WORKING (that would be me).  We have food traditions, and the tradition of a new Christmas puzzle that we spend the day working on.  In our case it works best not to have family visit on Christmas, and I refuse to drive anywhere on our precious "day off," so we do that other days.

There are gifts, but it's things like pencils, books, art/craft supplies, and chocolate/nuts/clementines.  Somehow they always seem to get something useful for a sustainable lifestyle -- sturdy backpacks, wool neckwarmers, pocket knives, headlamps, steel water year we all got new pillows; one year we all got new sheets.  Funny, that.  If we are lucky this year, the magic will bring a ukulele to share...

My sister's in-laws overdo it in the present department, to the point where this year my mom apologized for her plan to give the kids "only" two small things (a magazine subscription each, and another small item).  I had to laugh and tell her that my kids will be thrilled and it will feel extravagant to them.  They do not have other grandparents or anyone who showers them with gifts, and as a result they will not be disappointed by her generosity, which will (rightly) seem grand to them.

We also spend time performing for others at the holiday time -- caroling, putting on a holiday show similar to Revels, etc.  It's one way we can add to the cheer in our community.  And it comes back to us.

And we make handmade cards for...everyone we send cards to.  Kid art makes great cards.  And at least for now I still stick in a photo of the kids and a little update on our year, and they are handmade gift packets in themselves.  We have stopped giving gifts even to family members and let our art and love suffice.  But my parents and sisters are on the same page philosophically, and I don't have in-laws to deal with, so that maybe makes it easy.  Sometimes I will surprise them with a consumable gift like hand-mixed tea or local maple syrup or a handmade ornament, but it depends on the year and our resources at the time.

I guess the caveat here is that we don't have TV and my kids are homeschooled, so they're not blasted with the consumerist pressures that shape other kids' expectations at the holidays.  So I've shaped them within the family.  Repeat ad nausam:  "Every family does things differently.  This is how our family does things."

Traditions are so important.  I think a good place to start is to have each family member name three (or even five) things that define the holidays for them, and combine them all into a predictable set of family traditions that can be repeated every year.  You can also specify parameters that feel right to you -- that these lists perhaps not involve spending money, or perhaps not involve the purchase of new plastic items, or whatever parameters feel sustainable and in resonance with your values.

When we moved to our new house, my youngest kept asking for a mantel so we could put candles to light in the dark hours as we did in our old house.  We have no mantel here, so I put up a shelf with a row of glass candle jars and some tiny pumpkins for Thanksgiving (soon to be replaced by evergreens), and she was so happy.  We hung our (handmade) stockings on the stair railing in the entryway.  Simple, wholesome, seasonal, picturesque. And I'm betting we can repeat these traditions no matter how challenging the economy gets (yes, we have candlemaking supplies!)

I highly recommend this book:  Unplug the Christmas Machine and this one: Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas.

RJE's picture
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...that was below the belt (an enduring phrase if you don't get it) as winter is setting in. I normally like winter up until one minute past midnight on Christmas Eve as Santa needs snow for his sleigh, don't you know. Then snow can go bye bye and not return again for another year. I am in hibernation, and will not show my mug until March 17th, St. Patrick's Day.

NO!, beans aren't growing here this time of year because its brrrrrrrrrrr to farking cooollllllld out! I think you knew this so I laughed/smiled.

Merry Christmas Arthur

No 'Thumbs' necessary as I would prefer a conversation, dialogue or input instead.

Resilience is key, no question about this Folks. Hey!, word game: Resilience---Hardwork. Fiscal Cliff-Resilience/Preparations. Republican/Democrats---BIG ASS BABIES.This is fun.



Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Amanda, lovely list

I love the homemade cards and the carol sing and the fresh evergreens and candles. Homemade ornaments are cool, too. My sons are around 30, but back in the day we had a tradition that we would go view the ceremony when they put up the local community tree, and the high school or church choirs did a free concert. Afterward, we'd go out for hot chocolate.

And then we started theming the trees with "found" items. We looked around the house for things we already had, and used them as ornaments. One year it was all cookie cutters; another it was all Matchbox cars, another it was all Legos, another it was all pine cones and silk flowers. The tradition at home was trim the tree, and then to sleep in the living room in sleeping bags so we could look up at the pretty lights. 

But when the kids left I made my own tradition. I am a science fiction and fantasy editor, and go to a lot of conventions as a speaker--lots of fun and friends there-- I took years of colorful badges with ribbons and trimmed my tree with ten years worth of that. My new husband and step daughter go to SF conventions too, so we mix all the badges on our tree. Silly, but it works for us.

natejam's picture
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Advent Conspiracy

Check this out, some ideas for taking the consumerism out of Christmas:

RJE's picture
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safewrite and All, this is

safewrite and All, this is cool, and every read is just fun, it is. So my girly hat goes on now.

I used to have, and may yet again have my family now numbering over a hundred direct members over for our Family Christmas Party. Anyways, since the grand kids and other nephews and nieces were very young, and could make their own Christmas Ornament they were required to bring this (say 3 years old) as a Christmas gift to my wife and I. What is so cool is you Folks reminded me that the tree goes up on my birthday, Dec.13TH, and I get to see these ornaments again from many years past. Thanks, I just got into the Official Christmas ( as every day is Christmas remember) spirit again, and the emotional part is I have one ornament from my Mother/Father that was gifted me, and is handled ever so gently that I put up, and no others as my wife does the rest. Good stuff. Thanks

Merry Christmas


Woodman's picture
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No christmas stress here


No TV here, and my kids don't ask for gifts much at all.  What seems to make them happy the most is when I put aside work or projects and just spend time with them.   Attention to others is the best gift.

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I get what the kids need and not what they want. No socks or underware mind you. But I do buy what they need. As for me, any gift bought FOR me must be a tool. 

My sister-in-law said to me one yr. "How boring!" I replied, "then I won't give you tools."

I continued, "however, tools, any tools bring me joy and pleasure. Isn't that what a gift is susposed to do?"

now as for my bride, I would "hang the moon" for her if I could. Mama gets whatever she wants! (lucky for me, she is as practical as I am.)

RJE's picture
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This is what I'm talking about...

"now as for my bride, I would "hang the moon" for her if I could. Mama gets whatever she wants! (lucky for me, she is as practical as I am.)".

A Man's-Man.


Merry Christmas


pinecarr's picture
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A gaggle of geese?

Every Christmas, my son and I look at the Heifer International catalog, and decide what gift we're going to get to help make someone in need's life better.  Will it be a sheep, a flock of geese, a goat or a share of a cow?  Unfortunately, much of the rest of the Holiday is still more consumer-oriented than I care for.  But choosing a gift with my son that helps improve someone else's life is the one that means the most to me.

Yoxa's picture
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Draw names for gift giving

When I was growing up, my extended family would draw names for our Christmas gift giving, and now our kids and grandkids are carrying on the tradition.

Someone pulls names out of a hat sometime in the fall so that each person gets one name and that's who they give to.

We make sure no one gets the same name two years in a row, but other than that the draw is random. We set a price limit and while people don't always stay perfectly within bounds, they're close.

Buying (or creating) one really good and suitable thing for one person is more satisfying for both giver and receiver than umpteen smaller "because we have to" presents would be.

We have a festive time opening our gifts together, without going overboard on the materialistic side of the season.

It's a significant milestone when a niece or nephew asks for their boyfriend or girlfriend be included in the family Christmas draw!

Broadspectrum's picture
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“It's Run By An Eastern Syndicate, Ya Know”

Sorry to pull this Forum topic up from the bottom but I had a computer problem that prevented me from contributing before now…and I had wanted to before the issue arose.  So here goes.

My subject line is a quote from Lucy in The Peanuts Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon that was first broadcast in 1965.  Charles Schultz was brilliant.  He nailed it way back then.  I was just a kid of course, still young enough to believe in Santa when I saw that show for the very first time that year.  I have watched it every year since then.  The message has had a profound influence on me ever since.  And that was NOT easy coming from a large family that went all out for Christmas.  No need to go into details.

Even the dog, Snoopy “goes commercial” winning first prize for his doghouse decorated with lights. I do have a penchant for Christmas lights and music.  However, I am very secular in my celebration which does include a few well thought out gifts (tools are good for some persons). Time spent with the persons that I love and care most about is my greatest satisfaction.

I have never participated in Black Friday.  In the 3 decades I have been working I almost always have gone into work that day.  I am not much of a shopper anyway.  I am also one of those persons for which it is very hard to buy a gift.  I don’t really want much…just real estate.  Ha ha!  Just kidding. 

I do find it a little sad that it has all come to this type of directive for the society…that a good sales day will put you “in the black” for the year.  I don’t remember hearing very much about Black Friday while growing up in those early days of animation (there are many shows still on TV…can’t really do any better I guess.  I mean really, the main characters of Rudolph are 2 non-conformists that society learns to accept for who they are) or even into my early adulthood.  And now that’s all you hear around this time of year.   This year was on a calendar that actually allowed 2 Black Fridays.  The weekend beginning Friday, Nov 30th was almost as big as the one begun on Nov 23rd.

To All but especially zeroenergy, westcoastjan and grover,

Keep this quote from Don Miguel Ruiz in mind this holiday season and going forward, “For many of us, it is easy to give, but very difficult to receive.  When we master gratitude, we can easily receive without feeling guilty because we know that by receiving, we give pleasure to the one who is giving.”  Mediate upon that if you so desire.

Anyway before I conclude I want to inject this article into the discussion.  I find it funny but true.

The laws enacted in the 1980s that allowed directing marketing to children at any age was what opened the final flood gates to rampant, mindless consumerism. 

And now, the best for last.  In round table conversation the other day this same topic of consumerism came up with Santa Clause as a subtopic.  It was wondered what would happen to a child that was told from the very beginning that Santa is NOT real, that he is just symbolic and based loosely on historical figures.  Children will believe whatever it is that their parents and other loving authority figures tell them.  And Santa is a powerful example of introducing them to an unjust world.    Can you remember when there were no words in your head because you didn’t know how to speak any language? 

Peace for Real,


Grover's picture
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Broadspectrum wrote:

To All but especially zeroenergy, westcoastjan and grover,

Keep this quote from Don Miguel Ruiz in mind this holiday season and going forward, “For many of us, it is easy to give, but very difficult to receive.  When we master gratitude, we can easily receive without feeling guilty because we know that by receiving, we give pleasure to the one who is giving.”  Mediate upon that if you so desire


Personally, I think the holiday is a contrived event. It was stolen by the christians who invaded and subsumed Druid solstice traditions. It matters not! Our modern day commercialists have comandeered every profitable aspect of the old traditions and have convinced you (and all the others who blindly participate) that it is a worthy cause to spend your money ... for the children or for whatever reason you can be made to believe.

Please re-read my post. I have struggled with the whole contrived event. I finally settled on something that gives more than what is received. Ironically, I receive much more than I've given (since I've given absolutely nothing.) When people follow my wishes, they have to think. Can you imagine a greater gift? There is no monetary value transferred. There is no commercial source that profits from my wishes.

What would jesus do?


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