Five Steps Toward a More Meaningful Holiday Season

snowgirl-500x333

The room is full, a bit cramped, the crowd filling their seats. It’s snowing lightly through the half-windows behind the stage, just a few flurries coating the sidewalks above this basement. It’s December 2012. The windows weep from the indoor heat. I turn on the microphone and look over the crowd, avoiding eye contact, which’d just make me more nervous than I already am.

I begin my speech by telling a story about a child on Christmas morning: “Fast forward a few weeks from now, Christmas Day, as little Andrew unwraps Optimus Prime and a grin breaks across his features when the large toy lights up and nearly comes to life, flashing and beeping and driving Andy’s parents crazy.

“But in a few moments, Andy discards the toy and begins unwrapping the rest of his presents, extracting each box from under the tree, one by one—some long, some tall, some heavy, some light. Each box reveals a new toy. Each shred of green-and-red wrapping paper a flash of happiness.

“An hour later, though, little Andy is crying hysterically. Based on his fits, this has undoubtedly been the worst Christmas ever. Sure, Andrew received many of the things on his list, but he’s far more concerned with what he didn’t receive. That Power Ranger he wanted, that video game system he was secretly hoping for, that new computer that all his friends are getting. The toys in front of him simply remind him of what he doesn’t have.

“This sounds childish, I know, but don’t we do the same thing? Don’t we often look at the things around us and wish we had more? Don’t we covet that new car, those new clothes, that new iPhone?”

Several people in the crowd are nodding with identification.

“What if Andy was happy with the toys in front of him? And what if we were too?” I ask rhetorically.

After a brief pause, Ryan jumps in: “We are clearly in the throes of the holiday shopping season,” he says, speaking through his handheld microphone.

“Take a look around. Malls are packed with herds of consumers. Storefronts are decorated in green and red. The jingly commercials are running nonstop. The holiday season has officially peeked its gigantic, mass-mediated noggin around the corner. It’s here, and if we rely solely on billboards and store signage, then we might believe we have to participate.

“Retailers prepare months in advance for this—preparation that’s meant to stimulate your insatiable desire to consume: Doorbuster sales. New products. Gigantic two-page ads. TV, radio, print, billboards. Sale, sale, sale! Early bird specials. One day only! Get the best deal. Act now! While supplies last.

“Joshua and I would, however, like to shed some light on this shopping—ahem, holiday—season. Each year around this time, we all feel that warm-’n’-fuzzy Christmastime nostalgia associated with the onset of winter. We break out the scarves and the gloves and the winter coats. We go ice-skating and sledding and eat hearty meals with our extended families. We take days off from work and spend time with our loved ones and give thanks for the gift of life.

“The problem is that we’ve been conditioned to associate this joyous time of year—the mittens and decorations and the family activities—with purchasing material items. We’ve trained ourselves to believe that buying stuff is an inextricable part of Christmas. We all know, however, that the holidays needn’t require gifts to be meaningful. Rather, this time of year is meaningful because of its true meaning—not the wrapped boxes we place under the tree. I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong or bad about gift-giving during this time of year. However, when purchasing gifts becomes the focal point of the season, we lose focus on what’s truly important.

“Instead of concentrating on holiday shopping,” Ryan continues, “I’d like to encourage you to take five steps toward a more meaningful Christmas together:

“Step one. Avoid holiday doorbuster sales. Whether it’s Black Friday or any of the subsequent big shopping weekends, it’s best to stay inside. It’s important to understand that consumption is an unquenchable thirst.Retailers and advertisers and manufacturers know this too well, and these sales are designed to take advantage of our insatiable desire to consume. Instead, support your local businesses; support the people in your community who are making a difference.

“Step two. Gift your time. If you could receive only one Christmas present this year, what would it be? The answer for me is simple: time. The best present is presence…. [Read more at The Minimalists]

“Five Steps Toward a More Meaningful Holiday Season” is an excerpt from Everything That Remains, a memoir that will be published in January.

Advertisements

THE HIGH PRICE OF PURSUING MY DREAM

Price-Essay-JFM

 

It turns out that the American Dream was never my dream. Rather, it was competing with my dream, clouding over my revelatory desire to be a literary writer. The big house, the fancy car, the impressive job title, the six-figure salary, the superfluous stuff. I had all of it. But none of it made me happy. And none of it allowed me to pursue my dream.

Instead, there was a void. Something was missing. I didn’t know what that void was, and working 70-80 hours a week didn’t give me much time to explore its cavernous interior.

And so before I left my job last year, I had to pay the price for my self-indulgent twenties as that scarred decade descended into the cloud-cluttered horizon. I could no longer afford the lifestyle I’d been living during my mindless twenties, a cog in a wheel of greed and lust and happenstance. Instead, it was far more important for me to pursue my dream—to pursue my passion for writing—than it was for me to keep living that empty, opulent lifestyle, a lifestyle which, by the way, was not bringing me happiness.

Thus, pursuing my dream didn’t come without a cost. Before I left my career to become a full-time writer, I spent two years paying off the vast majority of my debt: credit card debt, student loans, medical bills, and the like. Then I paid off my car and sold my large house and eventually moved into a small, $500-per-month apartment. …[Read more at The Minimalists]