buy nothing christmas '03
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Christmas too commercial?

By David Leibl

From University of Manitoba website, December 19, 2003

For someone making such a conscientious effort to avoid the often-harried bustle of the holiday season, Aiden Enns is spending a lot of time in shopping malls.

But instead of braving throngs of frazzled shoppers in the race for last-minute gifts, the University of Manitoba alumnus is instead regaling fellow mall-goers with his favourite tip for holiday shopping:

"Don't."

Enns, who earned a master's degree in religion at U of M, is the architect behind Buy Nothing Christmas, a growing movement to shift away from the hyperdrive consumption he says has come to characterize the holidays.

Locally, Enns has visited Polo Park, Portage Place and Grant Park to spread the gospel of anti-consumerism. He's reasonably pleased, he says, with the interest and support he's received from passers-by. But he knows, too, that for every shopper who pauses to listen to his spiel, there are scores more who are checking out his web site or have already seen his buy-nothing message in the news.

Enns has done interviews with BBC radio in Scotland and Wales; he's been the focus of a feature story in the Globe and Mail; he's been interviewed by radio stations in Johannesburg, Hawaii and New York; and he had to hustle after being interviewed for this story for an in-studio appearance on CBC radio.

The Buy Nothing Christmas web site, Enns says, has been a powerful tool in getting the word out about gift-giving alternatives and tips to avoid holiday consumerism. More than 2,000 people [more like 1400, -Ed.] from 12 countries have signed up to the site's mailing list.

If the "buy nothing" message sounds familiar, it's because Buy Nothing Christmas was born out of the success of Buy Nothing Day, a burgeoning annual campaign against consumer consumption organized by Adbusters, the venerable Vancouver-based magazine with a global reputation for its creative opposition to consumerist culture.

Prior to returning to Winnipeg in September, Enns was the magazine's managing editor. Buy Nothing Christmas isn't affiliated with Adbusters, although the magazine actively promotes Enns's cause and served as the breeding ground for the philosophy he's brought to his new project.

"Basically it started three years ago when I was at Adbusters. We had a great campaign called Buy Nothing Day and I thought, 'we need to roll this out for the whole Christmas season.'"

The campaign was first rolled out within the Mennonite community. Before joining Adbusters Enns was [an] editor of Canadian Mennonite and in 2000 ran a full-page ad challenging the magazine's readers to curb their Christmas-time consumption.

"I felt that Christians needed be challenged with the message of the pitfalls of overconsumption at Christmas time," he says. "That's what got us started.

"Since then we've rolled it out to all faiths, all people, everyone who's concerned about their consumption."

Enns says he's not trying to make anyone feel guilty at Christmas, although he does insist that as a society we collectively consume far more than can be considered sustainable. It takes a unique form of protest, he says, to get the message across.

"There's two types of protest," he says. "One is political protest, but there's also cultural protest or cultural resistance.

"Our culture is heading in the wrong direction. I myself am trying to embody a new culture which is at variance with the dominant culture. The two cultures clash and it creates a ruckus, and hopefully people can be more responsible citizens. It's not getting into the legislature; it's going into the heart of consumer culture, into the shopping mall, and challenging that culture."

So does a guy diametrically opposed to so many aspects of the contemporary incarnation of Christmas still have fun during the holidays?

"Even though I'm busier with media requests and making gifts, I'm doing something creative and life-giving and sustainable," he says. "That gives me hope and makes me happier. It gives me a brighter Christmas.

"Christmas is still really fun for me."

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David Leibl is staff at the University of Manitoba.

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