Think outside the big box
There's nothing Scrooge about it; we were the happiest people
in the mall.
By Will Braun
Rabble.ca, Thursday, December 16, 2004
Saturday I got kicked out of one mall and four big bad box stores
a Christmas shopping first for me. I and 25 other Manitobans
who probably go to church more often than to the mall were there
to sing Christmas carols evidently the kind that get one
banished from the fluorescent premises of holiday madness.
Imagine standing in the check-out line at the local
Super-Mega Deal-orama as a cheerful troupe of Santa-hatted well-wishers
march in the door singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
those aren't the traditional lyrics:
Slow down ye frantic shoppers for there's something
we must say,
If you would spare a moment all the stores would go away,
Big business has been telling us what Christmas means today,
Now it's time we decided for ourselves, for ourselves,
Yes, it's time we decided for ourselves
Our record was three full songs before being escorted
out (in that case politely). The opposition to our store-to-store
commercial sacrilege however did not come from shoppers. We might
have been a fringe group oddly immune to public embarrassment, but
shoppers didn't treat us that way. Many were curious, some indifferent,
and a few responded almost as though they'd met a long lost friend.
The Buy Nothing Christmas campaign
the impetus for our Winnipeg singing spree taps into increasing
societal fatigue around high-pressure commercial Christmas. The
four-year old international campaign is inspired by Adbusters Buy
Nothing Christmas and the driving force behind it is Winnipegger
Aiden Enns, former managing editor at Adbusters magazine. The campaign
has Christian origins but appeals more broadly, not unlike the event
it seeks to reinvigorate.
While making the holidays less stressful and more
fun, Buy Nothing Christmas also recognizes that Christmas
excess is corporate excess with exploitative business feeding off
the spending frenzy.
This year the campaign included a front page ad in
For Enns, who joined our musical excursion, retail
caroling is less a protest than an invitation to a less frenzied
Christmas. As for getting ousted from retail establishments he says
mischief is a good thing if something's wrong with 'normal.
' And besides, it's festive mischief. When permitted, we ended
a store visit with a hearty round of We wish you a Merry Christmas
We banked on the fact that Christmas is the only season
in which amateur public singing makes social sense (even if just
barely). It's a unique season. There's a tinge of spiritual nostalgia
if you will in the air, something that draws one back
to those things that most satisfy the human spirit family,
fun, song and goodwill. Society breaks out in a bit of a smile.
Our message was a simple call to follow this seasonal
inclination toward cheer and goodwill, rather than getting sidetracked
by the stuff.
We feel drawn to basic human goodness, yet find ourselves
stuck in Deal-orama seeking the perfect gift for that special
someone who has everything but who will nonetheless get our
Made in China plastic package of holiday affection.
We're looking for deals, but not really
Last Valentine's Day, the same mall that promptly
disapproved of our carols, boldly advertised: Yes, you can
buy love. I emailed the mall manager wanting to hear someone
defend such a bold-faced contradiction of what we've all known to
be true since childhood. Her logic, by necessity, was as counter-intuitive
as the original claim a logic akin to that which somehow
compels us back into the perennial stress of Christmas excess.
A recent poll conducted by the Centre for a New American
Dream found widespread disillusionment with consumerism and materialism
among Americans. A full 86 per cent of those polled said they are
more interested in pursuing more of what matters in life,
as opposed to a more is better tack.
The Buy Nothing Christmas campaign grants
cultural permission to opt out of the madness, to celebrate more
than just stuff. The campaign website provides a catalogue
of gifts that money can't buy. And there's nothing Scrooge about
it; we were the happiest people in the mall.
I am not a hardcore Buy Nothing adherent, but I am
quite pleased with my idea for a non-purchased gift for my father-in-law
(whose name I drew). And my shopped-until-she-dropped
Mom seems to have proclaimed a gift-free Christmas on my side of
the family. If we had kids, more creativity would be required.
I know this Christmas will be at least as good as
any other. And I suspect next year my holiday nostalgia will include
a faint longing for some festive mischief.
Will Braun is a Winnipeg writer.
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