Christmas Stuff

In the Pope’s Christmas message at Midnight Mass he suggested

Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light…. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity.

It is a shame some of the value of his sentiments were lost in the glitter and wealth of his clothes and setting. Of course nearly anybody in the West (myself included) talking about sustainability and simplicity does appear to be a bit incongruous.

Talking of incongruous, we ended Christmas day by watching The Story of Stuff. We had counted that between the four of us we had received around 70 things (most of them quite little – e.g., there were 10 pairs of socks) and we thought we needed to remind ourselves about the importance of trying to reduce the stuff we collect.

We did try to modify our Christmas buying this year – honest – by thinking about how we could be a bit more socially responsible (although we have a long way to go). Some of the things we did included:

  • We bought presents from the Oxfam shop for a group of friends we see each year (and we have come to an agreement to stop buying presents from now on).
  • We tried to avoid the big retails as much as possible (e.g., we bought some books from MacLeans bookshop – a great independent bookshop in Hamilton)
  • We draw names of hats for Cathy’s sisters, their partners and my brother and each of us bought a present for one person
  • We did the same thing with the girls’ Australian cousins
  • We don’t go overboard (I guess that depends on who we compare ourselves with) with presents for the girls. We gave them an early present of tickets to Mary Poppins and then “Santa” gave them a range of smaller presents – including some books, things they needed anyway (hmm – define “needed”) like socks, undies and a clarinet/flute stand, and a few fun things too
  • I bought Cathy “Childhood Under Siege: How big business ruthlessly targets children” and tickets to a play, and Cathy bought me a backpack for work and a voucher for some music
  • We gave Mum and Dad some books and a voucher saying we will give them a home delivered meal once a week.

I don’t pretend that we had a simple Christmas, but at least we are heading in the right direction. Increasingly we are trying to buy from independent local shops, we look for fair trade products, and think about the environmental impact. It is a challenge as we grew up shopping based on price (Why buy from a little bookshop when you can buy it for cheaper from a big chain store?) but we are slowly retraining ourselves.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability, Personal, Social change and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Christmas Stuff

  1. Anonymous says:

    I made a bigger effort to get into the Xmas spirit this year after I caught my 7 year old son bitching to his hair dresser about how much his mummy hates Xmas. It is very difficult to explain to him that what I dislike about Xmas is the cogs of capitalism going into overdrive and the huge social treadmill of consumerism – the same treadmill that my 7 year old is fighting me to hop on. Perhaps I need to read Childhood Under Siege because I think I need some extra tools to help highlight to my kids that they are being manipulated. I admit it must be very challenging for a child to have a parent who does not follow mainstream social norms – I often think it would be so much easier to go off and live in a commune and surround myself with like minded folk and cut off outside influence upon my children. I feel however that the responsible option is the one I am leading. Raising my children within the mainstream society they are going to live in whenever they leave my nest. If I want to effect social change, I can only do it by participating within the society I wish to change and that involves being repeatedly confronted by social influences upon my children that I do not agree with. I can only hope that as they mature and become more educated about their world, they will learn to question more. Think more. Speak out more. Act more than I ever did as a child, adolescent and young adult.

    Meantime, my 7 year old son is in raptures over receiving a large Transformer Robot from his Granny. His father and I gave him and his sister a decent pair of Walkie Talkies for spy games around the house but also to aid in the kids becoming more independent when we go to parks and events. There were a few other shared gifts such as new Derwent Water Colour Pencils, and the complete set of the Elephant and Piggy book series by Mo Willems. Many years ago, I sent a letter to Santa asking that he only provide my children with practical gifts in their Xmas stockings and allow us as parents to take credit for the significant gifts. This year, Santa has sorted out some swimming items, sketch pads, art and craft supplies and some desperately needed new underwear.

    My husband and I don’t give each other Xmas gifts. My children give their siblings and relatives homemade gingerbread, a copy of their Santa photo and for immediate family, they give them a photo calendar which I design online and have printed. As an atheist, there is a deep lack of spirituality for me surrounding Xmas therefore I can only relate to the focus and value on family at this time of year. Considering 2011 has seen severe deterioration with some of my family relationships, the focus on my children and husband is extreme this Xmas. Knowing the pagan foundations of Xmas, I believe I would experience a spiritual connection to the festivities if only I was living in the northern hemisphere. Without it, I am stuck with holding my children’s hands as they are dragged along by the commercialisation treadmill and I can only hope that one day they will have heard and watched enough of my thoughts and actions and choose to step off the treadmill and onto their own path.


    • Graeme says:

      Thanks for your comments – it certainly can be challenging. You might be interested in the book “Honeycomb kids: Big picture parenting for a changing world… and to change the world!” by Anna Campbell ( I’ve seen an advance copy of the book as it isn’t published until next year. It explores ways we can help our children grow up to be resilient and to focus on what matters.

      We keep trying to help our kids to be aware of the ways they are pressured to buy things, manipulated to believe that their worth is based on what they own etc. For example we get them to work out what ads are trying to make them buy and talk about how “branded” products are no better than other ones. It is tricky to counteract so many messages from other sources.

      Good luck with your attempts.


  2. Here! Here! on the Pope. How hypocritical!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family Graeme.

    I’ve been heavily involved in Occupy Sydney this year. The movement is a world-changer, in my opinion. It fills in some gaps I think that Transition doesn’t fill.

    I’ve also been exploring building networked, resilient communities that are not necessarily localised. Occupy provides an opportunity to experiment in building these types of communities from the ground up.

    I’d love to catch up with you and talk more about these topics during some future Newcastle visit.



I'd love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s