Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Semi-Open Post Holiday Weekend Thread: On Parenting, Consumerism, and Christmas

I hope that you are having a restful and enjoyable holiday week. My positive energy extends out to those who celebrate Festivus, continue with Maulana Karenga's Kwanzaa efforts via burning candles and saying/and practicing words like "Kujichagulia", and those who take part in a commemoration of the immortal son of a sky god by decorating pagan offerings and reflecting on the change in seasons and giving each other gifts. However, I do not include those people in my positive energy sending who continue the Nazi-inspired celebrations of Christmas in Germany circa the 1930s and 1940s (this story on that topic is very fascinating).

As is our habit and tradition, do you have any stories of personal or public concern to share? Did Santa give you coal or silver and gold? Did Mrs. Claus come over and give you special that as you may.

Friend of the site Mr. Werner Herzog's Bear has a very insightful and heartfelt essay on Christmas, parenting, and consumerism over at his site Notes From the Ironbound. I am sharing it below.

I am not a parent. But, I imagine that I would echo his sentiments if I were.


One of the biggest cliches in the book is that parenthood changes everything, and it's a cliche because, well, it's true.  In many ways this is obvious.  I usually subsist on six hours of sleep a night, and have cleared the eight hour mark maybe a dozen times in the last three years, usually only when I was too sick to sleep less than eight hours.  Smaller things have changed too, like Christmas.

Through most of my adult life, Christmas was pretty ho-hum. With two three year old girls, that has changed drastically, and Christmas has become a lot more significant in my life.  In many respects, this has meant that I love Christmas the way I loved it when I was a child.  My daughters take such joy in the Christmas season, from the songs to the gifts to the time with family.  It's very difficult for a lot of that not to rub off on me.

At the same time, however, it is extremely difficult for me not to develop great levels of hate and resentment against Christmas.  The Christmas season is perhaps the biggest reminder I have of how much power the broader society has in shaping my daughters and how hard it is for me to instill the values I want to impart.  In the first place, the consumeristic side of Christmas is especially pronounced with children.  I don't know if there has been a change in this since my childhood or what, but every year my children are buried under a tide of toys and trinkets.  I blame the Wal-Martization of America, which was not yet complete when I was a tyke.  It's easy, without thinking, to buy a child a mountain of toys, since they come at dollar store prices.  They also have dollar store quality but never seem to leave the house, forming a giant mass of cheap plastic crap to take up space, be stepped on, and constantly clutter living spaces up while rarely being played with.

The people giving the gifts have great intentions, and I really don't fault them for anything, obviously.  It's more that the Christmas season injects the usual consumerist ethos with steroids. And I guess it would be a real dick move to ask that any money spent on toys just be put into my daughter's college funds.

What's harder to stomach is the enforcement of patriarchal norms.  My daughters love Star Wars and superheroes, but for those who don't know them well, they default to all manner of pink princess stuff.  My daughters practically get buried alive in it.  What is even crazier is that they get non-princess toys, like cars and airplanes and even mini-baseball bats, in special pink, girl forms.  The message is pretty clear: being a girl means having a gussied up, less realistic, less REAL version of what boys have, because deep down cars, and trucks and baseball bats are for them, not girls. 

Even if they were getting gifts I liked more, the whole thing would make me uneasy because of the massive waste of it all.  The sheer scale of gifts is frightening in its extremity; so much so that we barely give them anything for Christmas because we know that the deluge is coming.  Seeing the massive pile of presents in our living room right now is actually making me feel sick at the waste and decadence of it all in a world where so many have so little.  It's not because this stuff cost so much, quite the opposite.  It's the thought that this bounty of stuff is the result of exploited labor, both in the factories where it's made and the stores where it's sold.

Beyond all that, Christmas events encourage them to get all dressed up, and what's wrong with that? Those who know me know I like to dress up.  But for my daughters, they are quickly turned into little objects, told they are pretty, etc.  There's nothing wrong with being pretty, but when that's the one thing other people want to notice about them, the patriarchy is lurking. 

So now that I am a parent, Christmas is filled with vastly conflicting emotions.  On the one hand, I feel such happiness at the smiles on my daughters' faces, and the cheerfulness they showed when racing down the stairs yesterday morning.  It's great to see them interact with their extended family, especially their cousins.  On the other hand, I feel so trapped and horrified when seeing them buried under mountains of cheap crap produced by exploited labor that reinforces sexist gender roles.  Maybe next year I can develop some counter-programming.

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