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Re-examining The Season

The Road to Resilience

The winter solstice has always seemed to me to be more meaningful than the summer solstice.  The promise of longer days at the darkest and coldest time of year is more heartening than the beginning of shorter days in the summer.  The darkness of December lends itself to stillness, introspection, and peace:  Silent Night.  From the very beginning, when humans first reflected on such things, I believe the winter solstice has been the most important time in our yearly cycle.  Once we were confident that the sun would return, it became a time of celebration.  It is no coincidence, then, that the early Christians decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time.  It was convenient for the Roman Christians to substitute Christmas for the Roman holiday of Saturnalia.

A big part of the celebration included countering the dark with light:  bonfires in the beginning and, now, lights of all kinds.  It has become a time to get together with friends and to give to each other.  Earlier people had much more darkness to counter than we have now.  Electric light has virtually eliminated the most dramatic feature of this season that the rest of life observes:  the peace and stillness of the dark time.  

There is one tradition developed in the last hundred years that I would like to be rid of.  At some point, the desire to give to friends and family came to be seen as a business opportunity.  Before there was so much stuff to buy, people gave of themselves, as there was not much “stuff” to buy.  Somewhere in the 1920’s or 30’s, the idea of consumption as an end in itself took hold.  I understand that when Henry Ford wanted to increase car production, his workers declined higher pay for longer hours because they were already making enough money to buy what they needed. They would rather have shorter hours and more free time.  It was at this point that the idea of creating and actively selling new products, convincing people that they needed things that they heretofore had no use for, became the norm.  Having more stuff to buy than money to buy it with created an endless hunger for more work time, more money.

This from the introduction of The New Hedonism: A Post Consumerism Vision by Kate Soper:
“Consumerism is the major cause of global warming and wrecking the planet for future generations. It is driven by a growth economy that favors the ever-expanding consumption of the already very affluent and has allowed the gap between the richest and poorest to grow to inflammatory proportions, both within the nation-state and globally. Today 16 percent of the global population consumes 80 percent of its resources. Americans alone are responsible for around 25 percent of global carbon emissions, and their ecological footprint is five times the global capacity of 1.8 hectares per capita.”

You may or may not be as adamant as Soper, but you have to admit that she has a point.

I know that some of you are going to call me the Grinch for what I’m about to talk about.   The giving portion of this winter season has been coopted by commercial interests and has been blown way out of proportion.  For many of us, “shopping,” that is, consumption for the fun of it, has become a favorite pastime.  For people with excess discretionary income, this is not a personal problem.  If satisfying your urge requires going into debt, then there may very well be a problem.

I would only ask that we all examine our shopping habit.  Why do we do it?  Are we considering the overall cost to the environment?  Who is benefiting from our purchase?  Do we really need it?

In this season of giving, we should buy consciously.  Buying from local producers/artists/ craftspeople is usually a good option.  You are supporting your neighbors.  They are often producing goods that have a very light touch on the Earth.  Some are even made from recycled materials.  Some people might question the “need” for creative artwork, but I would not.  You may not be able to afford it, but, if you can, it is a purchase that provides joy.  If the recipient of the gift is not overjoyed with it, it may end up at Granny’s where somebody that does appreciate it will get it at a bargain and cherish it forever.  Everybody wins, or at least nobody loses.

Another option is to send money to a group that will provide somebody in an “undeveloped” country with a means to a livelihood:  an animal, seeds, materials, or tools.  Heifer International is one such group.

Our providers of stuff, especially nonessential stuff, have come to depend on this time to make their year profitable.  It particularly pains me that our wonderful artists and craftspeople have to depend on this time.  No doubt, buying something handmade locally is a good thing, even if it is a frill, but taking advantage of a societal compulsion really bothers me.  I guess it works if we are buying because we really want to, and not because we feel we have to.

Comments?  
terry@vashonloop.com