The True Meaning of Christmas Consumerism

treeI think the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier every year. Before you know it, the United States will turn into a larger version of Who-ville, celebrating and preparing for Christmas Day all year long. Bells will ring for the winners who max out their credit cards, and every day will feature a new item with a 90% mark-down price. No one will even bother to take their Christmas lights down and in fact, they’ll just build up their displays higher and brighter until everything just runs together and the world becomes one big neon light-emitting-diode.

But during the first week of December, Christmas seems so far away and the holiday season seems so long. You get a little tired of some of the songs on the radio because you start hearing them the day after Halloween. Children get to see Santa in malls and restaurants at least three or four times, and they have enough time in between visits to completely change their mind about what they want. And then all of a sudden Christmas Eve is upon you and you haven’t wrapped a thing. The actual holiday comes and goes so quickly but what is all this hustle and bustle that comes first?

I think most people would agree that today, Christmas Day, is a happy one. It’s a day for family to spend time together and appreciate each other, to celebrate traditions, to eat and be merry. Ideally. The massive consumerism that occurs for roughly five weeks prior to this day is just part of the package. It’s the preparation that is necessary to get us to this day where we can relax. The entire month of shopping, decorating, baking and preparation is really what makes the holiday season so joyous and festive. If it weren’t for all these weeks of hearing Jingle Bells over and over again, Christmas would be like any other holiday. Like Easter. Or Mother’s Day. Just one day. Who would want that? The question that should be asked is whether it’s worth it. Maybe it is, for some people.

When I was little, I counted my presents. What mattered was the number, not how awesome they were. Even though I had some that were pretty awesome. It was amazing, to come downstairs on Christmas morning and where once the floor under the tree was bare, now boxes were piled high. When you truly believed in Santa Claus, there is nothing more miraculous. When you’re that little, the consumerism means nothing. You don’t even know it exists.

When you’re young, it’s all about you. You ask for presents, people ask you what’s on your list, you open up everything with your name on it and determine if you’ve gotten everything you asked for. When you visit family, they ask you what you got and you proudly tell them. Sure, you might buy presents for siblings and parents, but your ultimate focus is still yourself. Maybe you become a little less selfish as you get older, but still, so many people focus on what they got for Christmas. Let me ask you something this year.

What did you give?

If we are all going to be so obsessed with sales and clearance racks and Black Friday and free shipping (which we obviously are), then it must be worth something. Because if it’s not, if we are all still as selfish as we were when we were children and counting our presents, then society is surely on a downward slope. And since I sincerely hope that’s not the case, I like to think that our shopping obsession means something. I like to think it means that we give.

This year, I gave my sister a brown leather jacket and a vegetarian cookbook. I gave my little brother new headphones. I gave my other brother a DVD because he’s hard to buy for and who doesn’t love a new movie to add to the collection? We gave our mom a keyboard for her iPad and my dad got a coupon for rock climbing. I gave my grandparents a digital picture frame filled with pictures of family memories and extra gigs for more to come.

On Christmas Day, it’s so tempting and easy to shout out everything you got, to tell your friends or neighbors how good Santa was to you. But this year, like every year, I was so excited to give these gifts to my family, and that’s more important than anything else.

And what was the ultimate lesson the Grinch learned?

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. “Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Pray for Innocence

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I’ve never seen a gun up close. I’ve never seen one fired. I don’t personally know anyone with a mental illness, but I’ve had classes with some. In high school, two girls got in a fight and one was pushed against a locker—that’s the most violence I’ve seen in school. My classmates and I went through the motions of fire drills and nuclear bomb drills like they were games—a chance to drop the textbooks and chat with friends. I don’t have any close friends who have died and I’ve never seen someone killed right in front of me, the light fading from their eyes. In these respects, I’m as innocent as the children at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. As innocent as they were.

I was working all day on Friday. The words “twenty kids shot at an elementary school” reached my ears at some point, but a Friday at a restaurant is a busy day. I didn’t have time to slow down and check my phone. On Saturday, my family drove to Ohio in the morning to visit family. We went to church, where, during the homily, the priest asked and answered the question, “what do we do?” with respect to the shooting. “We pray,” he said. I didn’t get any full information until Saturday night. And when the names of twenty first-graders and six adults were shown on the television screen, my family wept.

No child goes to first grade with any thought that this tragedy could happen. No parent sends their child to school, thinking a shooter might come into the building. We believe schools are a safe environment, a haven with friends and mentors, full of knowledge and promise. I loved school as a child. I loved my teachers and textbooks and the feel of a newly sharpened pencil on a clean sheet of paper. I loved reading, writing, and learning. What will these children love now?

The biggest shock to the nation is that these victims were children and teachers. Twenty young lives, who haven’t even seen the world or know what amazing things are yet to come, were sitting at their desks eagerly soaking up knowledge. Six adults, trying to mold young minds and teach children to be the best they can be, put themselves in front of their kids, trying to protect them. The questions going through everyone’s minds: Who does this? Who shoots innocent children in school?

Like the shooting in the Colorado movie theater, this tragedy brings up so many questions and issues. People take sides, they fight for their beliefs, they write articles, letters, and blog posts. We desperately search for the reason why this happened, in our effort to find a better way to stop it. Is gun control the issue, or is it school safety? One mother of a mentally ill teenager writes that we must examine mental health and the care that is available for people who have special needs. But perfectly sane people can still buy a gun and shoot someone. If it’s a combination of all of these things, can we ever truly solve this problem?

Once again, the nation grieves for a community that has been torn apart by violence. We light candles, hold vigils and send teddy bears. We can’t unwind the time that has passed, or bring the children we love back, but we can send our thoughts and our hearts to those who are grieving. And we can pray. We can pray for the families of the victims and the shooter, and we can pray for action.

I hope there are more children like me, who stay innocent for as long as possible. I hope there are children who don’t know violence, who have never seen a gun, who feel that their  school is a safe haven. I hope children take their emergency drills seriously, but never have to put them into action. I hope children who need special help, get it, and I hope this never, ever happens again.

I pray for innocence.

(photo via)

Movie Review: “Blood Brother”

I went into the theater expecting to cry. A movie about poor, Indian children with HIV/AIDS is heartbreaking, why wouldn’t I expect to be bawling my eyes out in five minutes?

But surprisingly, I found myself laughing more often than shedding tears. The documentary, “Blood Brother,” focused on the reality of what this young man, Rocky Braat, was doing for the orphanage in India, but the pleasant surprise was that this reality was not all bad. It wasn’t all tragic illness and hardship and death. It was definitely those things. But the reality was also that these children are just like any others- ones without AIDS, with both parents, with a need for love.

Rocky’s goal to care for all of these kids, to love them and treat them like they aren’t sick, is heroic. His decision to move to India, stay there, get married, and care for these kids, was obviously not made lightly. And considering he moved into a completely different culture, where, in his words, “they are 70 or 80 years behind the times,” it is no wonder he faced challenges. But he could overcome those because he knew that what he was doing had a purpose and it was bigger than himself. He was and is saving these kids.

Rocky and his friend, Steve, said multiple times before the movie played in the theater and in the movie, that they aren’t funny, they wish they were funnier, that India sucked the humor out of them. And yet the film was filled with every small, happy moment that you would never imagine a child living with HIV/AIDS in India to have. They ran and laughed and played. They were hung by their pants in trees and played practical jokes. They spoke with the innocence that only children have. They loved unconditionally because they were in such desperate need of love themselves. They smiled with their whole faces and were proud of even their smallest accomplishments. They fully enjoyed and appreciated pizza more than any American kid I know. And all of this made the audience laugh- made us love the kids ourselves, made us forget the fear of HIV/AIDS.

The biggest impact of this whole movie, I believe, is seeing the human emotions cross boundaries and cross cultures. We may not understand their religious customs, or their beliefs or rituals, or why they don’t have running water or toilets. We may not understand their eating habits or transportation or the way they build their houses. We may not get the way people in India live–but we understand their sadness. We see pain and suffering. We understand happiness and joy. We see the smiles and laughter. And we get that. And that is why people will see this movie and donate money to help Rocky and the orphanage. That is why people like Rocky go to these countries. That is why we can laugh when these kids make jokes and why we cry when we see them on the verge of death, battling AIDS. We may not understand cultures, but we understand human emotions.

This documentary also shed some light on AIDS and HIV. I don’t believe it was entirely intentional, but nevertheless, the audience is struck by how people view the disease. People in India have this view that HIV/AIDS is something to fear. They aren’t entirely educated about it. They are so afraid, they shun the women and children, won’t touch them or eat the same food. Disease and illness and death is scary. But these children can feel the fear and you can see that it kills them. That is what is heartbreaking–to see how the kids are affected by hatred.

What would any American do in that situation, though? Are we so superior, so much more educated that we wouldn’t fear them as well? How many people do you know with HIV or AIDS? This fear is not unfounded and it is not something to admonish. Many people are afraid. Fear is a lack of understanding, and HIV/AIDS is a difficult thing to understand. The important thing is to learn–to realize that the kids need love and attention and care, and that touching them and cooking their food does not pass on the disease.

This film shows a true and real side of children in India that is not all tragedy and despair. Those kids captured the hearts of the audience, just as they captured Rocky’s. I did cry at the end of the movie, as Rocky got married to a beautiful Indian girl and hugged his best friend and took pictures with the kids. I cried because he found his happiness in being with these orphans.

I had to quickly wipe my tears before the lights came up, and as I walked out of the theater into the city of Pittsburgh, all I could think was, “why do we need all this stuff?” 

 

photo credit: http://dribbble.com/shots/513963-Blood-Brother-Promo