On Boycotting the Feast of Conspicuous Consumption

It’s been very quiet here on The Crooked Line because PW and I have been on our summer vacations, one of which was the family camping trip to Rhode Island that we gave the girls last Christmas. Since everyone who hears about how we celebrate Christmas seems to love the story, it occurred to me to share it with you all.

Like a lot of people I know, our family has way too much Stuff. We try valiantly to get rid of more Stuff than we bring in, but on most days it feels like we’re beating back an unrelenting tide. Think of Woody Allen taking on the expanding pudding with a broom in the movie “Sleeper” (he makes the pudding starting at about the 6 minute mark on this clip and resorts to whacking it with a broom starting around 7:54.)

After we combined households in 2000, with each passing year PW and I felt increasingly overwhelmed with the post-Christmas influx of Stuff. When the holidays rolled around, we often found ourselves talking about how some of the most lasting memories from our own childhoods are from family trips. In December of 2005, PW and I decided to stop participating in the madness of Christmas as a Feast of Conspicuous Consumption. Instead of giving our kids and each other more Stuff for Christmas, our new tradition (for the past five years) is that PW and I give the girls a family trip to be taken some time in the following year. This has transformed our family Christmas experience into one focused on Travel, Experiences and Memories, rather than Stuff. Maybe it sounds mushy, and maybe it is. Still, the stories and adventures we’ve acquired on each of our family trips will far outlast any Stuff (except the plastic Stuff, which will surely outlast us all.)

I should add here that all the girls spend the week of Christmas with their other parents, which has worked particularly well since PW has extra priestly duties that week. As a result, we schedule our family Christmas celebration for some time later in December when everyone can be together (this past year we celebrated on New Year’s Day.) I must say that cutting the tie with December 25 has been revolutionary and extremely liberating. Thanksgiving is on a different date every year, so why not Christmas?!

The Rhode Island Collage - in pieces

From the beginning of this new tradition, even though the presents weren’t Stuff, PW really wanted the kids to have presents to open. And she wanted the destination to be a surprise. So sometime during the fall, she and I agree on a destination. We are so resolute in keeping the surprise, we don’t even ask the girls for suggestions. I am the family travel agent, so I do a lot of site scouting and making trips to the local AAA office or to bookstores to get maps, guidebooks, brochures, and magazines. During the week of Christmas, while the girls are away with their other families, PW and I create a collage of pictures and text of our destination that we glue to a standard 22″x28″ poster board.

The Rhode Island Collage - assembled

When the collage is complete, we flip it over and PW draws a nine-piece puzzle pattern on the back, labeling three non-interlocking pieces for each of our three girls. We cut up the collage, and put each piece into its own box, which we then wrap and put under the tree.

The first year we did this, our destination was to New York City. It was hilarious to watch the girls’ different reactions as they opened boxes that each contained a weirdly shaped piece of poster board that had photos of different New York City attractions. They are old pros now, though, and they usually figure out the destination after they’ve opened one or two pieces.

The second year we did this, our destination was to Nashville and Memphis, TN. Because there’s so much great music from those cities, that year I created a CD mix of songs that either mentioned Nashville or Memphis, or were by artists from either of those cities. In addition to the puzzle pieces, each of the girls got a CD, with a label I created from a map that had both Nashville and Memphis on it. As luck would have it, the CD was a huge hit with all five of us, and we still play it a lot. I’ve created CD mixes for each destination since then, which adds another layer of fun to an already fun enterprise.

In future posts, I’ll tell you stories from some of the trips we’ve taken, and share the playlists from each destination’s CD mix.

There you have it: our recipe for boycotting the Feast of Conspicuous Consumption. If you have your own traditions for celebrating Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/Etc. by doing something other than adding to your piles of Stuff, please share your story in the comments section. If, on the other hand, you prefer the more traditional Christmas celebration, it’s my civic duty to remind you that you have only 120 days from today to complete your shopping. If you’re like a certain sister-in-law of mine, then you are probably already done with your shopping. Congratulations! If you’re like my mother, you’ve been squirreling away presents for months, and you’ll spend a lot of the next 120 days trying to find them. Good luck!

Happy Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/Etc. to all, and to all a good night!

This song is on every Christmas CD mix.

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4 responses to “On Boycotting the Feast of Conspicuous Consumption

  1. Joi,
    I have missed your thoughtful life musings..but enjoyed your beach postings instead. I think your idea of memories instead of shaped plastic is inspired. We added the idea of trips to our Christmas…offering instead of more DSI games and the like a night in a hotel in Portland that our son likes because it has a hot tub and heated pool and after 6 days in the cold Pacific ocean of Cannon Beach he always loves it. It’s not as creative as your effort but it fits the theme…making time with our kids and not making them dependent on material objects. Will try to do more of this…but as a ten year old boy…the plastic still is so alluring…as our flat screen tvs which we also don’t have. Less crap, simpler lives, more human connections, more poetry, more travel, more love. Great ideas.
    Glad you are back.

  2. Just lovely. All I can say is, one of these years the trip better be to Austin. I mean, think of the CD possibilities! And we need to show Sarah that there’s more to Austin than living in a crummy hotel on the interstate.

  3. Listen to Martin. He’s a wise man.

  4. What a fantastic idea. PLUS, how great that you go to such trouble to create
    the puzzle/presents. If I wanted to travel anywhere with my family, I’d do this.
    I see enough of them at our mandatory celebrés as is. But, methinks it would
    be a great gift for the husbie this Christmas. Thanks for the idea!

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