Day 1544- Day 1559
Today is Thanksgiving in the USA. In Canada, our Thanksgiving celebration is 4-6 weeks earlier than it is, in the USA. People have been wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving, unaware of this fact. I respond: I’m always grateful. But the truth is this: I’m always grateful, except when I’m not.
Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday, and I have to admit that I prefer the timing of our harvest celebration to that of the one in the USA. For me, I always think that American Thanksgiving is like the starter pistol that signals a race to Christmas. I love Christmas. It is a time that my family, coming from the Judeo-Christian tradition, gathers together. We may not all be together for Thanksgiving, but we are, at Christmas. I missed the family gathering twice only – one time I was at a friend’s wedding in India and another time, I was awaiting the renewal of my work visa and passport, so I couldn’t travel. Christmas is not a race. To me, it is a very special time of year that is to be savoured.
I delight in the spirit of Christmas – being together, relaxing, reflecting on the year, and observing sacred days. What I don’t like is the sport of shopping, that seems to kick off with American Thanksgiving.
Shopping is a task that I don’t enjoy.
This year, I’ve been helping an elder relative and doing their shopping for them. For myself, I prefer to have my shopping done by 1 November, so that I can enjoy the season, but this has not been possible this year.
I have a budget for each person’s gift and I buy something for them that they will enjoy and use, based on that budget. I am happy when the item is on sale, but some things go on sale early in the year and some things never go on sale. I have received value for my gift giving dollar if I know that it will be useful and make their life easier or more joyful, somehow.
Even if it is on behalf of someone else, I am unhappy if I find myself caught in the crowd of bargain hunters that has come to be known as Red Thursday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Mental Torture Tuesday and Woeful Wednesday. (Okay, I made the last two up).
Every year, people go into debt, get stressed out, break up relationships and suffer through the holidays with resentment. This is the antithesis to how I set out to live my life.
But, stuff happens and stress mounts. The fact that I was unable to do my shopping early, and helping someone else throughout November has taken a lot of time that I like to spend on moments of hygge – painting, cooking, seeing friends and being cozy. On top of the late start, a postal strike in Canada adds to the pressure and complication of buying things that come from online retailers. In some cases, things are being shipped to the US or people have asked for items from US retailers, and I’m having to cross the border, travel, and deal with customs, in order to guarantee that the items arrive for Christmas. Whether the people I am helping with their shopping or the recipients of the gifts behave in a gracious and grateful manner is not something I can control. I do this as a service, by choice, and it is only my own reaction that is under my control.
I have been getting irritable.
Today, I purchased the second to last item from my relative’s shopping list and had to stand in queues to get into the store and queues to get out of the store. Tomorrow I will return this same item that I bought elsewhere because it was on sale this morning. That’s the dance we’ve come to do at this time of year.
I’m surprised if everyone wasn’t irritable.
I am not a materialistic person. I enjoy my possessions but I don’t enjoy receiving things that I will not use and I do not need. I find that a waste, as is giving something that is not useful, and considered. I’m in favour of frugality; I enjoy buying as many of my own possessions in thrift shops as possible. I feel better, knowing that the item I need is something that someone else has used, and someone else will use, after I am gone, prolonging the lifecycle of produced goods.
Others are not as keen on thrift shop items as I am, but they do want a bargain.
Frugality is important. If you are celebrating Christmas, you’re basically celebrating the birth of a poor boy who would change the course of the world – or the myth that is this story. Yet, now this has morphed into cultural pressure to save a buck and get it shipped in time for a gift giving day, even if it isn’t really a cherished or practical gift. Artificial pressure of time-bound sales, holiday wish lists filled with items that aren’t really deeply wished for, countdowns to a looming date of gift giving, and the crowds that gather to fight over sales just makes me really irritable.
Really, really irritable.
I’ve made vows to live simply. To me, this is based on good stewardship of resources, a focus on inner life, mindful use of possessions and a turning away from pride. I live simply so that others can simply live. It is not my business how others choose to live, but I’ve been confronted with other people’s way of doing things, in doing the holiday shopping.
We have so much, and yet this season creates a drive to consume, without mindfulness, and to feel a sense of lack if we don’t get our gifts at the lowest price or we don’t get something we put on our wishlists.
It is really hard not to get judgey when one is this irritable.
I’m part of Project 449, organised by some friends in the UK, to create an art installation that draws attention to the plight of the homeless. In the first 3 quarters of the calendar year 2018, researchers learned that at least 449 of the roughly 320,000 homeless people in Britain, died as a result of their homelessness. Their deaths were entirely preventable if we lived in a culture that was less inclined to individualism and greed and more inclined to service, sharing and oneness. In Vancouver, people living on social assistance are facing such high rents that they are left with $5.75 a week to spend on groceries and household necessities like toilet paper. They are, literally, starving. Canada-wide, a high percentage of people are giving up eating, and heating, in order to pay for life saving prescriptions, or they are going into debt, to simply seek medical treatment. Working and homeless people are dying in our own cities.
It has made me really, really, really irritable and until I sat down and wrote this, I hadn’t fully reasoned out why.
I became very bitchy with my family (whom I love!) this week and I stepped about a mile away from gratitude.
I don’t want to ruin anyone’s bargain hunting, but I can’t help but feel that this inequity of death and suffering, set against a seasonal consumer frenzy, that must be done with perfection, is simply grotesque. What have we done with the world that was so dramatically changed by the love of a single poor man?
Perhaps our culture, as a whole, has stepped more than a mile away from gratitude.
Tomorrow is Black Friday and while people are trampling one another and punching each other for a cheap television set, I’ll be setting right the fact that I have stepped away from gratitude and joy and into irritability, judgement and stress. I’ll be dosing up on the antidote to all bad attitudes: the Oneness that is found in the heart of mindful, humble, selfless, service.