04 December 2006

Ho ho hum

The sight of the first Christmas decorations makes me go into hiding. Even if they appear in September. Especially if they appear in September.

The sight of the first Christmas decorations makes me go into hiding. Even if they appear in September. Especially if they appear in September.

For four months, I avoid shopping centres. This takes quite an amount of effort, but believe me, it’s worth it. I have now found a stand-alone post-office, a cinema, an ATM, a clothing store, municipal pay points, a branch of my bank, and a doctor situated in a comfortable house in the middle of suburbia. Far away from the bustle of frantic shoppers and ringing tills and the incessant Boney M’s Boy Child.

I buy my groceries at the store that’s good for me – well, I would hope it’s good for me, because it certainly isn’t cheap. But then we are prepared to spend good money on other aspects of our health – why not on sanity?

Ho-ho-ho is everywhere
But can I really escape the gross onslaught of the Christmas targets each company has set for themselves? I feel like a fugitive from the Christmas security police. Just when I think I’m safe, I switch on the TV. The red-suited man in a variety of nauseatingly avuncular guises is everywhere. If he is not selling dolls, he’s trying to sell beds, DVD players, food, cars. You name it. And he’s surrounded by bits of cotton wool pretending to be snowflakes. We’re in the southern hemisphere, remember?

Ho-ho-ho is on the radio too. And on half a million unwanted flyers in my postbox. And to top it all, I have been getting calls on my cell phone from banks wanting to lend me staggering sums of money for the festive season. I am not safe anywhere.

What’s festive about it? Stampeding crowds, buckling credit cards, guilt trips to toy shops, 13th cheques disappearing in a flash, trolley injuries to your ankles, parents unable to discipline their screeching brood in public? If this is festive, I wouldn’t like to see severely depressing.

Don’t get me wrong. I like getting and giving gifts. I like having a nice Christmas lunch with people I like. I like thinking back over the year and thinking fondly of people who are not with me. I like a bit of peace and quiet. Make that a lot of peace and quiet.

You are, because you buy
What I don’t like is how advertisers make use of the underlying sense of guilt and inadequacy many people have regarding themselves to get them to buy things. The message is that you can fix this right now before Christmas with money, with gifts, with shop accounts strained to breaking point. This drives hordes of consumers into a buying frenzy – a bit like a contingent of lemmings heading for the cliff.

By all means get a gift for someone you love or like. Or prepare a nice Christmas lunch. Gifts can be bought in early September at craft fairs, and we all have freezers. And for the salad – do a cop-out and ask a friend to bring one, or pop into the stand-alone supermarket as it opens the day before Christmas. In by eight, out by ten past.

There seems to be no escape from the gross consumerism that is threatening to engulf our society. For so many years, I suppose, so many people in this country had nothing (and many still do), that the temptation to overspend must be huge. Under these circumstances, when stores plan their Christmas campaigns, it must be a bit like getting a strategy together to get the most out of a sardine run.

The exhilaration of excess
While I am deeply aware of the fact that we all like pretty things, I disagree with Mae West that anything in excess is exhilarating. The really important things we can give to those we love we can’t wrap and put under a Christmas tree: our time, unconditional love and acceptance, kindness, tolerance, and a sense of humour.

The real Christmas spirit does sometimes shine through, despite all this blunt commercialism - when a child sees a Christmas tree and her face lights up; when one hears Christmas carols being sung; when church bells ring out on Christmas morning; and when you witness someone doing something really selfless during this time.

Before I become engulfed in a wave of sentimentality, I have just remembered that there are only 10 shopping days left to Christmas. I have 14 people who expect gifts from me, and the local shopping malls are bursting at the seams with possibilities. This year I am bowing out. I shall not weaken my resolve. One stand-alone shop, one trolley, 10 minutes and 14 presents at opening time.

Either that or I shall take leave of my senses and pitch forward into the turkey, frothing at the mouth. Someone, please bring me an Easter egg.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, November 2006)


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