A 'Buy Nothing Christmas'
A mini-movement in North America urges spiritual people to return to their roots instead of celebrating commercialism
By Douglas Todd
From The Vancouver Sun, Saturday, December 20, 2003
Wearing his bright red Santa's hat, Aiden Enns and a group of cheery carollers strolled through a suburban shopping mall this month belting out anti-consumer Christmas carols.
To the tune of "Rudoph the Red-Nose Reindeer," they sang:
Uh oh we're in the red, dear
On our credit card it shows
Christmas is almost over
But the debit line still grows
Shopping like Santa's zombies
Sent our budget down in flames
But all our Christmas spirit
Helped the giant retail chains
After several more rebel carols, the mall's burly security guards showed up and told the singers they had to leave the shopping centre property, which, legally, is private.
Aiden Enns, who not long ago was doing stints as a Vancouver Sun letters editor and freelance contributor, is a Mennonite on a mission.
The founder of Buy Nothing Christmas is encouraging everyone, particularly spiritual people, to return to their roots this season -- and, instead of celebrating commercialism, mark the birth of a man who taught the wealthy to scale down their opulent lives.
Enns' mini-movement, which is drawing media attention from all over North America and Europe, says: "Instead of asking, 'What would Jesus do?' we ask 'What would Jesus give?'"
Enns, though charming, would not be a popular fellow in my house, with three teenagers.
My wife and I are again fuelling the economy and trying to satisfy our children's yearnings this Christmas, spending about the Canadian average on gifts, which Ipsos-Reid says is about $724 per adult.
Buy Nothing Christmas (www.buynothingchristmas.org) is trying to nudge families like ours. Disturbingly, Enns points to polls showing one out of three North Americans actually throw Christmas gifts into the garbage. The Center for a New American Dream, a consumer-advocacy group, adds the average North American spends six months paying off winter holiday credit-card debt.
Enns and his cross-country band of activists (including Elsie Wiebe in Greater Vancouver) believe Christians should give loved ones something more meaningful than commodities, such as power drills, video games and CD players. Enns and his wife, who don't have children, give home-made presents and their time (for baby-sitting, movie-going, etc.) to their 18 nieces and nephews.
Enns knows it's hard to resist consumer demands, especially of young people. "Our precious children, with their normal vulnerability to peer pressure, their desire to fit in, and their disposable income, or ability to influence their parents' spending -- are a mini-battlefield for the marketers and branding machinery," he says.
In the face of an advertising onslaught to get kids "needing" the latest gizmos and gadgets, Enns asks parents, especially those who are religious, to try to teach their children the value of a non-commercial Christmas. "You can have a special time without buying a lot of stuff."
Enns was managing editor at Vancouver-based Adbusters, an alternative magazine that doesn't accept ads, before recently returning to his home town of Winnipeg. In addition to sending out his Buy Nothing Christmas e-mail newsletter to 1,200 people, about two-thirds in the U.S., he works part-time for the spiritual eco-organization, Renewing the Sacred Balance (www.faith-commongood.net).
Enns says the buy-nothing movement, initiated by Adbusters, is meant to be offensive. And he admits it has yet to make a big dent. Nevertheless he believes it's getting people thinking about making at least small changes. It's particularly pricking consciences among now well-off Mennonites, whom Enns says "theoretically" follow a religion founded on principles of communitarianism and simplicity.
When asked the million-dollar question -- "If we all buy nothing this Christmas, won't a lot of people lose their jobs?" -- Enns doesn't flinch.
"Yes," he says.
"Our economy is based on a consumer-driven capitalism. And because it's the only economy we have right now, if we stop shopping we stop the economy. But there are pitfalls of our current economic system. We work too hard to save money to buy things we don't really need. We buy into a standard of living that reinforces the gap between the rich and poor, and we ruin the earth to a point where we'll eventually lose all our jobs anyway."
Enns would like to see Christians and other religious people obsess less about the "distractions" of homosexuality, divorce and female clergy and focus more on economic issues. He recommends they read spiritually-inspired books such as For the Common Good, by Herman Daly and John Cobb, as well as Vancouver School of Theology's Professor Sallie McFague's Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril.
Enns and his network believe an alternative market economy can be based on values beyond greed. He is no fan of communism. Instead, he encourages local sustainable economies, which aren't devoted to feeding multi-national retailers, which take their vast wealth outside the country and then wield it to control local municipalities.
That's why this Christmas, instead of buying a pile of glitzy presents, Enns suggests making a change: giving someone a gift of your own artwork, of a collection of meaningful photos, of a puppet made out of a sock, of a shared trip to a movie, of a home-made birdseed ball.
I can already see the smirks forming around my house. Buy Nothing Christmas may require braver souls than mine.
In the Spirit of Giving
1. Frame your wedding vows for your spouse.
2. Make pillows or stuffed animals.
3. Give away a valued possession.
4. Give babysitting coupons to new parents.
5. Make charitable donations in someone else's name.
6. Give homemade food.
7. Videotape interviews with elderly parents for relatives.
8. Make tree ornaments from old CDs.
9. Give home-grown plants, especially herbs.
10. Write and illustrate a book for young people.
11. Create coupons for a massage, spring cleaning, manicure.
12. Knit a stocking, hat or socks.
13. Give eco-friendly gifts, energy-saving bulbs, fair-trade coffee.
14. Collect quotes that make you think of someone.
15. Do something challenging together (ie. long walk, bike ride or art course).
Above, Aiden Enns, the founder of the movement.
In Winnipeg, Tammy Sutherland (left) and Karen Schlichting sew Santa hats for the Buy Nothing craft fair/talent swap held at end of November this year.
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