So I have a confession to make:
I do not have a television.
Okay, so it’s not a confession if everyone already knows. And I’m not too secretive about the fact that I do not own a TV. I don’t want one. I had one once and gave it away within a few months. The only times I ever miss it are when I want to pull out my PS2 to play Kingdom Hearts, and even then I feel foolish for not just going out and buying the right cables to hook my game system up to Matt’s giant flat screen monitor. For some reason I’ve never gotten around to doing that.
But all the same, I hate saying those words. “Oh, we don’t have a television.” It seems impossible to say any variation of the sentence without sounding smarmy, proud, judgmental. And I’m really not! I don’t own a television because I can’t afford cable, and I see no point in having it gather dust in the closet. I still consume plenty of media. Thanks to Netflix, Hulu and our local library I am currently following three shows as they air (How I Met Your Mother, Agents of SHIELD and Almost Human) and three more that are all finished airing (The X-Files, Breaking Bad and Leverage). I listen to NPR pretty much every time we’re in the car, or the kitchen, or relaxing in the evening. I watch a lot of movies when I have the time. I consume media, and I really enjoy it. I also really miss the Food Network. If we could afford cable I would probably get it just for that.
And that darn Food Network, which refuses for some reason to even allow its shows to stream on Netflix, is what brings me to gravitate towards a television whenever I am in a hotel. I used to fall asleep with the TV on in college a lot and I have fond nostalgic feelings toward it. In November I was staying at a hotel three out of four weekends. Guess what I did a lot of?
And here we get to the real difference between having a television and not having one: you consume far fewer advertisements. I mean, don’t get me wrong. The internet has ads. Every youtube video has them, Hulu has them at every commercial break, almost all of the websites I frequent have them on the edges and in the corners and at the top. But there is something very different about watching a show live on TV. Having four, five, six or more ads thrust upon you every ten minutes or so at such a louder volume than your show or movie or whatever…well I began to notice that it made me cranky. It made me grumpy. And it was not because the ads are all tailored to tell me that I am deeply unhappy and desperately need their product to restore my life to the way it really should be. (As a white woman, I clearly have a lot of cleaning supplies I need to buy.) No, what made me grumpy was the way they were trying to tell me all of those things. In particular, the way K-Mart and Walmart and Best Buy were trying to sell “more Christmas”.
I will admit to being a religious person (often with the same apprehension I admit to not having a TV) and so this immediately offends me: the idea that, as the Grinch famously believed, Christmas comes from a store. That the deals these stores offer (mostly through really immoral means like paying their employees next to nothing and sourcing their products through horrible working conditions) allow you to “get more Christmas”, aka buy more stuff. The fact that I am hearing this phrase from multiple big stores, the idea that this is not only an acceptable way of looking at Christmas but one marketers trust to help them up profits…it honestly doesn’t have anything to do with religion or Christ or Christmas. It has to do with our culture. A culture that truly believes, in its shriveled heart of hearts, that the best way to celebrate those we love, to celebrate family and the spirit of giving (which is what I see the secularized Christmas as being about) is to go out and get more stuff. And not just more stuff, but as much stuff as we can afford and maybe even more than that.
Listen, does it make you feel awesome to give a little kid that toy they have been coveting for months, to see their face light up and their eyes glow? Yes. Yes it does. But in making Christmas–and the holidays in general–only about those moments and the never ending search for them, then what are we teaching that little kid? What are we teaching ourselves? People push and attack and trample each other on Black Friday in search of those moments. People swear and harass store employees in search of those moments. People hurt each other, physically and otherwise, in search of those moments. What does that tell us about prioritizing those moments? Why is there so much stress associated with a holiday season meant to celebrate gratitude and love?
A friend posted an amazing blog post on Facebook earlier this season entitled Ten Tips to Simplify Your Holiday. It summed up so completely how I had been feeling: that the holidays should be about experiences and traditions over presents and “out-gifting” each other. (Looking at you, TJ Maxx.) Now, of course, I know for some people shopping is one of their beloved tradition-experiences. I assume that those people can make shopping about the people they are shopping with, rather than about the stuff they are buying. I can’t do that.
Last year Matt and I started making all of the gifts we gave. Honestly, we initially did it to save money. (We only spent $100 on all of our gifts last year, and for the first time were able to give real meaningful presents to everyone we wanted. It was super win-win.) This year, our third Christmas since we got married, we knew we were going to do this again. And I realized that even though we are giving the people we love things they will like (last year we made pounds of peppermint bark and jars of salted caramel sauce) what we are really giving is our time. And that time–working together to plan out all of the gifts, figuring out the grocery list, learning how to make new things–is an experience that feels so Christmassy to me that I now treasure it dearly. Making presents for those we love is a joy that I want to teach our children someday, the message that giving your time and love to your family and friends is so much more valuable than giving them stuff. Even if it’s stuff that they really want. Because above all of the things, your relationship is the most valuable gift of the season.
Give yourself this season. Because love begets love, and family multiplies through bonds of friendship and respect the way that physical things never could. I promise you, you will find yourself with more Christmas than Walmart could ever provide.