Anais walked briskly past the living room when she stopped suddenly. I don't know how she interpreted the look on my face or the distant gaze in my eyes. She only asked, "well, what DID you want for Christmas??"
I looked up sullenly. Pensively, though I already knew the answer. Then with slight jest but real sorrow I replied, "to be understood."
My nephew and niece (5 and 3 years old, respectively) already believe that you don't exist. That is to say: they know that the heavy set man with the white beard and red suit who models for CocaCola ads, conscripts elves to create presents all year to give to the "nice" children while dropping coal in the stockings of the "naughty" ones, rides around the world on a sleigh pulled by nine reindeer, and always pauses to eat milk and cookies - they know that THIS guy doesn't exist.
Personally, I do prefer that they know the real meaning of Christmas, which has nothing whatever to do with Santa Clause, evergreen trees, or gift exchange. And they'll be the first to tell you, over an awkward Noche Buena dinner, that the real meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus. But they'll also be the first ones by the tree skirt, ruthlessly tearing the wrapping paper from packages you've addressed to them.
This is where I depart from them.
You see, they say that they don't believe in you; but they are still influenced by the spirit of unfettered consumerism that you embody in the mythology of our culture. As a freegan, I not only recognize and believe in this spirit, I denounce it! And I've done so many times, publicly, on the multiple blogs that I keep. Still, I find each year that you address gifts to me. You should know by now that I don't want them, that I'm not interested.
Look, I'm no grinch. I like presents, I really do! But I guess I turned on you when I realized that the presents you bring me are not made in the North Pole by your trusty elves. I checked the tags, Santa. The clothes you bring me are made in China, India, Sri Lanka. Even you are outsourcing your manufacturing jobs to women and children in the third world who work under deplorable conditions. I'm sorry, but I just can't abide this. Every time I read the tags it makes me feel personally responsible for the suffering of others.
"But," my sister protested, "if you didn't have any presents at all, you would feel bad."
Perhaps. But I assure you, Santa, the guilt and shame that I feel from knowing that others have suffered to produce for me clothes or toys that I don't need is far worse than any hard feelings I might have for not receiving the gifts at all.
Besides, I never said that I don't want presents. I just don't want presents made by your so-called elves in the developing world. So if you insist on bringing me gifts that are not made by your North Polish elves, then please just keep a few things in mind:
- I like the FAIR TRADE model best. By far. Such items are made in the same developing countries but they are made by people who are guaranteed fair wages and humane work conditions. You can find fairly traded items - clothes, toiletries, jewelry, games, even musical instruments - at fair trade stores and/or online. One great trick is to search "sweat free _______" on google. Just fill in the blank with whatever item you think would be ideal for the recipient.
- SECOND-HAND is second best. If you can't afford fair trade (ethical considerations are indeed more expensive) then aim low. Buy second hand. There are great stores that sell like-new clothes (Plato's Closet comes to mind). You may also get lucky at a Goodwill, Salvation Army, or even a garage sale (my most prized gift from last year was a toy accordion bought at a garage sale. I used it to record two new songs this year!) I also dig hand-me-downs.
- Buy local! Support your local artisans and merchants, designers, soap makers, musicians, luthiers, carpenters, welders...
- If there's no way to ensure that an item was made under ethical conditions, then buy American! There's no guarantee that American factories are doing it right either, but it's certainly more likely. Check the tag to make sure it was made in the USA, at least I'll know you tried.
- Consider utility and space. I live in NYC (!!!). So ask yourself, "does Gio really need this?" If you still can't figure it out, then just call and ask. Perhaps your tongue was in your cheek when you gave me soap and deodorant this year. I can appreciate a good joke, but I can appreciate utility even more! You rightly guessed that these are items I do not buy often and on principle. Yet I can and will use them simply because they are useful (helps that they were made in the USA ;) I've also appreciated the various musical instruments over the years. That's one thing I'll always make room for!
- Consider the environment. Avoid plastic and styrofoam and shoot for products made from recycled materials wherever possibe. Upon buying the item(s) let the clerk know that you don't need a plastic bag. And for future reference: I prefer Dr. Bronner's Castile soap, you can get it at Whole Foods or any other health food store.
- Be creative, not compulsive. Don't just buy me anything. If you must buy me something, make it something meaningful (if you've bought something with the above considerations in mind, then mission accomplished!) And if you're still struggling, then please don't feel pressured to buy anything at all! Create something. Say something. Take me somewhere (it need not cost anything)... Or just play board games with me.
I think that's it!
Look, Santa. I know that times are hard. You don't always have the time or money to get some of the items mentioned above. Still, if all else fails, just remember that I prefer no gift to - well, you know, the normal stuff you give me.
I do hope I haven't come off as ungrateful; but I also hope that I won't have to write another letter like this next year! Perhaps this one will help spare both of us any hard feelings. Until next Christmas, here's wishing you and yours a joyous and peaceful new year.