I haven't written anything controversial lately, so I thought I'd juice it up.
Friday will mark a new season, the spending season in the U.S. Time for Black Friday and stocking stuffers and credit card debt. If you've ever spent the Friday after Thanksgiving shopping with my sister Tara at the Park Meadows Mall (or "Parkies" as she lovingly calls it), you'll understand why it's called "black." (Just kidding, Tara, you know I love you.)
Because of the company I keep, which is fabulous company, I also encounter a lot of differing opinions about the spending frenzy that is Christmas. Some love it (like Black Friday Tara, who remains one of the most generous people I know). Some call it evil. (Just read the articles of a "progressive" magazine in December that decry that over-consumption, and watch films like What Would Jesus Buy, which, by the way, is an atrocious documentary that is not worth watching.)
I myself have been known to ask my family to donate to charity at Christmastime instead of getting me a gift. This is usually because I really can't think of anything I want, and I genuinely do want that for my gift at Christmas. But I don't belong to the camp that says that this season of buying is evil.
I'm no economist, but the Christmas spending season fuels much of America's economy, and, in turn, much of the world's economy. We all have seen lately what happens when Americans do in fact stop spending. And, as a side note, I'm still no economist, but I still think one of the best ways to help those in poor countries is to support their economies, rather than only giving to charity. (This is why I'm going on a month-long vacation to Zanzibar this summer. Not really.)
I don't think we should spend ridiculous wads of money on ridiculous things just to fuel the economy. That's why I returned the Hummer I'd bought Mike for Christmas. But I see the gift-giving season in America as one of our beautiful traditions. I'll take Tara as my case in point. Tara loves Christmas. She loves to buy people presents. One might argue that occasionally she spends too much money on others. One year, when I was still po in college, she bought me tickets to U2--a very lavish gift in our fairly frugal family. I've never come even close to spending that much money on her. But that is her generous spirit and her love that manifests itself in a gift. I have to be honest that giving me a gift is one of the best ways to communicate love to me (thank you Gary Chapman of The Five Love Languages for making this clear to me).
So although I work at a non-profit and although I wrote Hope Lives and although I occasionally ask that my gift be in the form of charity, I embrace this gift-giving season we are about to embark on. Yes, the world is still in need around us. Yes, we should reach out and help the poor. But just because there is need around us doesn't mean we cannot be generous with our friends and family. The root of Americas material-lust is not in its desire to give to others at Christmas.
If we want to get on Americans' backs for spending too much money, do it the rest of the year when we're frivolously buying things for ourselves, not when we're taking part in one of our most noble traditions: giving to others.
If you want to help those in need and give gifts to your loved ones, there are tons of organizations for this. Check out these organizations: Beads for Life, Product Red, Rwandan Coffee