I have a shopping hangover, and I’m not proud of it. Black Friday and Cyber Monday caused it, making me feel like I had to be part of the rush to get the best deals. Would they be gone if I had waited? Probably, but does that really matter? What has me troubled is this hangover doesn’t affect my body so much as my spirit. Judging from the news coverage of the number of shoppers Thanksgiving weekend, I’m sure I am not the only one who felt this way. Watching the Black Friday coverage on the news was enough to make me sick to my stomach. Has the Christmas season really become this commercialized today? I know there has always been a focus on the commercial aspects of gift buying, and I realize with the economy still in the tank, retailers wanted and needed to have a great kickoff to the holidays. I understand that, but what has shopping at all hours, and for hours, done to the average person’s psyche? Does anyone else feel used up and repulsed by the buying frenzy?
Something strange but wonderful has happened to me in the past few months. I’ve become accustomed to a slower pace of life and to NOT shopping. Since my husband just landed a new job, I was looking forward to being able to spend a little bit of money this year for presents, but I wasn’t anticipating the all out assault on the senses retailers have unleashed on the public. What I also didn’t expect was how easy it is to get caught up in thinking I need what they are hawking, especially when the deal only lasts for two hours at the crack of dawn. So I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself. I did some soul searching and realized I don’t need all these items I thought I wanted. Because, when you get down to it, they are just things. Will those “things” actually improve my life or will having one more thing actually complicate my life?
When we didn’t have any money a couple of months ago, I missed being able to go to the stores to buy what I needed. Now that I can buy what I need, I realize just how little I actually want. This past weekend I realized just how caught up I was in the deals which seemed too good to pass up at first glance. That first seductive glance is the problem for us as consumers, but the point of the constant bombardment by advertisers. They appeal to our hunter gatherer instincts of fear of scarcity. We don’t want to be without, so they keep tempting us over and over with each commercial and with each email alert, upping the ante each time. As a result, we don’t often take the time to determine whether what we are seeing is what we need or simply what we want, an impulse we might regret later on.
At the end of the day on Cyber Monday, I felt exhausted. I had been trying to find exactly what my family had asked for and also find an item or two for myself since the sales were so good. (I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit that last part.) When I went to bed that night, I realized I had wasted most of a day I will never get back doing nothing more than plotting how to spend money! I had little to show for the amount of time I spent looking and comparing. In fact, I’m not even finished with my shopping. What I have started to do today is delete most of the emails I receive from retailers, and I’m throwing out many of the catalogues I love looking at because they satisfy the urge to shop without my having to spend any money. I’m removing temptation.
Something else I am doing is supporting Small Business Saturday. This past Saturday I shopped at two retailers here in my town, and you know what? I enjoyed myself. Not only did I find some great deals, but I also renewed ties with people in my community, both merchants and patrons of the stores I went to. Those small businesses are trying to make a living without spending millions on advertising. What they do instead is to spend time…on their customers. They take the time to talk to you and understand what you are looking for, and if they don’t have it, they will suggest something equally wonderful or will try to find it for you, even if it isn’t in their stores! I went home satisfied and pleased with my purchases and knew I had made connections with the people I encountered.
Despite seeing and hearing commercials for Christmas shopping for weeks now, I know the Christmas season doesn’t last long. In fact, I can’t believe it is almost December first already. The season’s parties kick off in a week at my friend Barb’s annual cookie exchange. I have several other parties to attend, but I intend to continue my slower pace of life, to savor the moments of the season, a sure cure for the shopping hangover.
For me, the moments I treasure focus on the true meaning of Christmas, not the commercialization of the holiday. The season truly begins this weekend at my church for the first Sunday in Advent. On that day we will begin a ritual shared by millions of Christians for hundreds of years, the ritual of preparing ourselves and waiting for the Son of God to be born. Every Sunday until Christmas each part of the story of Christ’s birth, each hymn, each prayer will impart anticipation rather than anxiety, peace rather than impatience. Each service will fill me up with the love of God and leave me content.
We are in control of what we allow the Christmas season to be about. This year especially I am aware that I can wait for some of the things I thought I wanted. I will instead prepare my heart for the season. I am choosing how to spend my days this holiday savoring the moments and counting my blessings, reflecting with gratitude on what I already have not what I might acquire. I hope you’ll take time to slow down and spend your time at a pace that brings you peace with friends and family who love you. In this season of Advent, I hope you ponder what Christmas is all about, a sure cure for the shopping hangover.