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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

$100 Holiday

Nov 30, 2009 08:57PM

Holiday person 2

Many people dread the approach of the holidays; a season that should be the most relaxed, intimate, joyful and spiritual time of the year. Author Bill McKibben offers welcome perspective for rethinking the Yuletide season, so that our obsession with buying presents becomes less important than soul-nourishing traditions and celebrations.

“The only name I have ever been called that really stung was ‘Grinch’, remarks McKibben. That was the year he and a few friends started the Hundred Dollar Holiday program through their neighborhood churches. They simply asked families and friends to limit the amount of money spent on the holiday to $100.

Local business columnists didn’t get it. Instead, they charged them with being dour do-gooders, bent on taking the joy out of Christmas. “As in the classic, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, they foresaw us robbing the town of its packages, tinsel, trees and food, down to the logs in the fireplace,” he says. “But, the Grinches of our culture really are those relentless commercial forces that have spent a century trying to convince us that Christmas does come from a store, catalog and virtual Internet mall.

“We thought we wanted less for Christmas, remarks McKibben, “but in fact, we wanted more... we wanted this to be a more special time.”

Relatively few Americans need more stuff. Most of us are looking for more meaning at this time of year. Many of the best traditions of Christmas and other holidays predate society’s current commercial celebrations. Customs that connect us with others, such as singing carols, laughing around the table and special family activities are among the things we need to recapture as we invent new, more deeply felt moments of celebration.

Like the Grinch, we too, come to realize that Christmas comes from no store. As the book reveals, “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

McKibben explains that the message of the Hundred Dollar Holiday went deeper. It was conceived out of concern for the poor families who need help to survive and those going into debt in pursuit of a ‘proper’ Christmas. Too many of us have seen how holiday binge buying can encourage a lack of fiscal responsibility and even contribute to bankruptcy.

Yet, the inner craving for satisfaction often eludes us. Mere possessions cannot make our lives whole or fill the need for communication and unity. Although we may know this intellectually, the psychological force wielded by merchandisers has made a science of manipulating our feelings. We’re caffeinated, buzzed, wired and plugged-in, 24/7.

All the stuff we accumulate has an enormous effect on the environment, too. Earth is suffering from the resulting pollution. According to the Worldwatch Institute, North Americans have used more natural resources since the end of World War II than all of humanity throughout history.

If there’s one thing we’d really like to experience this Christmas, it’s a little of that season of sacred peace that the greeting cards and Silent Night promise. “For me, the moment when we sing this carol each year at the end of the Christmas Eve service, with the lights out and everyone holding a candle that frames their face with soft light, marks the absolute height of Christmas joy,” notes McKibben. “It doesn’t cost a nickel, let alone a hundred dollars.”

Bill McKibben has been an American environmentalist and author for 20 years. His book, Hundred Dollar Holiday, offers tips for giving one another the priceless gifts of time, attention and fellowship.

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