Christmas_Commercial_PresentDecember. That month when people invade shopping malls looking for the perfect gifts for the people they care about. Even young children know that after all that Thanksgiving business is over (and sometimes before), television channels begin circulating commercials that make products look ever-so magical. What we may have realized, but have yet to react to as a collective society, is that these marketing tactics are used to skew our perception; they want you to believe that the holidays require certain material things for you to have that warm feeling you possibly had as a child. This is not true at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Materialistic gifts are like fast food; they fill you up temporarily, but leave you feeling empty later. If we can find a way to weed out commercialism from our holiday season, even in the slightest bit, we’ll be able to focus more on the events and less on the objects, leading to that feeling that we may crave this time of year.

Make homemade gifts

When we usually think of homemade gifts, we think of macaroni photo frames that children bring home from kindergarten class. But they don’t have to be thoughtless creations thrown together with glitter and glue.

  • Have a friend or family member who loves the heat? Try a homemade hot sauce recipe to tingle their taste buds.
  • How about a cable wrap for your tech-savvy friend’s gadget cords?
  • A handmade recipe book for the aspiring chef in your life?
  • Candles, pre-made cookie kits, magnets and mixed CDs make other great homemade gift ideas.

Come up with some of your own! Not all homemade gifts have to be bricks of fruit cake.

Cherish family traditions

Because of the commercialism that haunts us this time of year, we often find (though we may deny it) that the most exciting part of our holiday is receiving gifts. Children are especially prone to this type of tunnel vision. They need something to look forward to, and if all they see in their future is gifts, then that will be their main focus. This can be balanced by having something other than presents to look forward to, and by this, I refer to family traditions. If you already have some family traditions set in place, that’s great! Make sure that these events are a staple in your holiday experience and one that all members enjoy and look forward to. Don’t have any family traditions? It’s not too late to start! Even something as simple as taking a hike together, decorating a gingerbread house or reading a story can be made into a tradition that your family will be excited about every year, and appreciate more than toys years later.

Make your own holiday videos

Holiday television is great, especially when the movies that are played bring back memories from yesteryear. But all of the advertisements often crowd our minds with material expectations and responsibility. How many times have you seen a commercial and said, “Ooo, I want that!”, or even worse “Ooo, I NEED that!”? This is our material expectations rising. The more we see, the more we want, even if that item has no significance or true value in our everyday lives. Material responsibility might be holding you hostage as well. Seeing the products that you know your mom, dad, sister, brother, spouse, friend or kids want puts us into the same position of expectation, but this time it is expectation of gratitude. “If I get this for them, they will ______________.” Fill in the blank. Love you more? Respect you? Forgive you? Notice, all of those inserts end with you. You are the one that is trying to evoke some kind of response so that you may benefit from it. Either way, holiday advertisements create a whole slew of subconscious problems that we might not have had, had we not been subject to them.

Rather than turning on the TV, why not make your own holiday videos? Most cell phones and cameras are able to record video, and you can document memories of family and friends. Watching home videos every year can help you reflect on the past and remember special moments. And as a bonus, there are no commercials.

Give to the less fortunate

Volunteering during the holidays is an excellent way to relieve stress and redirect your focus on something more important. So many people experience hardship at this time of year, and taking the time to help is very rewarding. Volunteering at the local food bank, homeless shelter or nursing home allows you to reach out to so many people and make their holiday season a bit brighter. Donating food and clothing to these causes can also be fulfilling. You might find that community organizations in your area host toy drives for children in need, where unwrapped, unopened toys are accepted and distributed to children of appropriate ages. If you’re an animal lover, some animal shelters accept donations of pet food that they give to  pet owners who are struggling to make ends meet during the holidays. It can’t be emphasized enough how important and how satisfying volunteer work can be, not only during the holiday season, but all year. Getting your family involved in volunteer work during the holidays is a great way to give them perspective on commercialism, the real meaning of giving and community.

image: Jack Benny (Creative Commons – BY-SA)