Opinion: Consumption dampens holiday spirit

November 28, 2012


Bing Crosby would be appalled.

With singer Carol Richards, the great crooner once popularized a song, “Silver Bells,” about the joy of Christmas shopping. “Strings of street lights,” it went, “even stop lights, blink a bright and red and green as the shoppers rush home with their treasures.”

Of course, that was in 1950, a more genteel era when men still wore hats and women still wore gloves. These days, one would be well-advised to wear Kevlar.

In 2008, a Wal-Mart worker named Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death by a mob of holiday shoppers who broke down the doors of a store in Valley Stream, N.Y. In 2011, a woman in Los Angeles used pepper spray on a group of shoppers vying for video game consoles. That pleasant chore of holiday shopping about which Crosby sang has long since mutated into an annual ritual of mass psychosis called Black Friday.

About the best that can be said of this year’s Black Friday is that nobody died. Two people were shot in Tallahassee, Fla., in what police say was a dispute over a parking space. In San Antonio, a man allegedly cut the line and punched a guy who complained. The guy who was punched pulled a gun. In Moultrie, Ga., there was a near riot over cell phones. In Sacramento, Calif., a man threatened to stab anybody who pushed his kids.

And as people were thus celebrating the season of thanksgiving, redemption and light, the Rev. Nancy was saying grace over two cups of Jell-O.

She is my pastor’s mother, a preacher in her own right, who took ill on Thanksgiving eve and had to be rushed to the emergency room. She spent the holiday in the hospital and her son was so moved by watching her give thanks for Jell-O that he preached about it Sunday.

Maybe you say to yourself, Well, yeah, but what is Jell-O to be thankful for? Especially when everybody else is gorging on turkey and ham and dressing and greens and mac and cheese and pies and cakes?

But when your last meal was intravenous, Jell-O is quite a lot.

This is not a church, so there will be no sermon, only an observation that, whatever one’s belief structure or lack thereof, there is something to be said for learning to be content in the face of circumstances you cannot change.

Otherwise, you are in for a bumpy ride through this life.

Folks forget that sometimes. Heck, folks forget it all the time.

“The trouble with you and me, my friend,” Don Henley once sang, “is the trouble with this nation. Too many blessings, too little appreciation.”

Or as the serenity prayer puts it: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Such sentiments are necessarily at odds with the cult of consumption and its belief that one is incomplete until one buys what the store is selling, that can change one’s entire life, find wholeness and a better self, in the things one owns. It is a faith — the word is used advisedly — that finds expression each year in scenes of people surging into temples of commerce, pulling guns and getting into fistfights while trying to buy things they feel they need.

But the things we need most in this life cannot be found in temples of commerce or bought at any price. Did more of us know that, back in the era when men still wore hats and women, gloves? Maybe. Or maybe that’s just a trick of memory, painting olden days in sepia tones.

So fine. No olden days, no sepia tones here. But you don’t have to go back to 1950 to marvel at how some of us define what matters in this life. You can just go back to last week, to a holiday weekend some folks spent camping at the mall and punching one another in the face — and at least one of us spent in a hospital bed giving thanks for Jell-O. Something in that juxtaposition makes you want to pause, reconfigure your ideas of what truly matters in this life and what, ultimately, does not. Perhaps that’s only to be expected when a woman is able to locate grace in a gelatin snack as the shoppers rush home with their treasures.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on


Abdu Omar 1 year, 4 months ago

Thankgiving has lost its meaning to become the "day before black Friday". Buy this, buy that, everything is about buying and more buying. for what? Another holiday that has lost its meaning. Christmas, the day that we should celebrate Jesus' birthday. Isn't that important enough without spending thousands of dollars, going into debt and giving things to people, especially children, that will forget in a few hours because they got so much. What is the point? More Stuff? What does that prove about Christmas? When I was a kid, we got one, I repeat, ONE toy and some clothes. That was all, no more. Oh, we could afford more, but my parents wanted us to grow up wanting something, not being satisfied.


Tony Kisner 1 year, 4 months ago

Disagree with the head line on this column. If you consume the right stuff in significant quantities the holidays can be very festive.


oldbaldguy 1 year, 4 months ago

cait48, I remember those days and I agree


Cait McKnelly 1 year, 4 months ago

I was born in the early 1950's. My own parents grew up in the Depression. I have a letter from my aunt that describes her Christmas when she was five years old. Her gifts consisted of new clothes for her doll, carefully stitched from an old apron of my grandmother's, and a doll cradle made from a Quaker Oat box. They were wrapped in colored funny papers from the Sunday paper.
Our Christmas was more abundant. I had three sisters and, until we were twelve years old, each of us got a new doll each year plus 3 or 4 other toys which always included one board game for the entire family. We always got new clothes as well. It was THE major time of year for re-wardrobing the family. Our stockings were stuffed, but not with candy. We always got an orange and an apple each along with unshelled nuts. Each would have a small handful of hard candy and at most, two or three pieces of chocolate.
My dad worked for the railroad and my mom, like most from that time period, was a stay at home mom. She was careful with money and would save for Christmas for the entire year, joining a "Christmas Club" at the bank. She had a locked trunk in her bedroom that was the "Christmas trunk" and if she ran into something at a good price throughout the year she would buy it and store it in the trunk.
They weren't above giving used gifts either. When I was in junior high, cassette tape players came out and were the latest technology. I wanted one badly. My dad bought a used one from a co-worker and they gave it to me for Christmas. I loved it.
And they MADE gifts; some of them quite beautiful. Just passed to my two year old granddaughter is a handmade oak, hooded Shaker doll cradle that my father made for me, was passed to my eldest daughter who, in turn, gave it to her baby.
This is what Christmas memories are made from, not cheap Chinese made junk from Walmart. Remember that when you go Christmas shopping.


Briseis 1 year, 4 months ago

The country is evolving. Transformation from the 50's to the 12's is inevitable. Get what you can. None of us is getting out of here alive.


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