Friday, December 14, 2007

Minimalism and Generosity

You Are a Minimal Christmas Tree

You're not a total Scrooge, but you feel no need to go overboard at Christmas.

Less is more, and your Christmas reflects refined quality.

So, I never do these quizzes. Almost never. Rarely. If it's not a chilly rainy Friday afternoon eleven days from Christmas when my brain is starting to resemble a cranberry mold after too many days of online shopping till way past midnight to meet not only Christmas obligations but also my DD#1's less-than-a-week-after Christmas birthday with a few things thrown in for DD#2 whose birthday's only a month or so after Christmas and I know from past experience both how fast that month will go and how little will actually be left on store shelves till sometime in the middle of March when the retailers give up and actually order new stock again. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, I thought this one was fun, though I can't vouch for the accuracy, considering that I spend much of December feeling like I'm trading in any crunchy conservative impulses I might have for the ease of point-and-click shopping and way too much materialism. I often find myself wondering if it's even possible to be American and celebrate a truly "minimal" Christmas, especially with children. On the one hand, I definitely don't want to raise my children to be part of the "more is better" culture or to expect lavish gifts in large amounts piled beneath the Christmas tree. But on the other hand, I have sometimes encountered those who seem to revel in a kind of uber-minimalism, a view of the world that finds the purchase of more than one present per child to be a betrayal of their commitment to a simple life, and who frown on the misguided masses who still participate too much in the commercialism of Christmas. And I wonder: are they right? Am I wrong?

The problem, as I see it, is that it's so hard to tell avarice from minimalism, to separate the Scrooge from the saint. I have an uneasy feeling that restricting my children to a single gift each at Christmas would be more a temptation to my own worst impulses than anything done truly for their benefit; I would be tempted to impose my own values on them as I searched for "quality" or "meaningful" gifts, instead of seeing the world through their eyes, through the eyes of children to whom sparkly berry-scented lip gloss in bright plastic tubes is still an exciting gift, and who still value some of the transient toys of childhood that never do survive until one is an adult.

As each year passes, though, my children begin on their own to want things that are more "adult" in terms of quality and value. They're girls, after all; clothing items and craft supplies have begun to crowd out toys and games on the wish lists already, and it won't be too many years before their lists won't contain a single item that the most simplicity-oriented adult wouldn't approve of.

I can't help but feel that when those years arrive, I'll be glad we had the years of bright-colored plastic toys, festive shiny plastic "gems" and wobbly pretend high heels, scented lip gloss and soft furry stuffed animals. I'll think fondly of early whispered requests to Saint Nicholas, including last year's hope for a toy stuffed camel, and the year that somebody desperately wanted a set of Scooby-Doo characters, and the year somebody else hoped for a musical snowglobe. I'll be fondly remembering the glee on little faces when each of these items, meaning little or nothing to an adult, was unwrapped by a wondering and joyful child.

Our Lord told us that if we're really going to be fit citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven we have to become like little children--and little children don't value what adults do. They manage to see the wonder of the universe in a single smooth stone or a feather found in the yard; their pockets are full of such treasures. To them, the riches of Solomon are worth less than that snowglobe that plays "Silent Night" as glittery "snow" cascades down around the Holy Family; and when a child misplaces such a loved object, how desperately does he search for it! With what sorrowful energy does he turn every toy box upside down in his quest! And what joy, what peace, when it is found! Like the shepherd with his lost sheep, or the widow with her lost coin, is the child who has lost what to the adult is just a piece of junk, worthless, fit for nothing.

Thus do the worldly see our faith: worthless, a rag from childhood, worn out with years of being dragged around by a foot or a corner or a floppy ear. But when we capture for a single moment again that childlike joy in what we know to be the greatest gift we have ever received, however little it seems like to the worldly who give it no value, we once again remember what it is to be a child, to place a simple trust in the One who gives us everything we need, and even more than we could ever request.


Michele said...

i scored a traditional Christmas trre:)

nicole said...

As always you bring much thought to something most people take a glance at and forget. As for the struggle between minimalism and consumerism--I think you would examine the whole picture, not just your approach to a holiday or birthday. I buy stuff for my kids that seems silly or junky, but I know they will love it. We aren't wasteful year round. Part of what makes this season magical is getting the things that were only hoped for, whatever that might be.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Popcorn and Cranberry Strung Tree! =)~DLS