November 23, 2009
The Future of Anti-Consumerism
Posted by Christine Hurt

Regular readers may remember that last year my family became engaged with the Advent Conspiracy movement, which seemed to us at the time to be a fairly noncontroversial attempt to reform Christmas into a holiday spent giving time and attention to family and friends instead of swapping plastic crap no one wants.  Boy, was I wrong!  Apparently, the word "conspiracy" should have clued me in to how subversive the idea of limiting Christmas shopping is.  First, we've had to confront those around us who view gifts as a "love language" and who are initially made uncomfortable by the thought of not trading gifts.  Now, we are encountering the world at large.  I will detail some of the push-back we've found, but I also want to alert you to my colleague Suja Thomas' new blog (with her husband Scott Bahr) on living intentionally and giving to the poor:  The Give Blog.

1. Christmas Shopping is Patriotic.  Our church has met some pushback in trying to enlist others to join the Advent Conspiracy because "this isn't the year."  Now, with ten percent unemployment and a gloomy economic outlook, it would seem like this would be the year both to cut back on unnecessary gift-buying and to give a little bit to local agencies addressing poverty issues.  However, people have made the argument to me that in this economy, we should all be out there Christmas shopping to revitalize the economy.  Really?  Is this my patriotic duty -- to support the retail industry's addiction to two months out of the year?  And, if we give money instead to local charities that purchase goods and services, isn't that good for the economy?  Or, is buying electronic equipment patriotic, but buying food and warm coats is not.

2. Christmas Shopping is Festive and Philanthropic.  This is perhaps the oddest thing that has happened to me in a long while.  My church small group decided to sponsor a tree at a local Festival of Trees hosted by a national social-service organization that I have long supported.  Visitors to the Festival of Trees market would bid on the trees, and the proceeds would go to this organization, who pledges all profits to their philanthropic projects.  We signed up using the name of our church, and described how we would decorate the tree -- decorations from Ten Thousand Villages and a digital picture frame showing the 2008 Advent Conspiracy video (above) on a loop.  We were accepted and sold a pre-lit tree to decorate.  As we were setting up on Wednesday, an officer of the organization walked by, watched the video, teared up, and said it made her not want to buy anything at the three-day extravaganza because she realized she didn't need anything.  The next day, we were told we couldn't show the video.  The stated reason was because, in a room full of Christmas trees, we were promoting religion by showing a video that used the word Jesus.  We were not told to take the nativity ornaments down, however, and other trees had similar ornaments (angels, etc.).  The year before, a Christian radio station decorated a tree with multiple nativity scenes, and no one said a word.  This leads us to believe that the reason we had to turn off the video was not because we promoted religion, which seems to be tolerated for others, but because we went against the established religion of consumerism and threatened the proceeds from the event.  Strangely, the event was supposedly a fundraiser for philanthropic projects, so turning off a video that encouraged people to celebrate Christmas by practicing philanthropy seems like missing the point.

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