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Buy or Die!

Surviving holiday shopping hysteria

Copyright 1995 by Lynna Landstreet. This column originally appeared in Xtra magazine. Published by Pink Triangle Press, 491 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2C6.

y the time this column sees print, we'll be well into the season of conspicuous consumption. Flashing lights, tinsel, glittery displays, store windows overflowing with useless but attractively packaged trinkets, and ads everywhere, all expressly designed to make you feel like a complete and total loser.

Sure, we may be bombarded all year around with messages encouraging us to spend piles of money we don't have, but Christmas is much worse. The relentless carpet-bombing by corporate advertisers is combined with just the right amount of peace-and-love to make you feel that, if you can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars buying expensive presents for everyone you know, then you're not just a financial flop, you're a bad person. A failure as a human being! It's your moral duty to dig yourself so far into debt you won't see the light of day 'til next Hallowe'en, and if you can't or won't do it, then all your friends and family will know that you don't love them anymore. Yikes! No wonder the holiday suicide rate is so high.

Considering that these days one is lucky to be employed at all, let alone making enough disposable income to go gift-shopping without anxiety, this can be a major problem. It's certainly preying on my mind, now that an extended period of un- and under-employment followed by a descent into grad school financial hell has made even putting food on the table a challenge. So I've put together this list of helpful pointers -- some serious, some not-so-serious -- on how to survive the holidays without having to file for bankruptcy:

  • To eliminate the primary source of stress, try reducing your exposure to advertising. Get rid of your TV, assuming it hasn't been repossessed already. Pitch the advertising inserts in your newspaper directly into the Blue Box unread. Do not enter a shopping mall. (You may also find, as a fringe benefit, that this will increase your IQ.)

  • Remember the original reason for the season. No, it's not what all those dorky Salvation Army ads keep telling you (and you're not supposed to be looking at ads anyway, remember?). Long before the early Christian Church decided to move the birth of their boy wonder to the winter solstice, pagans were celebrating the rebirth of the sun at the darkest point of winter. Gift-giving was a part of that celebration, but the gifts exchanged were things that would help people to survive the winter -- food, blankets, warm clothes, etc. People gave things that they had made, not overpriced commercial goods. So if you do decide to give gifts, try and think of what people really need -- be it a good housecleaning, help designing their resume, or the proverbial good fuck -- not just what they want, and think of ways to fill those needs without resorting to commercial products.

  • Coupons are a nice idea. No, silly, not the cents-off kind -- you did throw out all those flyers, didn't you? -- but the kind you make yourself that entitle the recipient to a certain amount of babysitting, dishwashing, computer tutoring, massage, dog-walking or nipple clips and hot wax, depending upon your tastes and those of the recipient.

  • If there's an actual physical thing that your loved one seems set on, try to find a less expensive substitute. For example, why shell out for some fancy non-phallic dildo hand-made by a lesbian cooperative in California when you can just scout the supermarkets for one of those decorative gourds that always turn up in the fall -- you know, the ones with the "senso-knobs", as I heard one dyke call them? Cheap, effective, and biodegradable to boot!

If all this sounds like too much work, there are also a number of ways of avoiding the gift-giving routine altogether:

  • Tell everyone you ordered them something exciting by mail, then blame the postal service when it doesn't show up.

  • Change your religion to one that doesn't have a holiday at this time of year and accuse your friends of cultural insensitivity if they mention Christmas in your presence.

  • Tell them you've been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive spending habits and you're sure, being the good supportive friends that they are, they won't undermine your progress in your 12-step program by expecting you to buy them things.

  • Invite everyone to a big party (making it BYOB, of course), and later tell each person that you gave them their gift late that evening, leaving them to wonder guiltily if they lost it in a drunken stupor.

Please note that I take no responsibility for any social awkwardness, relationship break-ups, physical injuries or other undesirable side-effects arising from the use of the above suggestions, particularly the second set. Caveat debtor, as always, is the rule.


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