While gift giving may have started out as a heartfelt tradition, Santa no longer stuffs stockings with oranges and rock candy from the general store. These days, he leaves pricey laptops and probably traded in the sleigh for a Hummer. As millions of us rack up extensive bills shopping for people we don't even like that much, making the bumper-to-bumper trek to overcrowded malls, we wonder: when did Christmas become so tacky, overdone, obligatory...and commercial?
"People are getting fed up with what the holiday season has been perverted into," notes Paul Sullivan, editor of Orato.com which specializes in grassroots citizen journalism where people share their stories in their own words. "The shopping malls are dizzying with crowds and noise, and when it's all over, you are left with a crippling economic strain on your finances. In the midst of the spending frenzy, Christmas doesn't feel at all like Christmas anymore." Not surprisingly, the current number one story on the site is Christmas Shopocalypse: What Would Jesus Buy? (pick up the DVD at Amazon.com ) by the blond Elvis-coiffed performance artist and anti-consumerism activist Bill "Reverend Billy" Talen - head of the Church of Stop Shopping.
"Reverend Billy's crusade against over-consumerism is making waves on Orato.com," says Sullivan. "No wonder. The gift giving cycle traps people into overspending and buying out of obligation whether they want to give or not--and in the end, it benefits only the big stores that cash in on our desperate attempts to show our love through trinkets. The fact that enough people are starting to see the light gives me hope that we're ready to put our collective foot down and stop the holiday madness."
Talen created his "Reverend Billy" persona after coming to New York in the late 1990s and discovering "a state of perpetual consumption." What began as street theatre demonstrations against global industrialists such as Wal-Mart, Disney, and Starbucks has grown into something much more. His recent Morgan Spurlock-produced documentary film, What Would Jesus Buy?, reveals the chaos that the holidays usher in. "We're trying to encourage people to have a creative Christmas this year," says the good Reverend, railing against "the big box stores filled with sweatshop goods" which have been shipped around the world, squandering fossil fuels with a giant carbon footprint. "You don't have to get on the interstate in your SUV and sit there listening to the dashboard shout at you: 'Buy! Buy! Spend!'"
To resurrect some of the spirit that originally accompanied Christmas, Reverend Billy advises gift-givers to patronize the "intimate economy" of small businesses, farmers' markets, and artisans who craft their wares by hand. (Be sure to check out wide array of Stop Shopping songs on his RevBilly.com site.) Instead of buying meaningless presents because everyone is doing it, Orato's Sullivan suggests celebrating in a way that's actually meaningful. "By avoiding the Shopocalypse, you can save the real meaning of Christmas and your wallet!"
Why not check out the good Reverend and ask yourself the same question for some alternative holiday entertainment. What Would Jesus Buy? is available at Amazon.com
- Lesley Scott
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