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A frugal Christmas story

Westfield Bondi Junction Escalators, Flickr image by betta designI went to my first Christmas party this weekend and although it was fun, it triggered a sense that the silly part of the season is about to hit. Something comes into the air about now — a fraught pre-Christmas anxiety, as I and the rest of the city attempt to manage layers of pressure that have become part of the pre-Christmas period.

We circle the car park that little bit longer as tempers fray and blood pressure rises. We then battle and jostle with the crowds as we struggle to the finishing line, ticking off all the items on our Christmas list. We forget something and then have to face it all again.

We order turkeys, we order ham, juggling all of this with all the projects and reports that bosses or clients want completed by the end of the year.

In all the bustle and rush we forget what Christmas is really meant to be about: an opportunity to contemplate the transformative power of the divine becoming human among and for us.

And this year there are additional stresses. The global financial crisis is starting to have its effect, impacting on communities everywhere. In my local community, the hair dresser has felt it already and she's worried about keeping her staff. 'People leave it longer between colours,' she explains.

One of my daughters, Rachel, lost her part-time job as a nanny last week. Her loss is slight compared to her employer's, a young mother who works in the finance industry. She said to Rachel: 'I'm sorry I didn't give you more notice but I wasn't given any notice myself,' her voice catching as she choked back tears.

She will have more on her mind than the usual pre-Christmas madness as her young family faces an uncertain New Year.

Let's hope Prime Minister Rudd's $10.4 billion stimulus package and the further infrastructure spending recently announced will actually generate 75,000 new jobs in time for her family and others in the same position to feel the benefit soon.

But at the same time, let's hope that while we focus on the economy and doing our bit to spend it out of recession that we don't forget the bigger economic and environmental problems we all know are brewing. At a personal level, we still need to find the balance between doing our bit of spending to save the global economy and collectively snubbing consumerism.

Self-denial can still help make the world a better place. If enough people consume less, we will slow down energy consumption and with it global warming.

At a personal level, I'm letting the environment rather than the financial crisis dominate my Christmas planning. This year we imposed a $10 limit on presents within the immediate family. At first my three daughters were horrified — despite all being students and on budgets.

They complained that you can't get anything for anybody for $10. But then they realised that the challenge made it interesting and fun.

It's a strategy that has gone a long way to puncturing my pre-Christmas stress. I can avoid the carparks and queues. To add to the pleasure, I will buy locally and I will buy Australian.

There are other things that we can do to maintain a helicopter view of the financial and the environmental crises. One is to think of those outside the financial capitals of the western economies who are suffering much more than we are. It is predicted that around the world, 100 million additional people will fall into poverty this year because of the impact of the financial crisis.

The major aid agencies all allow us to buy a Christmas gift and support a third world development project at the same time.

And back home, we could spend our share of the $10.4 billion stimulus package on things that help ease our energy consumption, such as awnings on our houses, or solar energy panels.

As individuals in the future we might invest in sources of renewable energy and companies that do site rehabilitation. Energy technology is a high-risk investment now, but as demand grows, returns will start to grow.

We can help our children resist unblinking consumerism. When banks offer them credit cards we can suggest debit cards. We can agitate for 'take back legislation' that would mean we can return old mobile phones with their valuable components to the point of sale.

If we can shed the commercial layers of Christmas, and give permission to those around us to do so, not only will we avoid pre-Christmas stress but we will create a calmer tempo to bring to Christmas Day itself, leaving ourselves open to reflect on its meaning. 

Margaret RiceMargaret Rice is a Sydney-based freelance journalist.


Topic tags: margaret rice, financial crisis, christmas, consumerism, environment, global warming, climate change



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Existing comments

Surely Margaret is arguing at cross purposes.

Part of the reason for the economic slow down is that people are not spending (her hairdresser example) which is leading to job losses (her daughter's employer loosing her job).

Margaret then goes on to argue that we should all avoid being captive to consumerism over Christmas. Her solution - limit our spending.

Is she arguing to exacerbate the local impact of the financial crisis?

JB | 16 December 2008  

I don't believe the article argues at cross purposes. The message I took from this thoughtful piece was that we could all be more selective in how we spend our money. Instead of blindly following the call of mass global consumerism we could consider making other choices: gifts from charity companies, buying locally made items, supporting our local small businesses, buying energy efficient products.

I'd be interested to hear again from this writer after Christmas on the impact of the $10 gift limit on her and her family's experience of Christmas, compared with earlier years. It sounds like it has already been quite positive.

Michelle | 16 December 2008  

Some sense at last, we complain about the commerce aspect of Christmas but allow ourselves to get caught up in it. Children are over indulged mistaking gift giving with love,a perception which is destructive and follows into adult life with disastrous results.

bardie trumble | 16 December 2008