12/04/2004

And Speaking of Holidays

Why do I do this insanity around Hanukah? It's all my parents' fault. They gave us one day of Hanukah with presents. (I remember in particular a green velour pants and vest set in Junior High School. Went well with my pimples -- a kind of festive, Christmas colors look.) And that was it. None of this eight nights of Hanukah nonsense for us. So now, of course, I'm obsessed with doing all eight nights. Which means I end up with the same kind of hideous consumer excess as the rest of the country. Eight presents each, for four children. I spent a fortune this year, and most of what I ordered hasn't even showed up. (You want to bet it'll be here in time for Christmas, though?)

Why do my kids and I end up buying into this hysterical frenzy of consumerism? They aren't allowed to watch commercials when they watch TV -- we have TIVO and they are supposed to skip through the commercials. The problem is that they cleverly design children's television so that there is no distinction between the commercials and the shows. The show is a commercial, for the toys. Even Rosie's PSB shows all have marketing links. Remember when Sesame Street had a kind of purity? And now? Now we have Tickle Me, Elmo.

My children only watch TV on the weekends, and still they are made hysterical by the marketing. They want. The want everything they see. But what is it that they really want? The crappy toys that are advertised by and large last about a week, if that long. The kids play with them for a minute, and then go back to their tried and true toys. Blocks, dolls, and stuffed animals. Even Lego has managed to make itself pointless with the sets. Once a set is put together, then what? They sure don't want you taking it apart and playing with the blocks. Hell no. They want you to go buy another set. My house is swamped with crappy toys, even though every couple of months we clean out all the junk from every kid’s room. Before Hanukkah we have a rule that each child must remove eight items (big ones, not individual Legos, Zeke!) and either donate them if they are in decent shape, or throw them away. Only then can the new festival of consumerism, er, lights, begin.

Every year we try to figure out more ways to make this meaningful. This year's plan is to have them do eight things for other people or the world. I'm hoping they'll choose what we will do, but I'm giving them some ideas. Give gifts from those giving trees set up all over town. Make sandwiches for one of the homeless shelters. Write a letter to a child in a refuge camp and send a gift. And of course, donate money to issues they care about. The older two get two allowances every week -- one for themselves, and one for their tzedaka boxes. (Charity for those of you who aren't Jewish). They'll figure out what organizations to donate to as part of one of our nights of Hanukkah.

So isn't that nice? Blech. Perhaps I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning -- the sour, cynical and bitchy side -- but I just don't think any of that means anything. It can't compete with the hysterical frenzy of consumption that their lives have become. What do I do? Turn off the television forever? (But I love TV. I love The Daily Show, and the Sopranos, and the Office.) HOMESCHOOL THEM???? Yeah, right. Wasn't Andrea Yates a homeschooler? Two weeks of homeschooling and all of us would end up floating facedown in the bathtub. Move to another country? Where? About the only place I can think of that hasn't been infected by the American marketing machine is Darfur, and for all I know the rampaging Jingaweit are all wearing Incredibles T-shirts.

I'm going to go drown my sorrows in a two-pound box of Sees nuts and Chews.

271 Comments:

Blogger fiona said...

Oh man you are so right! I do the 8 night thing and every year I swear it's the last time. But the truth probably is that for one brief nano-second, I really do love finding the "perfect" gift and the buzz of feeling like the perfect mother. Never lasts long and the cranky, crabby bitch returns pretty quickly when I realise how much it's costing me and that they really aren't interested in half the crap I buy. Adam's birthday is just after Chanukah and he's started saying instead of lots of little presents can he have one combined big present - whole lot easier and probably ends up cheaper.

But the really sad thing is that I still couldn't resist buying just a few little "tsatskas" (crap!)for him anyway!

December 4, 2004 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Ayelet Waldman said...

I know exactly how you feel. I found this little ride-on rocketship for Abraham, and I feel like the world's best mother. I know he's going to love it.

I love you son. What a mensch. Is this the Fiona I know through Allison?

December 4, 2004 at 11:11 AM  
Blogger fiona said...

Indeed it is! You've got a good memory!! It's great reading you - other than the kids and husband sounds like you're still the same Ayelet I remember from NYC.

December 4, 2004 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

Of course it's my Fiona! (How many Fionas and Ayelets are running around, after all?)

Not to sound like a crazed Zionist, but the emphasis on gifts truly is a competing with Christmas thing. Here in Israel the focus is really on the holiday, the lights, and the food (I call it the festival of carbohydrate and fat) -- not the presents. I don't know anyone that gives a gift every night.

Obviously, we have commercialized corporate marketing hell here, as well, it's just not focused on this particular holiday.

December 4, 2004 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger fiona said...

It's true, when I think of Chanukkah in Israel, I think of candles,doughnuts and latkes. Not sure what's worse, the presents or the cholesterol!!

And I'm glad after so many years Allison still claims me as "hers"!!!

December 4, 2004 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

I'll never let you go!

December 4, 2004 at 1:03 PM  
Blogger Ayelet Waldman said...

See, that's something the Israelis do right. It's a nightmare here, competing with Christmas. Now it's Rosie's turn to tell me that Santa is real, she knows it for sure.

December 4, 2004 at 5:22 PM  
Blogger Scarlett said...

Ok, I'm not a parent, so maybe this will sound a tad self righteous. I cannot understand this craziness of buying kids gifts for every night of Chanukah. When I grew up in SA, Chanukah was not about gift giving, if we got anything, it was a bit of gelt, that is it. When I see my boyfriend's nieces and nephew showered with dozens of gifts - seriously, it makes me nauseous. I cannot understand why intelligent parents give in to this commercial crap and competition with Xmas. America is a crazy, out of control place - what message are we sending kids with this excess? I find it really disturbing. I like Ayelet's ideas of combing 8 mitzvahs etc..at least that's something, but the kids in my life know nothing about chanukah except that it's time for gifts...URGH. chag sameyach!

December 4, 2004 at 8:18 PM  
Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said...

I need more Ayelets and Fionas in my life. Right now, I have none.

We always had a present every night--but only once or twice was it a larger present. The other nights were books, mostly--one of the eight nights we got one of those daily flip calendars, tailored to our particular interests (my brother got Star Wars, I usually got grammar rules or vocabulary words). It was always about family, lighting the candles, dancing around the living room as we sang, and only then, were there presents. We were grateful for what we had, and how much thought our parents put into it. I never remember competing with my friends at school, or feeling so overwhelmed by what other people got....

And I'm going on record here: I think a homeschooling curriculum of The Office, the Daily Show and even the Sopranos would yield an extremely interesting child.

December 5, 2004 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger fiona said...

Esther, I'm not quite sure why you'd need me and/or Ayelet in your life? Because we sound like we're such overly indulgent parents?? But whatever your reason (within reason) consider yourself cyber-adopted.

December 5, 2004 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said...

Oh come on. Everyone needs Ayelets and Fionas. (I love collecting cool women. Apparently this is why I'm still single. OK, it's one reason.)

Very happy (and honored) to be cyberadopted, that's a first for me.

December 6, 2004 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Ayelet Waldman said...

We do the eight present then for two reasons:

1. My kids are OBSESSED with Christmas and I want them to think Judaism is as good, or better than Christianity.

2. My parents didn't do it, and I always felt neglected.

But, I fully admit that it's stupid and I wish I never started it. But have you seen the quantity of gifts given under people's Christmas trees? Apparently it's a THING to cover the entire living room floor.

December 6, 2004 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger stephanie said...

LOL..Depends on the family, Ayelet. We had a budget of $100 for Christmas when I was a kid. That's the max my mom would spend. Now we could ask for 1 present or ten but it had to be in that budget. Period. And let's not forget the lean years...I actually got deodorant from the the fish one christmas! And a box of generic (remember those, white box with black lettering?) brand mac & cheese.

I try and do the same for my family- for one thing, there's so many people to buy for! I love finding the right gift, something to show my appreciation to the people who matter for me...but I have pretty strict limits. $20 per neice or nevvie. They got so much stuff...I may buy a couple small presents, or a bigger one, but try to stay close to that. There always are a ton of presents to send out, but that's cause of the number of people, not because I buy each one so much stuff :-).

December 10, 2004 at 5:42 AM  
Blogger Ayelet Waldman said...

Stephanie -- I'm turning forty tomorrow. I'm watching the mail for a box of mac and cheese in a plain brown wrapper!

December 10, 2004 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger stephanie said...

LOL- Happy Birthday!

December 10, 2004 at 2:11 PM  
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