I could write a column on the true meaning of the holidays and tell you how you can be charitable and help those in need. I might mention why consumerism is the scourge of American society and how it has adversely affected our value systems. But you’ve heard that all before many times. So many times that it’s become trite and cliché by now.
But that still does not answer the question of why people give at all, or why consumerism so drastically outweighs charitable donations every year.
According to the non-profit group Advent Conspiracy, Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas every year.
Every holiday season, non-profit organizations capitalize on people’s greater likelihood to be generous and encourage them to donate canned items for the hungry or volunteer at a soup kitchen. Vive Peru, a non-profit organization that sends students to volunteer in Peru, is hosting a toy drive for less privileged children this year.
Advent Conspiracy, which was established by five pastors who wanted to redeem what Christmas has become, encourages people to buy one less gift that year and donate the money they would have spent so less fortunate people throughout the world can have access to clean water.
On the website, this organization makes an appeal to the American populace: “How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas. Just one.”
Events like this are absolutely fantastic and are sure to improve the lives of the afflicted, whether that means bringing joy to an underprivileged child or providing clean water for an entire community.
Yet that still does nothing to tell us the underlying motivation for why people literally buy into the consumerist mentality of the season. Nor does it indicate why some people donate money or volunteer their time at all.
Perhaps both exist for the same reason.
When people make their often ridiculously long shopping lists and feel pressured to find the perfect gift for every single person, whom are they really serving in that moment? Of course they say, and they may very well believe, that they are finding their joy in giving to others.
But in the wake of what American society has made the holiday season out to be, the ones they may be inadvertently serving are themselves. People are striving to achieve this iconic image we have of a holiday shopper, someone who has it all together and has everything perfectly planned out for everyone.
And what of the volunteers and the donors? Are they motivated by genuine, unmitigated compassion for the suffering? Or do they feel a guilt complex for their prosperity and feel obligated to give something to make themselves feel better?
Now, by all means, give. Give of your time and your resources. Give unique gifts to your friends and family. But maybe this holiday season, as you bustle about and slowly develop an involuntary eye twitch in response to Christmas music, think about who it is that you’re really serving.
Reach the columnist at Julianna.Roberts@asu.edu Click here to subscribe to the daily State Press newsletter.