It’s different for me now. Once upon a time, when I was a little boy, Christmas was magic … and then, after I wandered into adulthood, it was just a pain in the ass. The insipid inescapable music, the TV commercials, the grueling weather-inflicted travel to get somewhere by plane or train or bus or car, and of course the shopping, oh God, the shopping, like a scene out of Gladiator. My wife works retail, and has come home every night since Thanksgiving looking like a WWI soldier staggering out of Belleau Wood. It gets worse every year.
The pendulum swung back, however, when my little daughter figured out what was going on. “There’s this big blinking tree in the living room … and brightly-wrapped boxes keep appearing under it … and I get to tear those open … and there are toys inside! And then all our friends come over! And then we eat! Holy crap, this is so awesome!” She met Santa for the first time last week, and it was like a job interview: “Have you been a good girl?” followed by, “Yes. Yes, I have.” I am seeing Christmas through her eyes, and I’ll flat-out admit, it makes me a little dopey.
And then I pause, and wonder what it is I am promoting when I inculcate my daughter with the odd mythology of the season. See, sweetie, a long time ago this very special baby was born to a mother who never had sex, and when he grew up he could walk across water and wake up dead people, and then a bunch of mean Romans nailed him to a crosstie for telling people to be nice to each other, but then he came back to life and went home, so now we worship a German guy in a red suit with a white beard and a herd of deer while buying stuff we can’t afford in order to salvage the mirage that is our current economy … and if you think that’s odd, let me tell you about Easter. Want some chocolate?
Yeah, I look forward to that conversation. Daddy, is Santa Claus real? Yes, dear, just as real as capitalism.
Say I want to buy her a Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, or maybe some Pokemon gear, or some Playskool stuff, or a Tonka truck, or a Nerf ball. I’d be giving my money to Hasbro, which made $4 billion in sales in 2014 alone. How? Easy. They sell cool toys … manufactured in China by migrant workers earning pennies in dismal, brutal conditions. Mattel, which earned $6.3 billion in 2014, likewise outsourced their manufacturing to China in 2002, leading to a recall in 2007 of 18 million products because they were coated in lead. Disney, the undisputed world heavyweight champion of selling to kids, is also a grand fan of overseas outsourcing, and is complicit in sweatshop manufacturing of their products hand in hand with Mattel.
What was the best thing you ever got for Christmas? What was your favorite toy as a kid? Mine was a Boba Fett figurine from the original Star Wars franchise, hands down the coolest action figure ever made. His head fell off after years of vigorous play, and now he’s in a landfill somewhere. I never knew who made him, or where he was made, or how. I never asked. I was a kid, and Boba Fett was badass, and that was that.
Hold your favorite toy in the palm of your mind’s eye. That, right there, is the US economy today. A fancy dream, well-constructed but ultimately hollow, all myth and no reality. You love it, because you were taught to love it and because it fed your dreams, but it represents a faltering fiction we can no longer afford. An economy that seeks survival by way of people running through plate glass doors once a year to buy slave-labor products they don’t need is not an economy. It’s a scam, and a dangerous one.
My daughter will sack the small castle of presents awaiting her this morning. She’ll likely enjoy the wrapping and boxes more than the toys, and I will enjoy her enjoyment … and then wonder how many tears fell on her new favorite toy, shed by the worker who made it. Christmas was once about a baby. Now it’s about brute economic survival, and the toys required to beguile us from seeing the situation for what it is.
God help me, but I do still love Christmas, and love it all the more for how much my little girl loves it, too. The fantasy, however, needs to end. It’s past time to let love, imagination and joy shine through. Those toys are free, and not just for children.
Merry Christmas, all.