For cheapskates, the Christmas season can be a very difficult time. We’re constantly attacked by commercials that show the euphoria of “giving.” We’re harassed outside of grocery stores by those guilt inducing Salvation Army bellringers. What makes Christmas so difficult is that you can forget birthdays and ignore baby showers, but Christmas is a national event; it’s everywhere. That’s why I’ve decided to start early this year and construct a strong argument that justifies my frugality.
Now, the hard part about constructing this argument was that I wanted to avoid sentimentality and find something original. I didn’t want to say, “I don’t buy gifts because that’s not the real ‘reason for the season.’” That’s a lazy argument. Also, I didn’t want to get all “Marxy” on people. I’d rather not be labeled a communist, but also, no one wants to hear about how Christmas represents the futile struggle of the proletariat to enjoy the material comfort of the bourgeois. That argument is so 1900. I wanted to find something new, something, I don’t know, modern. Luckily, I had time to search the stacks here at MLC to find my new argument.
The most useful book I found was Stanley Lebergott’s Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century. Lebergott’s book explores how consumption has become a barometer by which people judge their happiness. There are chapters that look at how advertising influences consumer spending. There are essays on the unequal income gap in America. These are all good arguments but the last chapter is golden, “More Goods: The Twentieth Century.” This chapter centers on the idea that people’s appetite for new goods can never be satisfied. Lebergott quotes Samuel Johnson as saying, “We desire, we pursue, we obtain, we are satiated; we desire something else, and begin a new pursuit.” The basic argument is: regardless of how much you have you will always want more.
So, voila, here’s my argument this year: why buy gifts when the recipient will only come up with something new to want? And, yes, mom and dad, you can take this argument as your own. I’m sure your children will completely understand when, on Christmas morning, you explain that Santa didn’t visit because he wanted to save them the trouble of coming up with something else to want. You’ll save money and your children will be grateful for the lesson.
Lebergott, Stanley. Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.