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OPINION: Let holiday of thanks put pause in season's consumer madness

November 24th, 2012 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

It's an amazing world. I'm so far away from Alaska right now that I'm actually in another day than all of you in the Last Frontier, but not far enough away that I can't see a posting or two on Facebook reminding me that this week, the newspaper comes out on Thanksgiving Day.

From where I'm sitting, we have a lot to be thankful for. A lot of you, more than 90 percent anyway, don't have to sit on a dirty street selling fans you made out of plastic water bottles or work under the blazing sun painting the royal palace while balancing on bamboo poles tied together (ingeniously, I might add) with string. You don't have to scrape together an existence from absolutely nothing. You don't have to be (I did say HAVE to be) manipulative and untruthful to get someone to ride in your taxi or bargain your way to a fare that will leave you enough for dinner. That's a pretty good shake.

Not only was I reminded of the impending holiday but a quick look on American news sites reminded me of the upcoming consumer madness — Black Friday. Apparently, it is now becoming Black Thursday, and I'm not the only one who has pointed out the irony in following a day intended to give us all a chance to reflect on what we are thankful for with a day of absolute consumer mayhem.

A couple of days ago, in an attempt to buy green tea, an incredibly illusive substance in this part of the world, my travel partner and I ventured into an area of town dominated by elite shopping malls — Prada and Coach and iPhones abounded. It was incredibly shocking after days of wandering streets where shops were also homes and the most expensive thing in them might have topped out at about $5 in American money.

It reminded me, however, how as a culture, even us Alaskans have become addicted to stuff, it seems. And even when we have the stuff we think we need, we want better stuff. Our TVs have to be flatter and bigger and crisper. Our clothes have to be newer and more fashion forward. Our cars have to be shinier. I suppose it's a throwback to our days on the plains of the Serengeti when the more stuff we had, the more likely we were to survive and thrive. But we aren't there any more, and I have to wonder how that drive serves us today.

We are entering a season that indulges our stuff-getting desire more than any other. And even the most ardent consumer will admit it has gone over the top if they stop and look around for a minute. The real problem with the stuff addiction is that there is no chance of ever getting off that train. There is always a level above ours, even when you have attained what you thought was enough of the right stuff.

Luckily, there is Thanksgiving, a holiday perfectly positioned to remind us to think about what we have to be thankful for. It's rarely the fancy new gadget that we think of first when we reflect on such matters. Most of the time, people are thankful for their family and friends, for the human-to-human connections that brighten their existence exponentially more than gizmos and baubles.

So here's a thought. This week, consider skipping pouring more fuel into the consumer engine. Spend some time instead with your family doing something fun, if you are lucky enough to have them around. Join friends for a walk or play some cards or do something that makes you all laugh together. I guarantee that in the long run, the memories you make celebrating together will be far more valuable than whatever supposed bargain you might have acquired after hours of standing in line and shouldering your fellow humans aside. Unless, of course, it's a sale on green tea. Then, I totally understand.


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