Return of the Gift: Holiday Consumer Frenzy Got You Down?
Last year we had a bit of a reprieve, due to the global economic meltdown. But countless bailouts later, we are wallet-deep into Christmas toy hysteria fueled by media and a base reptilian desire to have, rather than have not. The toy on demand this Christmas (in case you are still revising your list) is the cuddly rodent Zhu Zhu Pets, which are essentially furry, low-tech, robotic hamsters. They are cute, yes, and infinitely less of a health hazard than a real hamster (the tag line claims they are “fun without the mess!”). A thorough explanation is hardly necessary (trust me). Let’s just say they are cute, and manufactured to tweak and manipulate all of your children’s raw cute receptors – End of story.
But really the story of holiday consumer yearning and compulsory shopping, just to fulfill media-fueled desire and premature obsession, is something that probably dates back to the Hula-Hoop (actually probably even further back). I remember the rabid hysteria behind the Cabbage Patch Kids, with stories about parents reduced to animal-like savagery to secure a prized doll at any cost (I think the regrettable movie “Child’s Play” was loosely based upon the insatiable want for the doll of the season). I also have clear memories of Star Wars madness in full swing, with zillions of children demanding certain action figures and toys (I being one of them). So economic cycles peak and plummet, but still the machine that fuels our consumer appetite still assembles a tasty array of holiday trappings to get us out of the house (or at least online) and providing that singular experience of having and holding for our coveting children.
I am in the fortunate place (albeit momentary) where my child is almost wholly ignorant of such things as Zhu Zhu Pets and Elmo. I could get away with getting him a truck or a puppet for the holidays, and to him, this is a gift, in the true sense of the word. He lacks media context or reference, and for him, a gift comes as a surprise, and not as the payout after months of nagging and coveting. Like I said, I realize this is privileged position that is liable to change (and change drastically) within the next year or so when he discovers mass culture.
So is it just about just saying no to these base wants and desires and furnishing your children with wooden puzzles and yarn kits instead? Is it wise to give in, or maybe even indulge your children in the hype and rapacious desire for that one special thing? Are we, by act of participation, revealing a weakness of character to our children when we plunk down cash for a Zhu Zhu Pet, Tickle Me Elmo, or toy of the moment? How do you contend with the season and all of the unappeasable desire that comes with it? Are you creative and cunning in your strategy or do you just bend over and take it (insert Zhu Zhu Pets joke here)?
Please share your stories, wisdom, and tips for beleaguered parents below. You know someone, if not everyone, will appreciate it.