For some of us, Christmas still brings to mind Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales recorded for the BBC in 1942. But we’ve become so enthralled by the frenzy of credit-fed consumption, that the spirit of this classic Christmas story seems almost archaic, of another time.
First, making gifts gave way to local gift buying for those who could afford to. Interstates and suburban malls then beckoned us away from home where more goods could be had for less. And now, the ether is the largest store of all, as e-commerce sales have surpassed brick and mortar sales for the first time.
We’ve become disconnected from the makers of things – we’re price-sensitive but quality-ignorant. The joy of making and giving has evolved into an aspirational euphoria of owning and anticipating the Amazon package delivered by a stranger. We hear it said that we buy gifts for others that we covet for ourselves.
Meanwhile, the maker is gone; the seller is gone; and the money and jobs are gone from our communities – into the global ether that overhangs financial centers and island tax shelters. We feed the rich, beggar the poor, and leave ourselves spiritually and financially bereft. What remains is the detritus of our consumption, its packaging and debt. Some of our gifts don’t work as promised and online customer services offer little or no help.
We’re an addictive society. We consume drugs, alcohol, food, media, sex, and things. The brief euphoria our addictions offer inevitably gives way to loneliness and self-doubt.
In another famous work by Dylan Thomas, he urges us to, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Surely, he didn’t mean the bluish sodium halide light of vast showrooms of consumer goods made by those who could never afford them – or the 200-mile wide eddies of discarded presents and their packaging that pilots flying over the Pacific see swirling in the vast blue ocean. Nor do I imagine he was talking about garish retail holiday displays. Instead, I like to think he might have been talking about the small light within us that illuminates us and our loved ones.
The last paragraph of A Child’s Christmas reads: “Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.” It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed.”