It’s Black Friday, and the season of consumerism will be upon us, and the race to Christmas Day will dominate our lives. The holidays are a time of giving, a time of faith and tradition, a time of family and togetherness and celebration. But with the mad shopping dash to buy Christmas gifts, it’ll also be a season of stress, financial anxiety, and even debt. It’ll be the most significant contribution of the year to the coffers of huge retail conglomerates who hoard wealth, monopolize markets, and prey on consumers and their workers.
This line of thinking is nothing novel or new, but it’s especially on my mind with my involvement with the Occupy Movement. And whether you’re bothered by billionaires or not, I hope there’s something we can all more or less agree on, which is:
It’s a really wonderful thing to shop local.
Buying local is about relationship. You can have a personal connection with those who make or grow your merchandise. Buying local is about community. You can know that the dollars you’re putting down are supporting a local economy, and keeping local families afloat. Buying local is about artistry. The products you encounter will be less mass-produced, more handcrafted, more personalized. And buying local is about sustainability. A smaller economy less dependent on big companies and imported goods and materials is a system that can better support itself. This can all point us toward a society where everyone knows their neighbors, where compassion and respect rule in place of fear and selfishness.
I think that’s a good world to live in, and this Christmas I’m going to take a single step toward it.
So, if you’re someone who might buy me Christmas presents, I’d like to ask you to join me! If you’re NOT someone who normally buys me gifts, feel free to practice this with those you DO usually buy for. In either case, instead of buying mass-produced brand-name goods at major retail chains, here are some things you can try:
- Make something yourself. If you have a particular talent or skill, let’s celebrate that together. If you don’t feel you do, this might be a wonderful opportunity to learn. You can even have a crafting party to swap techniques. The Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) is a great place to learn publishing skills. Either way, I’ll be delighted and honored to recieve the work of your own hands.
- Share a song, poem or other piece of writing that you treasure. This is an absolutely cost-free way to share a piece of your heart with someone you love. My wife did this last year for her folks, and it was moving to the point of tears.
- If you know someone who makes things—clothing, crafts, tools, carpentry, music, whatever—ask them about purchase or barter for their goods. Let’s celebrate each other!
- Buy from a vendor at Saturday Market. Every Christmas dozens of handcrafters and artists brave the weather to market themselves to Christmas shoppers. And on the nerdy side of things, PDX Browncoats is sponsoring the Geek the Halls craft bazaar on December 5!
- Patronize a self-published author. There are several places in town to go for self-published books and comics: Reading Frenzy, Powell’s Books, Cosmic Monkey Comics, and more. My chum Peter has a book, Rewild or Die, my friend Breena has a graphic novel, Picket Line, and my acquaintance Christina helps make the monthly zine Stumptown Underground, for instance. For self-published roleplaying games, head to Guardian Games or Red Castle Games and ask to see their Indie Games section. To name just a few of my story gaming friends, Joe made a game called Perfect, Jake made Panty Explosion and G X B, and Ben made Polaris, The Drifter’s Escape, and Clover. And of course, I humbly add, I handcrafted The Dreaming Crucible.
- Patronize local musicians. My sister-in-law plays in a smokin’ group called The Druthers. I sing in a folk music choir called Trillium Voices. My friend Laura is an act called Upsidedowncat (she also knits!). My pals Ang and Aub are a nerdy duo called The Doubleclicks. I know a fantastic gypsy folk band called The Underscore Orkestra. My Olympia friend Ross plays for June Madrona. Local music is all around us!
- Shop online. Etsy, for instance, is a vast online market of handcrafted goods and artwork. The Indie RPGs Un-Store is a collective of online purchase pages for self-published roleplaying games (you can find the Crucible there, as a matter of fact).
- Buy used. Shopping secondhand is a great way to make use of products already out there, without futher supporting the corporations that hope you’ll throw it in the dump and buy a new one. And you’ll save money to boot! Thriftstores, the aforementioned Powell’s, and of course Amazon are great places to pick up used goods.
- Buy from a small, non-franchise business. Even if the goods are still name-brand, you’ll be helping a local entrepeneur. You might need to do some detective work to find out who these businesspeople are, but you’ll get to know your community better in the process.
I intend to follow these strategies for my own gift-giving this year, and you can join me if you like. My list is Portland-focused, so if you live elsewhere you’ll naturally need to find local equivalents. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s what comes to mind for me. You can find creative alternatives that work for you, as well!
And if you don’t? No judgment, here. I’m certainly not going to go cold turkey on corporate products and services myself, and I don’t ecxpect you to. This is an offer, not a demand, an invitation to join me in something if you’re willing and able. I love you all no matter what, and if for whatever reason you don’t follow this route, I’ll still recieve your gift with joy. And genuine joy, because there are many corporate products that I still love, that add value to my life, and besides, it’s still wonderful because you gave it to me. This is simply an experiment in shifting priorities. There’s no shame or guilt involved. Only still greater joy!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and much love to you all.