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The holidays are here! Hooray! Huzzah! Lo, how the roses are freezing! This means excessive consumption of buttery, sugary foods and depleted motivation to study. It’s also time to get shopping.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the holiday season represents around 20 to 40 percent of annual sales. That means if you’re an average American, you’ll be spending from three to seven times as much money this month as you do in all other months. Americans who make less than $50,000 a year spent an average of $356 in 2011 and, as the NRF indicates, that number will likely be closer to $380 this year. Nationwide, people are spending much more than they have to try to keep up with the craze.
Our conception of the holidays is almost inseparable from the image of giving and receiving presents, of hungrily unwrapping generically-shaped boxes, of playing with our new toy zeppelin on the living room floor…OK, I watched “A Christmas Story” a lot as a child. But coming together and exchanging things is integral to the American holiday experience. It’s how we remind our loved ones that they’re loved.
Which is why those of us who don’t have cash to spend are screwed.
People without a lot of money get the short end of the peppermint-scented stick during the holidays. Ad campaigns teach children that their parents only love them if they buy them this new toy or that cute scarf, and that couples need to materially prove their devotion.
In churches and temples, on street corners and at train stations, heavily-bundled, brave souls constantly try to remind us of the true meaning of the holidays: giving, sharing and spending time with loved ones. In a perfect world, this would be enough. But we can’t quite shake ourselves of our material expectations. While I’m looking forward to hugging my mom and punching my brother (lovingly) this break, I’m also pumped for the all the iTunes credit I will likely come back to Boulder with.
What I’m not so excited about, though, is how little I will be able to contribute to the space under the Christmas tree. How are we underemployed and overworked college students supposed to show our families and friends that we care if we have nothing to give them? More and more every year, I feel like I go home empty-handed, in more ways than one.
What about just spending time with family? That’s what the holidays are supposed to be about, after all. But not everyone has the privilege of being able to go home: financial restrictions keep plenty of international and out-of-state students unable to give their time and company.
Let’s rethink our priorities this season. Our worth should not be determined by how much stuff we can throw at each other. The holiday shopping rush is great for the economy, but it does a lot of damage to the parts of us that we can’t wrap.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Lauren Thurman at Lauren.thurman@Colorado.edu.