I'm a nerd. I like books and documentaries. I also like the environment, and diligently minimise waste and recycle. For these reasons, amongst others, Christmas sends shivers down my geeky earth-loving spine.
As a parent of small children, I find my house inundated with shite over the Christmas season. Kindhearted, well-meaning family and friends send my kids a world of presents, which they open with excitement at first - but after a while, the sheer volume of gifts becomes tiring, even for two gleeful and energetic little ragamuffins high on early morning chocolate.
When the present-opening is over, the detritus is a horrible tribute to the mindless consumption and environmental destruction that is Christmas. The floor of the lounge can't be seen for discarded paper, and even before the unwrapping is done the kids have lost interest in a great many of their presents. This while other kids do without, including in our own suburb. The presents are, as often as not, cheap and junky things manufactured under dubious labour conditions in desperately poor countries - perhaps made by kids little older than my own. It's hard to feel good about it.
It made me feel slightly better to read this article in today's Dom Post. Apparently, the tough financial times are forcing Christmas shoppers to consider their purchases more carefully, choosing gifts with longer-lasting appeal, such as books and plants, over spangly junky stuff. It seems that one of very few upsides to the global recession is a needed change to our consumption habits.
As a nerd, I do get a secret enjoyment from seeing my kids reading or playing educational games - but nerdish elitism isn't the cause of my biggest objection to junky gifts. My kids have a wide range of plastic and electronic rubbish, and watch lots of TV. If that was all they did, I'd be concerned - but I figure that, so long as they get enough exercise and participate in other learning and leisure activities, time spent with junky toys doesn't matter so much. I have noticed that, because they get so much bright and shiny stuff, it's hard to give my kids something which they'll think is special.
I'm more bothered by the sheer waste caused by one-hit-wonder toys that kids lose interest in quickly. I'm thinking of toys like those remote control robotic dinosaurs that were in vogue a couple of years ago. They were fun to play with for half an hour. After that, they were simply a $100 pile of shite cluttering the house.
What to do about all this, I don't know. There's no doubt that kids like elaborate toys with whistles and bells - I was no exception. It's too late for this year, but next year, I'm thinking about doing a Christmas register for my kids - letting those who feel they absolutely must buy stuff for my kids know what it is that they want or need, so at least there's no duplication. I'm going to get together with parents of other young kids (too young to be discerning) and see if we can exchange gifts to avoid buying new shite. And for myself, I'll continue to buy nerdy, environmentally-friendly gifts like books and plants.