Walking outside our home, and throughout our village, we always come across many adorable children playing with the same home-made toy. This toy consists of a fairly long, skinny stick, stuck inside the top of a flattened plastic water bottle. All over they push this water bottle with the stick and make truck and car noises. They may play bumper cars, or compete and see how fast they can make it go. Yesterday, I was sitting on the ground waiting for Michael, when I noticed a boy, about the age of 5, throwing a plastic bag in the air and laughing as it filled up with air like a balloon and slowly floated down to the ground. He repeated, and found amusement in every fall.
My first thought after seeing these simple toys is how easily amused children can be, yet what would happen if I gave one of those toys to my future children back home? Should I feel sorry for these children because they are forced to play with what we would label “trash” instead of real toys? Or should I feel sorry for us, because our lives are completely ruled by over $15 billion marketing and advertising campaigns? The same market that is continually increasing the debt of parents and families and fueling more desire and jealousy all for the quick and short- living surge of status and achievement; in other words, conformity. We have just entered into the best time of year to witness this: Christmas time.
Christmas is the time of year to spend genuine time with the ones you love; to be thankful of everything you have been given, and to show your appreciation for your relationships. However for most, although family is still involved, Christmas is the time to spend hours making wish lists, waiting in long lines before the sun comes up, and waking up to a tree seeping with gifts. It is safe to say that capitalism has transformed the holiday season from a time of family appreciation into a time of “who is worth the most”.
America is the “land of the free”, but how free are we? We are trapped with the longest work hours, most work stress, and shortest paid vacation of any other developed nation… all to pay our bills. Over 2 million Americans are still working to pay of last year’s Christmas bill, only to double it within this next month. America is the “land of the opportunity”, yet it is the developed nation with the highest disparity between the rich and the poor; making it harder to jump income levels. Living within this culture, you hardly stop to think about it. It is my time away from the television advertisements, materialistic environment, and the constant struggle to earn a dollar that has truly opened my mind to our drone-like, fallacious lives.
If many Tanzanians were thrown in this culture they would probably act the same way, but they aren’t . . .so they don’t. The Christian Tanzanians who celebrate Christmas truly do celebrate it by merely being with the ones they love and feasting. They do not spend the next year paying off their credit cards because it was expected of them to buy expensive gifts for their friends of family. As a matter of fact, they do not even have credit cards, and I would argue that they are happier for it.
Yes, it has become deeply engrained into the American Christmas to load your trees with gifts, and there are good intentions behind it. My question is simply... why? Why buy your daughter a lap-top when her other one is still working? Why buy overly-priced DVDs and CDs just to make the stockings look thicker? Why is one gift, from the heart and personalized, not the norm anymore? As an American, I was guilty of this unnecessary over-indulgence, but to me now looking in from the outside, it is just laughable. I found myself just as happy waking up to a wooden giraffe Michael widdled for me out of piece of wood as any other Christmas before this.
Instead of spending unfathomable amounts of money on holiday gifts this year, go on a family trip, or make a gift together. The less debt you accrue, the less time you need to work to pay for it, the more you get to live. If Tanzanian children can improvise in the name of fun, why don’t ours? I guess what I am trying to say is: Live life, don’t buy it.