December 17, 2011

My Indian Buy Nothing Xmas

Xmas is different in India

Ten years ago I spent the holiday season in Gokarna, India, a small Hindu temple town on the Arabian Sea. It was the least consumer-oriented Christmas I have ever had in my western, Christian-based existence, and I liked it.

The entire season was a non-event, except for one Charlie Brown tree that a shopkeeper set up on a table in the street. Both the shopkeeper and the tree looked slightly green in the wilting heat and red dust.

Gokarna is in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, and it is hot year round. There are no conifers, only lofty palm and coconut trees. Minority Christians in India decorate mango or banana trees, but I did not see any so dressed in this pilgrimage town.

Something that reminded me of the brilliant lights this time of year back home were the small clay oil-burning lamps that many people use. After dark they are set out on steps, flat rooftops, and along the tops of walls, creating a low-tech, festive feeling year round.

Indians are festive people generally, living a life of constant and vigorous celebration. They were like Americans at Christmas, but all the time. Their kindness and generosity, their sense of brotherhood, and their good cheer was evident at all times during my multi-week stay in this amazing country.

We seem to save our best for Sundays, or this time of year, whereas the Indians I met were happy and enthusiastic for living cooperatively every day. Witnessing this completely different ancient culture with its simple ways was one of the best, most enduring gifts I have ever received.

My Christmas in Gokarna was unique in my life - it was stress-free. There was no tree to buy, no decorations to set up, no fighting for parking spaces, no shopping, no wrapping, no special meal, no waste, no accumulating debt. Just plain old enjoying the simplicity of the routines of the day among people that were joyful to be alive, regardless of their material conditions.

This year I am recreating my Indian buy nothing Xmas. With all the craziness going on in the world right now, who needs more stress? And with all the economic hardship, who needs to pile on more debt?

No longer do we need to harbour outdated feelings of obligation toward potentially damaging 'traditional' ways. The high-consumption, wasteful Xmas orgies of the past are unsustainable, and therefore open for modification or elimination.

How about a simple buy nothing celebration? A time for rejoicing in our relationships with each other, and for rejoicing in the ample abundance of our planet. A time for  non-commercial down time to clear our heads and remember what is really important in life.


  1. Seems even for those in the Christian community a more authentic Christmas experience would not revolve around around the giving of things at Christmas, but rather the strengthening of relationships, and remembering the least among us. This wouldn't be limited to one day a year...

  2. Savoring Servant,

    It seems that we do remember our true values this time of year, but then forget them when everyone goes back to the daily grind.

    Is it our dog eat dog economic system that makes us less compassionate? Is there a better way?

    Maybe we should be trying cooperatives, as they do foster stronger relationships while helping people out of poverty and hardship. Everyone benefits, including the environment.

    2012 is the UN International Year Of Cooperatives.

    Take care.


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