Straight Talk Advice

In the age of materialism, do the holidays retain meaning?

Dec 09, 2014

Christmas shopping frenzy “on steroids” far adrift from “O Silent Night”

Dear Straight Talk: The winter holidays seem to be a stressed-out “what am I getting” and ”what am I buying” nightmare and I wonder if these once-sacred holidays hold any meaning at all for young people. (Maybe the magic is just gone for certain adults.) I’m not overly religious or sitting in judgment of society, just trying to understand how young people today perceive the holidays. I find the panelists’ viewpoints informative regarding the world. —Mr. G., Carmel, Calif.

Moriah 18, Rutland, Vt. Ask me a question

I was raised to think of the holidays as a time for family. But as I’ve grown, they’ve become a time to reflect. On Everything. I follow no specific religion or tradition, but I cherish this time of year when I can just think.

Elle 19, Mifflingtown, Penn. Ask me a question

A glance at our culture affirms that the meaning has vanished. Materialism runs rampant already, and Christmas is the yearly injection that puts greed on steroids — and justifies it. Growing up, Christmas included presents under the tree and exchanging gifts with infrequently-seen relatives — all lovely. Now, my family implements a “minimal” Christmas, which we really enjoy. The quantity of gifts has shrunk, but their thoughtfulness has grown. The hype over presents is weird! It’s cherishing time together that matters. First and foremost, I was brought up with Christmas as a celebration of Jesus’ birth. That’s the greatest gift the world has received and why Christmas should be viewed as a time of giving rather than receiving.

Taylor 17, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

My friends know me as the crazy Christmas girl. I LOVE Christmas!! Yet, I’ve never been asked why. There’s just so much to love! The cold, rainy weather, how people are more generous to those in need, how everyone seems happier. I’m not so naïve to think everything is perfect for two weeks, but I allow myself to pretend it is. I adore Christmas decorations, the adventure of finding the perfect present, and all December, I’m baking and cooking special treats! As a Christian, the tradition and religious aspect of Christmas is very important to me and perhaps is a touchstone for the craziness of growing up.

Colin 21, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

For me, the holiday means sitting by the fire (or heater) with a hot drink and a good book. It’s a time for deep reflection. For visiting beloved family and old friends. It’s about being in the present, not getting presents — or chasing the next paycheck or report card. In these quiet moments, I think, are we kept so busy because society needs our work? Or are we kept so busy so we don't break our dependency on ultra-materialism? Many people worship working for money and pretty things till they’re old and grey like it will lead to salvation. It won't. It rarely even brings happiness. Only when we are working to help others are we genuinely fulfilled — which for me is what this season is about: getting away from the materialism and false individualism of our psychopathic society and celebrating connection with others.

Ochatre 25, Kampala, Uganda Ask me a question

Growing up, “Christmas” meant new clothes for church, nice food, and relatives joining us for Christmas lunch. Now, Christmas means a day off my nonprofit work helping my country’s youth, visiting my parents, and sharing a nice family meal.

Dear Mr. G.: Well, the kids are all right! Thank you for your interesting question. While society continues its spending addiction (multitudes going into debt — or shoplifting — both in the true spirit of addiction), some young people are “over it”. Readers: The have-nots are rapidly growing in ranks with the redistribution of wealth and lawmaking power. This month, when materialism goes “on steroids”, please consider those with true material needs of food, warmth and shelter.

Editor's Note: For more scintillating news on shoplifting, see our column from NOV 26, 2013. Shoplifting is generally a sign of depression and low self-esteem, not greed or poverty (although it can feel like greed or poverty because shoplifters, and people in general, live in denial of their emotional issues).

It’s also very addicting. Most shoplifters start as teenagers and the criminal addiction can easily continue into adulthood (75% of shoplifters are adults, most who started as teens). If your teen, college student, or friend has more clothes, makeup, accessories, or goods than makes sense, please pay attention and don’t be in denial yourself! And definitely don’t shop with this person! Habits are easily passed on by friends and/or you can be arrested along with a shoplifter even if you don’t steal.

Shoplifting is the most prevalent crime in the U.S., accounting for $35 million dollars lost per day. From Black Friday to Christmas in 2011 in the U.S., the “steroidal” shoplifting frenzy (fueled mainly by low self-worth triggered by the holidays), resulted in $1.8 billion (that’s with a “b”) in stolen merchandise, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer. Who pays for this? The honest consumers! The cost to each honest American household is over $400 per year!

Let’s make Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or whatever you celebrate, less materialistic and more meaningful. It’s as good for the soul as the pocketbook. —Lauren

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  1. By Lissa, age 16, from Santa Ana, CA on 12/09/2014

    What I’m looking forward to most this Christmas, much more than presents, is being with my big sister again.  I couldn’t wait for her to go away to college so that I could finally get my own room, but after a couple of weeks the novelty wore off and I started missing her and having her in the room with me.  She was always a good big sister to me, but I can’t say the same for myself.  I was always the pesky little sister who did everything I could to drive her crazy, but it was really because I ideolized her and wanted her attention.  But she always put up with me and still was good to me.  I would even make fun of her somewhat overweight body when she was nude and called her a “fatty” and would even make up excuses to walk in on her in the bathroom since we weren’t supposed to lock the door even when she was on the toilet.  But she put up with me and was never mean to me. 

    I’m planning to be super nice to her to try to make up for the way I always treated her and hopefully become closer even though we’re now farther apart most of the time.  As they say “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  I’m spending almost everything I’ve been able to save up from my allowance and babysitting jobs (which isn’t really that much) to buy her a special present to try to show how much I love and miss her.  I wouldn’t have believed it before, but I can’t wait to be sharing a room with her again and that’s what I’m looking foward to most this Christmas.


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    1. By Patty, age 18, from Rohnert Park, CA on 12/11/2014

      I am in the exact opposite position.  I couldn’t wait to go away to college and get away from my little sister and share a room with someone more mature.  However, right after I got here, I became very homesick and even missed sharing a room with my sister.  I ended up with a roommate who has habits that irritate me even more than my sister, so I realized that sharing a room with her wasn’t so bad after all.  I also looked forward to having privacy in the bathroom, since we had to share it in the morning since we only have one bathroom. However, there isn’t much more privacy in the dorm bathroom.  While there are doors on the toilet stalls and curtains on the shower stalls, you still have to use the toilet and showers at the same time with several others, so it’s really not much different than sharing the bathroom with my sister while using the shower or toilet.  While I like college and have adjusted to dorm life, it isn’t the “heaven” that I imagined it to be.  I really miss my family and can’t wait to get back home and be with them at Christmas and even sharing a room with my little sister again.


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  2. By G.W., age 15, from Carmichael, CA on 12/09/2014

    Similar to last week’s Straight Talk column, for once I would like a nice, sober family Christmas without my stepfather being drunk and abusive and spoiling everything.  I don’t really have any hope that it’ll happen since Christmas is just a couple of weeks away and there’s no sign of any change in his drinking habits.  My sister and I would also like a lock for the door to our room since when he’s drunk he’ll decide he’s mad at us for anything he can think up or sometimes no reason at all and will barge in on us and start yelling at us and we’re nervous to even get undressed in our own room when we never know when he might barge in, but again, getting a lock isn’t going to happen.  We also have to listen to him abuse our mom since their room is right next to ours and even blames her when he demands they have sex and then he can’t perform since he’s drunk, but everything is always everyone else’s fault.  So a nice sober Christmas just for this one day would be wonderful, but it’s not going to happen.



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  3. By S.N., age 16, from Lodi, CA on 12/10/2014

    I loved Christmas when I was younger.  Like all kids I loved getting presents, but I also very much enjoyed it as a loving family time.  However, my parents divorced 4 years ago because my dad found another woman who he’s now married to and who I can’t help but resent for breaking up our family, although I realize it’s equally my dad’s fault, but I can’t help resenting and blaming her even more.  Christmas is OK when I’m with my mom, but it’s not the same.  But this year it’s my dad’s turn to have me for Christmas and I’m not looking forward to it as I’m made to feel like an outsider and intruder and not really part of the family even though my dad makes sure to give me presents equal in value to what my stepbrother and stepsisters get.  When I’m there, I have to sleep on an air mattress on the floor of my stepsisters’ room who don’t like having me there while they get to sleep in their nice warm bed and who smirk at my body when I undress because it’s not “perfect” like theirs and because I don’t wax like they do which they say that “everybody does” these days.

    Even though I still get nice presents, I miss the nice, loving family Christmases we used to have but which we will never have again.


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    1. By Kayla, age 16, from on 12/12/2014

      I feel the same way as the unwanted intruder when I have to go to my dad and stepfamily’s on Christmas as I do this year.  It’s the same when I have to go there on visitations, but I’ve learned to deal with that.  However, it makes Christmas a real bummer when I have to go there.  They don’t have any extra room for me, so they make my stepbrother sleep on the couch so that I can share their room with my stepsister.  He acts really put out about it and I can’t really blame him, but it’s not my fault either.  I really think they’re too old to still be sharing a room as opposite sex teenagers for the reasons that have been written about in Straight Talk, but it’s none of my business as long as I don’t have to share a room with my stepbrother.  But my stepsister also resents me and makes things as difficult as possible and goes out of her way to be naked in front of me because she knows that it makes me uncomfortable.

      I’m much happier when I’m with my mom and her family at Christmas and think I’m old enough to be able to decide where I want to go, but under the visitation order, I have to go to my dad and stepfamily’s this year whether I like it or not.


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    2. By Pamela, age 43, from Toledo, OH on 12/13/2014

      Dealing with stepfamilies does make things difficult at Christmas, but it’s is a 2 way street and takes effort by both sides.  When my teenage stepdaughter stays with us at Christmas, we do everything we can to make her feel welcome and treat her like one of the family.  However, all she does is pout about the fact that she is not with her mother.  There is no choice but for her to share a room with my daughters since she’s obviously too old to share a room with my teenage son who has his own room.  It’s very crowded with all 3 sharing a room that isn’t very big for 2 to share, but my daughters do not complain, but my stepdaughter constantly complains about the “cramped and crowded” conditions.  We tried to make her comfortable by having my daughters take turns sleeping on a mattress on the floor and letting her share the girls’ queen bed with one of them, but she wasn’t comfortable sharing a bed, so she sleeps on the floor and then complains about it.  Even though they are all girls, she’s so modest that she demands that they turn their backs when she undresses.  They aren’t interested in looking at her of course, but they still find this very irritating.

      I can’t speak to the situations of the others who have written, but it is not always totally the fault of the stepfamily when someone is not happy at Christmas when they spend it with their stepfamily.


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    3. By Marla, age 18, from Fullerton, CA on 12/14/2014

      I guess everyone is different, but I’m very much looking forward to being with and sharing a room (and even a bed) with my stepsister.  We became good friends, but now that we’re both in college, we don’t see each other during visitations any more, so being with her is one of the things I am looking forward to the most at Christmas.  She happens to be gay and I’m straight, but that has never affected our friendship.  The “undressing” issue that so many people seem to think is such a major deal based upon what I’ve read in Straight Talk has been nothing as far as I’m concerned.  I’m totally comfortable undressing in front of her and with her seeing me nude and have never had the feeling that she had any sexual interest in my body.  I’m even totally comfortable sharing a bed with her, and there has never been anything sexual because of it.  She actually has a much more attractive body than I do, but she has never tried to make me feel inferior because of it.  I feel almost like we’re real sisters and miss her and can’t wait to be with her again at Christmas.


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